Sunday, 8 January 2017

Non-violent action in Tameside dispute

by Martin S. Gilbert
REPORTS of different forms of action around the world give ideas about replicating them at home.
Also, they can remind us about fairly similar action in our own  areas.  'Rev Billy & the Church

of Stop Shopping' (Peace  News October-November, pp 9 – 11) gives an example of well planned, effective NVDA (non-violent direct action).  In the late 1990s during the year-long Tameside Care Workers dispute*, at Ashton-Under-Lyne in Greater Manchester we performed a non violent 'invasion'.  Tameside Care Group were forcing new contracts: a second pay cut, reduced service conditions and no sick pay**.  A local solicitor who had financial interests in those care homes was refusing to negotiate with the union.  Also, that gentleman was showing interest in child fostering businesses. 
Supporters of Earth first and Northern Anarchist Network assembled close to that solicitors office.
On my own, dressed in business suit and with a shiny brief case I told the receptionist about my
'appointment'.   She looked at various papers for a record of such meeting.  While thus distracted, it was enough time for our non-violent invaders to swarm over the building.  They emptied filing cabinets and tossed stuff out of windows before leaving as quickly as they came. 
It raised moral among the strikers and made the solicitor negotiate with them.  Sadly this strike, the longest ever in that area failed to win it’s objectives.
Some readers will be critical of the above account claiming it was  dishonest of me to put on a business suit to confuse the receptionist.  Others might claim that we all should have stayed to get arrested and should not have destroyed any office records.   But those records were 'caring'  for the 1%.   Also,  there is the idea that always getting arrested at actions is 'putting oneself on the

sacrificial plate of the state'. 
On balance I think that Rev Billy would have approved. 
*  A report in the journal 'Caring Times' (1999): 'About 150 people took to the streets between Stalybridge and Ashton-Under-Lyme in Greater Manchester on Saturday, 27 March (1999) to mark the first anniversary of the dismissal of some 200 care workers by the Tameside Care Group. Accompanied by supporters, children and a police escort, the sacked care workers were calling attention to the year long dispute which is scheduled for a 10-day industrial tribunal hearing in Manchester beginning on 1st June. The Tameside Care Group took over the operation of residential care homes from Tameside Council in 1990. In January last year (1998), close to 200 care workers at 12 residential homes in Tameside were served with termination notices after they refused to sign new contracts. The contracts involved acceptance of a pay cut (the second since the Tameside group had assumed control of the homes), reduced conditions of service and having the company sick pay scheme abolished. The workers then balloted for official strike action and were subsequently dismissed. '      
**  In April 1999, UNISON North West Region published a report which outlined the impact on staff:
'Throughout the history of the Trust and its subsidiary company financial savings have meant reductions in staff costs, with all the decreases falling on already low paid and undervalued staff. The staff working for Tameside Care Group have been poorly treated for nearly a decade and any improvements in the condition of the homes have been at the direct expense of care workers and domiciliary staff, most of whom are low-paid women workers. 200 staff went on strike in March 1998 and were sacked by the company. A year later the dispute is unresolved; an Industrial Tribunal set for June has already cost the company large sums in terms of legal fees, employment of agency staff and disruption to the service.'


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