In the current dispute Birmingham Bin Workers have demonstrated a high level of organisation, solidarity, initiative and commitment to defending jobs in a crucial public service.
The flexible approach to prosecuting this dispute by striking for 2 hours with a step up to 3 and at varying times to cause maximum disruption has created a major back-log in empty bins across the city. A successful ballot result of the street cleansing teams would further bolster morale and apply pressure to the council.
What has become clear is that the Labour group on the council seems determined to defeat the strike through any means necessary including breaking existing industrial relations laws by drafting in a scab army at council tax payers expense. In addition, it’s use of newspapers, TV and social media to cut across the public support for the bin workers needs to be challenged.
The Socialist Party sees a victory for the Bin Workers, defending staffing levels, grade progression, health and safety standards etc as a major win for public sector workers who have been targeted by the Tory Government through cuts, privatisations and a long standing ‘pay cap’. A victory would also act as major reversal to the ‘Blairite-run’ City Council.
The Socialist Party has many members in leading trade union positions both locally, nationally and internationally who have years of experience of prosecuting industrial action.
With the above in mind, we fraternally offer the following suggestions as a package of measures designed for ‘stepping up’ the dispute in response to the strike breaking of the employer:
A social media campaign is launched that contests the employer’s position and explains the bin workers case. This can be shared across social media and begin to counter the propaganda campaign of the employer.
A lobby of Birmingham City Council’s next full council meeting. Industrial action would need to be timed to coincide with this initiative.
Leafletting of local authority workplaces explaining the bin workers case and how their victory is necessary to the maintenance of their jobs across the council”
The issue of money is crucial in every dispute. Therefore, a strike account should be opened and overseen by the union and shop stewards. This would enable trade union branches and national unions to donate ‘solidarity’ money to a hardship fund. This can be distributed on a ‘needs basis’ to enable strikers to continue their action lifted from excessive money pressures at home.
‘Stepping up’ the action.
As mentioned previously, rather than ‘sit out’ the strike in the hope that money pressures force workers back to work, the council is employing a scab army at council tax payers expense to intervene and break the dispute. Therefore, in the event that the current action strategy falls short of bringing a victory, and following the measures detailed in a & b having been agreed, then a city-wide meeting of all strikers should consider the question of how to step up the action including an ‘all out strike’ in response to management’s provocative actions. The meeting would need to be convened at “a time that will ensure a maximum turnout”.
Why is Birmingham, a Labour council, attacking its own workforce?
Apparently Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour offers a ‘different kind of politics’ but Birmingham’s Labour council don’t seem to have got the message.
While some middle-ranking managers were meeting with union representatives to try to resolve the current refuse workers’ dispute, behind the scenes letters were being prepared by service directors which offered workers a ‘take it or leave it’ ultimatum. These letters were received by workers the following day.
This is a despicable way to treat any workforce but it gets worse. Instead of re-entering meaningful negotiations with the union, council managers have brought in scab labour and private contractors to try to break the strike.
We have been informed on a picket line that the council have engaged two firms, ‘24/7’ and BMI and are paying a thousand pounds a wagon to clear overflowing rubbish over weekends.
Now, unable to organise recycled rubbish- and therefore losing income, the council is sending more to landfill for which they have to pay. They seem willing to pay any cost to beat up the workforce. Why?
We should be very suspicious of their motives and this bullying must be resisted to the end.
Birmingham’s Labour council are acting like the worst private employers and have now sent the grade 3s a third intimidatory letter to their home address. They are dancing to the Tory government’s tune and are proving once again that they are only too willing to do their dirty work locally.
We must defeat this attack by the Council. Then we have to change the council!
Birmingham Labour has administered £650m of cuts without protest so far and there is more to come.
Some may have considered privatisation of the council’s Children’s Services department or slashing libraries and closing children’s centres the lowest point of the council’s Tory impersonation. However questions must be now asked by Unite members, who are Labour’s biggest donor, about how Labour can take their money yet employ scabs and attack their members working for the council.
Unison are currently balloting its members in street cleansing, they face the same dilemma as Unite and the other council unions. One thing is for certain: the council must be defeated because if they get away with smashing the bin workers they will be even bolder when they come after the other grades later.
If Jeremy Corbyn is serious about changing Labour he must prove he is prepared to take on the Blue Labour slashers in local government.
He should come to Birmingham as a matter of urgency, meet the strikers and their union reps and declare that he is on their side. And he needs to the go and meet the Leader of the Labour Group and demand they back off
Labour councils can utilise various forms of short-term funding to plug gaps caused by Tory austerity such as using reserves or prudential borrowing. Besides, Jeremy Corbyn should now guarantee that a future Labour government would reverse the cuts when it takes office and instruct Labour councils to refuse to implement any further cuts.
Otherwise Labour councils will continue to be seen as no different to the Tories and the hundreds and thousands of fresh new members will become demoralised.