As Birmingham’s Labour council continues to try to impose job cuts and conditions changes on Brum’s bin service workers, UNITE the union’s members are to escalate their strike.
They announced that from a weekly 2 hour strike between 6 and 8am, they would now undertake such a 2 hour strike every week day through to August 4.
Birmingham council has so far not budged in their demands for 113 job cuts and for workers to give up part of their rest day.
The Labour council have been acting like any other employer at trying to undermine the strike by using Saturdayovertime and also street cleaners collecting rubbish unable to fit in wheelie bins. It is welcome that Unison who represent most of the street cleaners are now balloting for action and hopefully this will stop shortly but this demonstrates that it would have been much better for both unions to ballot simultaneously and have a joint campaign from the outset.
The workers mood is upbeat, but they continue to be disappointed that GMB has not balloted to join the action but happy at least Unison now has. There is an unconfirmed report that the GMB are to ballot this week.
Tuesday (11th) saw the second strike action by Bin workers. Reporting from the 30-40 strong picket line at Lifford Lane, Theo, from Birmingham Socialist Party said “a worker said the action should be stepped up to every morning because management were “using dirty tricks” and said the dispute ‘was as much about breaking spirit of workforce as it was about austerity’. Another spoke about the need for day long actions instead of just mornings. A guy who’d been there 11 years said he didn’t trust Labour whatsoever to handle the situation, which was echoed by others.”
”All the Labour councillors are Tories” remarked one picket at the Lifford Lane depot, as refuse workers represented by Unite held the second 2 hour strike of their dispute.
At Tyseley where 40 pickets covered the gates, one worker suggested they strike for the last hour of shifts as well.
Management have attempted to break picket lines and to use Saturday overtime to undermine the dispute. Eamonn reports that pickets at Tyseley believe temps were told to go in early and 3 crews had gone out before 6am.
The 40 pickets at Perry Barr depot had one lorry go through them but remarked that the agency worker crew had probably been bullied into working. At Digbeth, where 15 workers picketed, Nick reports that only one wagon went out – “a suit drove off in another, before being flagged down by workers who pointed out he wasn’t accredited to be driving it!”
A picket added: “There’s no trouble getting the agency lads out, we don’t even have to ask them – some of them have been here for 10 years!”
So while Jeremy Corbyn is rightly campaigning against zero hours, agency working and other dodgy contracts, Birmingham Council is institutionalising agency work. Clive Walder reported this was echoed at Lifford Lane. “People saw Theresa May’s weakness but they had no time for Labour councillors”.
Whilst this dispute has been brewing the council hve been spending money preparing a bid for the 2022 Commonwealth Games. Clearly there is no shortage of money for prestige projects but they can’t find £300,000 to settle this dispute. The council has £895.7 million in usable reserves at the end of the 2015-16 financial year! A striking worker at Digbeth commented: “If the council can find millions to big for the Commonwealth Games, then they can find the £300,000 we’re asking for”
There is a clear understanding amongst the strikers that the Tories have no mandate for continued cuts and that a determined campaign to face down the government could result in the Tories being brought down but they would want them replaced by a Labour government who would fight for them not against them.
It isn’t lack of money but the Blairite political, outlook of the Labour council that is driving this dispute, they are firmly wedded to the notion that workers should pay for the capitalist crisis.
Jeremy Corbyn must take advantage of his current high approval rating and issue an ultimatum to pro-cuts Labour councillors across the country ‘stop cutting services or consider yourself ineligible to continue being Labour councillors’ and should organise fresh selection conferences to endorse anti-cuts candidates.
If, as workers say, part of the council plan is to demoralise the workforce then the Trade Union and socialist movement around Birmingham must respond to support these workers. Solidarity and support should be built now, beginning with messages/letters of support which could be sent to regional officer Lynne Shakespeare: firstname.lastname@example.org
*Birmingham Socialist Party produced a Bulletin that was well received, reporting on the issues in dispute, on the first days strike, and commenting that “The Council…are demanding workers pay for the cuts being made by the government. Instead of attacking workers conditions, they should be fighting together with workers against Tory cuts.
There could be a Corbyn government by the end of the year that would try to stop austerity. So, the council should use some of its reserves to defend services pending the removal of the Tory government.”