Should Social Workers go on Strike?

Before I start, I know that this is a subject that can be tricky. Striking is a personal decision and I respect those who make the decision either to strike or not strike. I will be on strike on Wednesday. I will be standing at a picket line and going to a rally – but I will not, and never will criticise any of my colleagues who take a different decision to me and will not engage in name-calling.

For me, I strike reluctantly and with a heavy heart. I became a social worker because I wanted to work with people and use the skills I can muster to advocate for the people I work with in the ‘systems’ that all too often conspire against them. I don’t want to leave my work behind and down sticks. I enjoy my work and in times such as these when our team is pushed in ways we have never been before due to capacity issues and understaffing, it has been a particularly difficult pill to swallow.

Yes, I am a frontline practitioner. Yes, service users will notice that I am out of the office for a day and not contactable. Will my colleagues deal with emergencies? Yes. That makes me feel worse not better. The union do ‘exempt’ people in the essential roles – we have some AMHPs rota’ed to work through the strike and safeguarding work will continue with duty workers – but ultimately I feel the right to strike is a strong one and if I don’t advocate for myself, how can I, in all honesty, advocate for others effectively.

Should Social Workers go on strike? Only if absolutely necessary.

My work is important to me but so is the communal responsibility as a member of a trade union (I am a long term  member of Unison) . I expect support from my trade union and so I feel it as a duty to provide them with the support through this strike.

The issue of pensions is to me only one of the ways this government has shifted responsibility from the private sector to the public sector and the attempts to rip apart public sector employees has been and is callous and deliberate in this government’s ‘divide and rule’ strategy to paint public sector as ‘bad’ and ‘enterprise’ as ‘good’.

But it was poor regulation of financial services that got us here and a world financial crash – it was not the care workers, nurses, teachers and yes, social workers that brought us to this point.

Union laws are strict and  this strike is about pensions – namely so-called ‘non affordability’ of them but internally, I am striking about so many other things that I see about this government and the way they are spending their toxic policies to stigmatise and marginalise.

As for my pension, I contribute and it is not something I get ‘for free’. It may be better than some pensions in the private sector but that doesn’t mean it isn’t something that we entered service expecting. As it is, I don’t expect to retire – obviously not at 60 or 65 or 70 for that matter.

When I strike, when I rally and when I march, it isn’t for me alone but it is for the people I work with and for who have been marginalised, stigmatised and isolated by this government and her toxic policies.

I don’t want to strike and take no pleasure in it but I feel it is my responsibility to do so. For myself, for my union, for the users of my service and for my country.

Incidently, I’ve had a great deal of support from service users I work with but there will be contingencies in place for emergencies. Of course I’ll worry and I’ll stress but one of the few tools we have is the withdrawal of labour as an indication of discontent. And I am discontent. So I will strike.

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4 Responses to “Should Social Workers go on Strike?”

  1. Short answer “Yes!”. All other considerations aside, the withdrawal of your, your colleagues, labour is the only sanction left. Temporarily, this public sector strike has displaced the poor as the government’s favourite demon. There is an ongoing move by the nasty right to assert control over the country by demolishing the concept of a welfare state. All power to you, in the current climate the “use it or lose it” principle is very important.

  2. I agree completely with everything you have written. Beautifully put.

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