Labour Councillor Majid Mahmood announced yesterday that he will be stepping down from his cabinet role for Clean Streets, Waste and Recycling. He credits this decision to his frustration over the Labour Council’s hostile approach to both the Bin Workers and Home Care Workers.
Yesterday, the Council made public their plans to pursue legal action against Unite and Unison for the recent industrial action taken by its council members – another example in a long list showing how far the council will go to attack its own employees as well as find new ways to waste public money. Just like how they spent over £6 million on agency staff to break the bin strike last year and £12 million on consultants to ‘streamline’ – a.k.a cut – adult and social care which the home care service is part of. Reports from Bin worker reps from the different depots of the council have expressed their anger and frustration, not at just these right-wing Labour councillors carrying out the Tory’s dirty work, but also the unelected financial officers of the council who appear to be pulling the real strings behind the scenes of who has power here in Birmingham.
Birmingham Home Care workers have been taking strike action against the Labour Council for over 12 months and have taken 50+ days’ full strike action. In December, UNISON leadership (the union leading the strike) finally gave into the rank and file membership and started building political pressure on the Labour Council Cabinet members. It was these Councillors who agreed to the drastic cutting of the jobs in this service, reducing them to just part time positions and resulting in poverty pay for the staff.
The Home Carers have been leafleting the individual wards of the Cabinet members, including Majid Mahmood, questioning their ‘Labour values’ while they attack their own workers.
At the same time in December Unite Bin Workers overwhelmingly voted in favour of strike action against the Council after only just concluding their last dispute a year ago. Additionally, last week Unison Bin members voted to for joint industrial action. The workers across both unions are currently following ‘work to rule’ which has already had an impact with missed bin collections.
This new dispute is over ‘bribe’ money which was paid to GMB union members who did not take strike action last year. An alleged secret ‘sweetheart’ deal was made between GMB leadership and the Labour Council which saw GMB members receive a lump sum of money directly into their payslip – essentially blacklisting Unite and Unison members. The details on this deal have still not been made transparent to the public.
It is good to see a Birmingham Labour Cllr finally break away from these attacks and stand on the side of the workers, but it shouldn’t just stop there. The two issues which arise here are, one of Cllr Mahmood throwing in the towel so early just as both disputes were escalating. Many can support the reasons he gave for quitting his cabinet position in protest due to, as he stated, ‘his hands being tied’. However, the labour movement needs genuine fighting councillors in these positions of decision making – with their fists clenched fighting back against Tory austerity and the Blairites who carry out their deeds.
It’s worth noting the opportunists on the other end of the spectrum like Labour Councillor Lisa Trickett, the former cabinet member in charge of the bin service, who yesterday came outside the council house supposedly offering support and solidarity to the striking home care workers despite last year being the person in charge of attacking the bin workers. Trickett and other opportunist labour councillors can’t pick and choose when and which workers and communities they want to support when convenient for them and their publicity!
The unions should continue to put the political pressure on Labour, not just in Birmingham, but also nationally. Any Labour Cllrs who support the strikers need to also stand on the side of all Council workers and oppose all cuts to public services. Cllrs who truly want to stand up to Tory austerity should work with the unions to demand councils set ‘need’s budgets’ while using reserves to ensure not a single cut is made. During this time all Labour councils and trade unions can co-ordinate to mobilise workers and the public to stand up against the incredibly weak and fractured government. This would be the most effective way of bringing down ‘wobbly’ Teresa May and triggering a general election.
Labour Cllrs here in Birmingham and across the country should have their support both financially and politically withdrawn by unions, such as Unite and Unison, if they continue to carry out the Tories dirty work. These cuts not only damage the lives of ordinary people but they also undermine the anti-austerity platform Corbyn stands on and which has received overwhelming support.
- Those labour councillors who have spoken out against the actions of the Council should be applauded but they need to put those words into action!
- Trade Unionist and those Labour members opposed to the council’s attacks need to ramp up the pressure on the labour Council and their support for the bin and care workers.
- UNITE and UNISON should build a mass campaign towards further co-ordinated action across the council workforce in support of the home care and bin workers and against the attacks taking place across every inch of the council.
- Mass meetings should be called in every department to discuss and build support.
- If the Council’s legal challenge is successful, UNITE and UNISON should call a joint national demonstration and rally in defence of the action taken by council workers.