Striking social workers

Issue section: 

Martin Upchurch's piece (Socialist Review, September 2013) on the reduction in workers' ability to control how the job is organised is interesting and frightening.

The use of management bullying and technology to standardise work previously accepted as requiring decisions made by professionals using their training is growing. As I write, another report into the death of a child known to services is in the news. It is likely that individual social workers will be seen as negligent for not intervening to save him. As in cases such as that of Victoria Climbie, scapegoating disempowered individuals lets the system, with its impossible caseloads and targets, plus wider austerity, off the hook.

2014 sees the tenth anniversary of a strike by social workers in Liverpool which was essentially to reject this system and to demand time and resources to work properly with families to safeguard children. This involved 130 child care workers and 12 more fighting to save the emergency duty team held out for almost 5 months before, disgracefully, being ordered back by Unison worried about strikes in general election year.

The strike could have won but for this betrayal as social workers throughout the country were starting to hear about it and realise they didn't have to tolerate the systems being imposed. Also a mass meeting of the whole council workforce had voted to be balloted on joining the action a week before the plug was pulled.

It's important the courage of those who held out for such a length of time is not forgotten. They were fighting for the families they work with and the ability to do that work properly, not to meet fake targets. Social workers and others today will have to consider whether they will put up with the bullying and scapegoating or take action to demand change. When they do the lessons of our strike need to be shared.