Council staff in first all-out strike

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Indy Politics

The Government was facing the first all-out stoppage by council workers in British history yesterday as a bitter dispute over pay reached new depths.

The Government was facing the first all-out stoppage by council workers in British history yesterday as a bitter dispute over pay reached new depths.

Staff at local authorities throughout England, Wales and Northern Ireland voted to take industrial action in protest against a 3 per cent pay offer. The campaign by more than a million workers will start with a 24-hour strike on 17 July but more damaging action is expected.

Britain could also be hit by two and three-day stoppages and strikes by council workers such as computer personnel unless there is a settlement. The walkouts will affect schools, leisure centres and refuse collection, and will involve employees from canteen staff to social workers.

Previous nationwide strikes by town hall employees in 1989 involved a walkout by about 500,000 white-collar workers. In the so-called winter of discontent in 1979, blue-collar staff went on strike, leaving bodies unburied as grave-diggers joined the action. Similarly, in the General Strike of 1926, only manual workers were involved. But this would be the first occasion that all staff have walked out simultaneously.

On turnouts of about 40 per cent, Unison reported that 56 per cent of its members had voted to walk out, while 80 per cent of the Transport and General Workers' Union and 66 per cent of the GMB union opted to strike.

Heather Wakefield, of Unison, said the case for a realistic pay rise was indisputable, adding that councils faced a staffing crisis. Two-thirds of workers earn less than £13,500 in basic pay – £6,000 below the national average.

Brian Baldwin, the chairman of the employers' side, said there was no mandate for a strike because most council workers had either rejected action or not voted. "Any strike would be pointless and will achieve nothing," he said. "We will do all we can to maintain services."

Ms Wakefield said the turnout in the local government elections in 2002 was just 35 per cent. "Is management saying that these councils are not representative of their communities?"

John Prescott, the Deputy Prime Minister, who is responsible for local government, said pay was a matter for councils.

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