Only when it became clear that the UNISON branch planned to protest outside the conference did Chris Lee perform an embarrassing u-turn. Just a few working hours before the start of the conference he sent an email claiming he had "re-considered" his decision – something he has previously failed to do several times when given the opportunity to do so.
The UNISON branch has had a presence at staff conferences in Regeneration and Housing and in other departments across the council for many years. However, Chris Lee had claimed that it would be "inappropriate", a decision which appears to contravene the Council's own stated aim that "employees are advised that the Council recognises Trade Unions and encourages employees to join a Trade Union" (cited from Council's "Industrial and Employee relations policy") as well as the principles of the Labour Party, which was built from a base of trade union activists.
Trade unionists were disappointed that Council Leader Steve Reed refused to intervene. However, the other council trade unions GMB and NUT came out in strong support of UNISON's position and lobbied Chris Lee to overturn his unreasonable decision.
UNISON has come into conflict with Lambeth's management in recent weeks as it has begun to mount a campaign against the New Labour administration's plans to privatise services throughout the Housing department. Under the proposals contractors will be given ten-year contracts worth over £1 billion to provide a wide range of services. Hundreds of staff could be transferred to private companies and their terms and conditions attacked. UNISON believes that the services provided to residents would be decimated in the event of any such privatisation.
Heenal Rajani, Lambeth UNISON's Convenor for Regeneration and Housing, said:
"This episode marks a major victory against trade union repression in the borough. Lambeth Council are unhappy that UNISON has been speaking out against the Council's plans to privatise housing services in the borough and are trying to shut us up."
"We have shown that we will not be silenced and that we will continue to fight for our members rights and for public services to be kept under local, democratic control."
Notes to Editors
Not content with going ahead with an ALMO despite massive opposition from tenants, Lambeth Council is pushing through plans to privatise the services provided to tenants dressed up in the harmless sounding name "Partnering". Under Lambeth Council's "Partnering" proposals, private companies will bid for ten-year contracts to carry out all manner of services, some which are already privatised under smaller contracts (such as repairs and maintenance, graffiti removal and garbage collection), and others which are currently carried out in-house (such as grounds maintenance, out-of-hours repairs and the council's call centre). It is a licence for contractors to line their pockets and decimate the services tenants and leaseholders receive. Lambeth UNISON are organising a public meeting to expose the truth about privatisation. The meeting will take place from 6.30pm to 8.30pm on Thursday 8th May in Lambeth Town Hall, Brixton.
For further information please call Heenal Rajani on 07792 231761 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Visit http://lambethunison.blogspot.com/ or http://www.defendcouncilhousing.org.uk for more information.