Saturday, 13 November 2010

Lambeth Living worker: why we walked out on management

By a Lambeth Living worker

At the Lambeth Living (Lambeth Council's housing 'Arms Length Management Organisation') staff conference on 8 November there was a lot of anger and nervousness at the announcement of job cuts. Staff were especially angry that directors on salaries of over 100k year and consultants on thousands of pounds a month would announce to staff that they would be sacked at a hall in London Bridge costing £9000 to hire.

At first staff were quiet when the chief executive announced that cuts would be even worse than they thought, but that nothing would be told to staff that day after all. Her apologies meant nothing to staff who were once again being treated with no respect whatsoever. But after she finished her speech the UNISON convener stood up and said how angry the union was, that an industrial action ballot had been agreed by the union's London region (with GMB also balloting) and called for staff to leave the conference in protest. At first people didn’t really know what to do as he marched towards the doors and the chief executive tried to mock him. But after some hesitation some of the stewards started to stand and walk towards the doors. Then more staff started to follow them and in the end people were queuing to get out of the hall, with those who had already left clapping them out. Now the chief executive had nothing to say! In the end over 100 workers left and we had a quick meeting outside and decided we would all return to our workplaces.

It was a great feeling that we hadn’t just sat there and that we stood up for ourselves. We got buses back together and talked about how industrial action couldn’t come soon enough. At work the next day all the people who hadn’t walked out said they supported it and most said they wish had joined us and would join industrial action. The following day at the Lambeth UNISON branch meeting members from all the directorates gave us lots of applause and the mood of the meeting, also buoyed up by the student demo, was one of determination. As one steward put it, we could see the glow of the embers of the anti-cuts fight back. There was also a lot of support for the idea of Lambeth Save Our Services where we are linking up with tenants' organisations, pensioners' groups and local community groups.

Many of us are very proud of what we did and the union is getting stronger by the day with more member and more stewards. Everyone is talking about standing together now and there is not just worry of what is to come, but hope about what we can do to stop it.

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