Industrial Action

Islington Gazette 7.10.83

At 29 Highbury New Park children’s home, 7 children, aged 14-17 years, were left unattended for 20 hours. One residental care worker left them and said there should have been two staff on duty. (Islington Gazette 7.10.83) ‘

Strikes – the impact on children

‘ In 1993, they brought in anyone to look after us. In Highbury Crescent there was a strike for 9 and half months.’ (Islington Survivor)

The files and survivor accounts tell of strikes in 1974, 1975-6, 1978, 1979,1981 1982-3, 1985, 1992-3. There were various reasons for the industrial action which was often concerning staff shortages and children’s home closures as well as there being criticisms of the council delay in resolving disputes about work conditions. The main reason for ISN including the known facts about the strikes on this website is to learn about the impact on the children as told to ISN by survivors.

ISN survivors speak of many occasions when their social workers and or /residential care workers were on strike. There is no doubt that these events are strong in their memories as they felt ‘mucked about with’ (Islington Gazette 5.3.82) and ‘angry about being left’ (Islington Gazette 7.10.83). The extended absence of social workers and residential workers held up decision-making for children already in unstable, unhappy situations and greatly increased their insecurity and anxiety. There was no-one to support them in crises or through case conferences, court hearings and new placements. While social workers and council officials blamed each other for the strikes, these most vulnerable children were undoubtedly neglected and left to their own devices with no protection from the child abusers who were so prolific within the children’s homes.

Some industrial action was ‘action short of a strike’ in this article Ann Goldie a social work manager who in the early 90s spoke out courageously on the BBC news against the abuse networks, was closing the office one morning a week to try and get vacant administrative posts filled. She was demoted as a result of a disciplinary hearing yet the lack of administrative support for social work was a theme highlighted by an Inquiry in 1989 ‘The Liam Johnson Review’ and later by the ‘Report of the Inquiry into the management of childcare in the London Borough of Islington’ (1995).

Islington Gutter Press Sept 1981

In 1988, because of a shortage of council minute takers, social workers refused to take minutes of child in care reviews and child protection conferences. ISN have seen a series of unminuted meetings which have left a survivor with no record of what decisions were made or why over a substantial time period. Taking minutes of complex meetings is a specialist administrative task and should not have been left to social workers who were tasked with chairing the meetings. Whilst this issue was unresolved it left a big gap in some records.

The children’s experience of the strikes

‘My social worker broke the strike and they sent him to Coventry but he wanted to be in court to stop us boys getting sent to secure units.’ (Islington Survivor)

‘My placement in fostercare couldn’t go ahead because of the strike because the fostering panel did not meet.’ (Islington Survivor)

‘The introduction meetings with the foster carer couldn’t go ahead because of the strike’ (Islington survivor)

‘I had nowhere to go. My social worker was on strike so I moved in with a friend.’ (Islington Survivor)

‘I hadn’t visited this young person in Gisburne House since June 85 because of the strike.’ (Social worker: October 85)

‘ My social worker was not with me at court hearings’ (ISN survivor, New Park House)

‘For a while in 1982 Sheringham Road had no Superintendent’ (Islington Survivor)

‘None of the children had been to school since the strike (1982) began’ (Residential worker 29 Highbury New Park)

‘We told them (Colgrain children) they could get in a taxi and go to Sheringham Road’ (Islington council spokesperson 1982)’

‘My work suffered because of hte strike. He was very angry understandably that I placed a situation of more pay above an interest and concern for him’ Social worker (1979)

‘This 11 year old went to a new children’s home placement without any social work support because of the strike (1992).’ (Social worker)

‘Because of the strike (1983) this child could not be sent to a children’s home in London to be near his family or start his new school.’ (Social worker referring to Gisburne House staff strike.)

‘The (1983) strike delayed the case conference.’ (Social worker referring to child in Gisburne House)

‘Children were seen infrequently due to the social work strike. This girl had missed out seriously.’ (Social worker 1979)

‘The parent’s opinion was that as they had no support during the strike the child was received into care.’ (Social worker 1981)

Table of Industrial Action

DATEIndustrial actionRelevant informationSource
1971 JulyAn overtime ban with social workers refusing to provide emergency service 5pm – 9 am since June because of pay dispute.Senior Social worker  from Newington Green Team asked the public to inform him of the impact of the ban.Islington Gazette 20.12.72 ‘Ban probe by social workers.’   Islington Gazette 2.7.71 ‘Overtime ban threat by social workers.’
1974 In 1974 there was a ‘long and devastating NALGO strike’ ‘It began in Housing and spread to a full official strike’Islington Councillor Pat Haynes (1994) An Islington Councillor 1971-92.
1970-6?29 Highbury New Park staff on strikeOne social worker continued working and got sent to Coventry by others for breaking the strike but he wanted to go to court to stop some of the boys being taken to secure unit.Islington Survivor
1978 Social worker tells child that a strike was imminent – so it was not a good time to be moved to another children’s home.   A social worker commented that relations between staff and children in one of the Harlow homes deteriorated whilst she was on strike.   Survivor remembered that because of the strike she couldn’t get her fostering introductions sorted 
1.12 .79Letter from NALGO social workers asking council to bring an end to the strike.Social workers hold council responsible for the delay in settlement.

‘He [the child] was very off and angry with me for being on strike and not telling him.’ Social work record 1979-80:
80 Highbury New Park
Islington Gazette 26.1.79 ‘Council has prolonged social workers’ strike.’
Feb 79Eight week strike by social workers. A pay dispute.A huge backlog of work built up during the strikeIslington Gazette 2.2.79 ‘Striking social workers face big backlog
11.3.81‘9 children’s homes are under unofficial dispute. There is an emergency covering operation to care for the children involved. The dispute arose from a staffing levels dispute.  A review of staffing levels is being undertaken. The staff planned the walkout in such a way as to prevent senior management to make arrangements to look after the children. This is an utterly irresponsible action. They have not followed agreed procedures for dealing with disputes. They have simply walked out and abandoned the children.’  ‘There are at present 4 homes completely unmanned. Need volunteers from officers to form teams with at least 2 police officers to be on duty in each of the unmanned homes while the unofficial action continues.’   ‘Weekends have to be covered. Each volunteer will do an 8 hour shift. Advice and support will be available from social services Headquarters staff at Islington Park Street.’   Conewood Street children’s home staff were on strike and one survivor explained that children had to stay at the homes of residential workers.LBI statement from Council Leader
13.3.8170 staff from 7 homes said there were provoked to come out on strike despite their obvious feeling about children in care. At one home management left the children alone all night. Other home’s NALGO members were refusing to provide cover. 2 children’s homes were closed last year and another 4 are planned to be closed this year.Sheenagh Burgess NALGO said ‘The staff feel that if they don’t take a stand at this point they might as well pack up and go home’. She explained that the homes are full yet some are being closed. ‘Staff are being asked to take extra children without extra staff.’   Police were posted outside Highbury New Park and Sheringham RoadIslington Gazette Newsline 13.3.81 ‘Childrens homes are under threat.
Nalgo strike 19.2.-16.3.82‘Children in 2 homes are the victims of a strike as staff walked out and they were left to fend for themselves. ‘Highbury New Park and Sheringham Rd had police outside and some senior council staff made regular visits.‘The children were transferred to a temporary home in Corsica Street being run by volunteers and senior managers. The issue is staffing ratios.’ ‘ Survivor remembered ‘There was a strike in the 80s. Sheringham Rd children were taken to Corsica Street. We were told at a shift change at midday. It was an unused warehouse. The place looked like after a disaster. We were given beds and pillows and charity clothes.’   One survivor who was in an Islington children’s home outside London, remembered that his social worker was not there to help support him in court.Islington Gazette 26.2.82 ‘In care kids abandoned by strike staff.’
March 82The strike was about the closure of a children’s home and job losses. ‘29 Highbury New Park has 7 children and 12 staff and has been marked for closure.’None of the children had been to school since the strike began.   One young person age 16 years, said ‘The rest of the kids in the home and myself feel as though we are being mucked about with and we want our home to open up.’Islington Gazette 5.3.82 ‘We’re not heartless.’
March 82David Wheeler senior council official gave 4 children, 3 boys and a girl, a weekend away at his home in Hampshire. Islington Gazette 5.3.82 ‘Suffering the little children.’
19823 week strike at Colgrain, Muswell Hill children’s home.  Police called by teenagers as girl slightly injured in attempted stabbing. A 17 year old girl had opened the door to a caller. No staff in children’s home.Islington Council said ‘All the children were over 16 and refused to leave the home when the staff went on strike.’ ‘We left them there on the basis that senior staff would pay regular visits and the kids would keep in touch by telephone.’ We told them they could get in a taxi and go to Sheringham Road’Islington Gazette 26.3.82  ‘Abandoned care kid in stab horror.’
1982NALGO strike about work conditions as there was only one member of staff on duty when there should be 2.  Highbury New Park children were left 20 hours with no staff. Children age 14-17 given a meal and bus fares to school. ‘We are angry about being left and thought it was irresponsible’ NALGO said the council should have provided cover as they were warned the home would be left unattended. LBI said the council was doing its best to take care of the children.   In Gisburne House is was reported that the strike had delayed a case conference.Islington Gazette 7.10.83 ‘ Care Kids Hit by Protest’   
1983 Industrial action at Gisburne House. Because of the strike it was said that a child couldn’t be sent to a children’s home in London to be near family or start at a new school. 
1985 By October a Gisburne House child had not been visited since June 85 because of the social work strike 
January 1992Two boys left alone who were known to be at risk of harm.Sandy Marks, Labour councillor, ‘The fact is that if two thirds of the year social workers are on strike some things don’t get done. Monitoring is bound to suffer’Islington Gazette 14.1.92 ‘New scandal of home alone kids.’
August 92‘Strikers cripple town hall services’ Hodge describes the strike as ‘utterly pointless’Islington Gazette
27.8.92
Feb 92   Sept 92-Feb 93 strikeAt the trial concerning the death of 15 months old Liam Johnson from  injuries and neglect in 1992, the jury were told that he had not been visited because of Islington social work strike. This was said to have played  a part in his death.Unison Branch secretary Brian Gardener said,  ’There is no immediate evidence to support such an assertion and in fact every reason to believe that had social workers remained intervention in the way in which they had, no obvious and serious risk would have been detected.’ The social workers blamed the council for not having negotiated a settlement.   One survivor remembered that she was due to go to foster carers who had been assessed but because of the strike the fostering panel did not meet so the placement could not go ahead.   A new placement in children’s home went ahead for a child without social work support because of the strike.Islington Gazette 24.2.94
1993-4 A survivor said that, ‘They brought in anyone to look after us. In Highbury Crescent there was a strike for 9 and half months.’ 
The home on Duke’s Avenue is Colgrain. Daily Mirror, 12.03.1981

The reason for the strikes

In January 1992 the local newspaper reported 2 boys who had been left on their own and were known to be at risk of harm. This caused Councillor Sandy Marks to comment, ‘ The fact is that if two thirds of the year social workers are on strike some things don’t get done. Monitoring is bound to suffer.’ (Islington Gazette 14.1.92). This was a simplistic response. In the 70s, 80s and 90s social workers were striking to improve working conditions often amidst widescale organisational changes.

In 1974 there was a ‘long and devastating NALGO strike’ ‘It began in Housing and spread to a full official strike’ ( Haynes P ( 1994) An Islington Councillor 1971-92.

At times of the reorganisation of residential care, social workers were striking because of untenable staffing conditions in the children’s homes. In 1982 a NALGO officer said, ‘Two children’s homes were closed last year and another 4 scheduled to close this year….The staff feel that if they don’t take a stand at this point they may as well pack up and go home. The homes are full yet some are being closed. Staff are being asked to take extra children without extra staff.’

Islinton Gazette 5.3.82
Islington Gazette 13.3.81
The Guardian, 12.03.1981

NALGO social workers wrote to the Islington Gazette in 1979 asking for the council to bring an end to the strike and reach a settlement. They held the council responsible for the delay and impact on the children.

Islington Gazette 26.1.79
Islington Gazette 2.2.79
Islington Council admit 4 homes were ‘completely unmanned’

Managers claimed there was insufficient warning for them to properly organise cover for the care of the children. Social workers say they had sufficient warning. The council’s own statement stated that ‘4 homes were completely unmanned’. NALGO representatives said managers left the children alone all night.

Islington Council statement 11.3.81
Voluntary carers -Staff took children to their own homes

During the strikes some staff took children to their own homes. An ISN survivor spoke of going to the home of a residential worker who had a house in North London and staying a week. He said staff had to take children home because there was no-one else to look after them. The council appealed for volunteers to assist and one senior council official took 4 children – 3 boys and a girl, to his home in Hampshire for a weekend as was reported in the local paper.

Islington Gazette 5.3.82

Children placed in a temporary ‘former day centre’

A survivor who was age 15 years said ‘ There was a strike in the 80s. Sheringham Road children were taken to Corsica Street. We were told at shift change at midday. It was an unused warehouse. The place looked like after a disaster. We were given beds and pillows and charity clothes.’ This article (Islington Gazette 26.2.82) describes it as a ‘ temporary childrens home in a former day centre’.

Islington Gazette 26.2.82
The Times, 25.02.1982
The Guardian, 27.02.1982
The media reported that a child went missing from a home affected by industrial action
The Guardian, 14.03.1981
The media reported an attempted stabbing of a child in an unsupervised home

In Colgrain children’s home Muswell Hill (1982) it was said the 4 children were over 16 years old and refused to leave. Senior social work staff paid visits to the home but there was an incident where a caller to the home tried to stab a girl.

Islington Gazette 26.3.82
The Guardian, 03.03.1982
The Observer, 21.01.1979
Evening Standard, 19.09.1983
Evening Standard, 25.02.1982