Labour Councillors John Clancy and Lisa Trickett and Chief exec Stella Manzie must resign given their disgraceful role in the dispute and their lies to the Brum public.
In refusing to even meet to discuss the ACAS/UNITE/Clancy agreement at Cabinet the Blairite Labour Council has shown it’s not interested in resolving the dispute through talks. Instead, they have signalled their intention to smash union organisation in the Council.
This latest act comes after Cllr Trickett has publicly stated that the bin workers were ‘holding the city to ransom’. How dare the council claim there’s not the money to settle the dispute – the council spent £40k a day on an army of untrained ‘Scab Labour’, adding up to £2 million so far spent to break the strike!
If that wasn’t bad enough, Council leader John Clancy spent Thursday and Friday denying that a deal to keep the jobs of Grade 3 bin workers had even been struck. Then, over the weekend, a statement from ACAS revealed that just such a deal had been agreed by both parties! The contempt shown by this dishonest approach for both the workforce and the residents of Birmingham is just staggering.
Some will no doubt say that the actions of the Council were ‘predictable’. However, it was correct that the union gave an opportunity for talks to succeed. As the council has refused to take that opportunity now is the time to return to industrial action and mobilise the energy, solidarity and tactics that proved successful in forcing the employer to the table and gaining the support of the Birmingham public.
It now has come out that, along with others, Hall Green Labour Councillor Barry Bowles is calling for Clancy to step down. Not because of his lying about the existence of an agreement, or his part in dragging the dispute out…but for not being “tough” enough when it comes to trying to break the union!
Just last week after the u-turn on the deal was announced, the same Cllr Bowles said “We need to follow the advice of the council’s officers, who we pay a lot of money to…even if it puts the strike back on”
If councillors like Bowles are only going to do whatever the unelected officers tell them to do, what is the point of them standing in the first place?
If Labour councillors won’t stand up for us, we need to be prepared to run candidates against them that will take the fight to the Tories and their cuts!
The 1st of September saw Birmingham’s bin workers out on strike again, after council chief exec Stella Manzie went over the heads of elected councillors and scrapped the previously agreed deal to keep Grade 3 jobs.
Many workers at Perry Barr saw the Council’s decision to issue redundancy notices before the planned Cabinet meeting that day had even taken place as a declaration of all out war by Council bosses on their workforce. One worker commented: “this isn’t about saving money, this is a politically fuelled attack, and the bosses are determined to do whatever it takes to break us”
Meanwhile at Digbeth, pickets made no bones about this looking like being a struggle to the end, and a must win one. As one said: “it’s obvious what they’re (BCC bosses) are trying to do – get rid of the Grade 3 loaders, so that they can come back and knock the drivers down to that pay band later. And then if they force that on us, what’s to stop them trying on similar stuff with other parts of the workforce?”
In any case, it looks like Birmingham residents are seeing through the Council’s recklessness in dragging out this dispute and going back on it’s promises – at least if the increased number of beeping horns outside Tyseley is anything to go by. What’s vital is that the union steps up the publicity campaign to explain to the public what’s at stake here for workers and the public, both through the media, online, and hopefully with the holding of public rallies/protests.
Here we reproduce the text of an A5 leaflet that we have been including on our regular campaigning stalls around Brum, explaining to the public the issues at stake in the strike, and why the binworkers deserve their support.
Reasons to support your local Bin workers
The council are trying to IMPOSE job losses and significant pay cuts on Bin workers.
There are more households, more people and more rubbish being collected in less hours and the council want even less hours in more unsafe conditions – unsafe both for the public and workers.
When the service moved from black bags to wheelie bins, crews were cut from 5 to 3. A driver, (with a big vehicle in often tight spaces) a loader and a second loader who takes extra responsibility for safety at the back and side of the wagon. (they are not non-working ‘supervisors’ as implied by the Evening Mail). The Council want to abolish that role and cut workers pay.
Bin workers have already had 2 pay cuts since 2008. With more cuts one can see why workers feel so strongly and got to the point of voting to strike. Workers are trying to stand up to this bullying
Rather than talk to unions, management have sent intimidatory letters to the homes of workers and are paying costly agency staff to pick up the backlog. Why not simply stop pay cuts and let our workforce work?
The council mis-budgeted: Budgeting only for picking up wheelie bins not all the other rubbish from our streets. So they overspent on the wheelie bin scheme and on hundreds of expensive agency workers. (Agency workers aren’t paid more, its agencies that benefit. Agency workers are often bullied to work more unsafely.) That meant they ’overspent’ and are now trying to make workers pay for a crisis caused by government cuts and their mismanagement. Workers want all agency workers to have full time, proper jobs.
Workers offered ideas on how to make the service more efficient, but management ignored them and imposed their cuts.
Workers feel that the constant attacks on their jobs, pay and working conditions are setting up the service for privatisation. The confrontational approach and ‘dirty tricks’ of the Council merely convinces them the more so.
Government demanded £650m cuts in Brum. Half the workforce were made redundant and health and safety checks are not carried out as often – and we’ve seen what that leads to at Grenfell Tower
Since the general election even Tory cabinet members are now saying they reject austerity. Why won’t Labour councillors? Pushing workers to strike and trying to undermine them is more like Maggie Thatcher against the miners than Jeremy Corbyn.
Workers are not responsible for the problem and Birmingham’s streets will not get any cleaner by imposing these attacks on them. The council need to invest in the workforce and in our city and demand that Central Government provide the funds to do so.
The mess on our streets after just 2 hour strikes shows that the job they do is vital, just like nurses, firefighters and all those being made to pay for the mess caused by greedy bankers.
Like all of us, Bin workers have the right to safe working conditions and not having their wages slashed. We need to support one another against these kind of attacks that are being made on so many of us.
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 contractorsto 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 councilswill continue to be seen as no different to the Tories and the hundreds and thousands of fresh new members will become demoralised.
A large turnout of between 50 to 60 striking bin workers were present at Perry Barr picket line on 17th July reported Ian Leech. The mood remains resolute with anger being directed at the council and local management. Bob Severn at Tyseley and Clive Walder at Lifford Lane where pickets numbered between 30-40, reported the same.
Many strikers explained that, in sharp contrast to previous strike action, they had received verbal support from the public. This was added to by the Convenor’s report that informed that email support had also been received by Unite offices. Click here for Socialist Party strike bulletins and public info flyers that have been distributed during the dispute.
Strikers at Perry Barr
Management have stepped up dirty tricks and strike breaking from recruiting expensive agency staff and ‘partners’ to clear up rubbish left by the strike and sending letters to individual workers about a confidential hotline to encourage those scared by the threat of job loss to jump ship and weaken the entire workforce. These tactics from management—more akin to Thatcher against the miners than to Jeremy Corbyn– while they were supposed to be talking to the Union!
They could of course, stop the imposition of their lousy plan, let bin workers go back to work and save money as a result!
It’s no wonder there is a deteriorating relationship between local management and bin workers. Strikers informed the Socialist that they wished it made known that this dispute isn’t about chasing more money. It is about cuts that are leading to attacks on terms and conditions, changes in work practices and reduced Health and Safety standards.
The use of strikebreaking ‘partners’ raised in many workers minds that the council were trying to batter their conditions to get the service ready for privatisation.
A striking bin worker at Lifford Lane exposed the truth about the strike breaking operation taking place at weekends. They indeed did have 52 crews out but many were only using street cleaning lorries which hold much less than a bin wagon and have no equipment to lift a wheelie bin and empty its contents! All they can do is to pick up bags of rubbish not in wheelie bins. This was confirmed by tweets accompanying the Birmingham Mail article where angry residents were denouncing the council’s claim of clearing the backlog as a sham.
He also said that they are being told to mix recycling and non-recycling waste which is apparently against EU regulations and which also means that they are losing the revenue that would be accrued for recycling materials and pay extra to send it to landfill. They are therefore spending money to break the strike, losing revenue and incurring extra charges! Not to mention undermining their ‘green’ credentials
Towards the end of the stoppage at Perry Barr the Unite Rep called the strikers together for an update. He said the dispute remains solid across the city and that Unite would not suspend any action until they agree with a written submission from the employer. He went onto explain that, in addition to the 2 hour strikes every day until the end of July, an additional daily one hour stoppage during the lunch break would take place where staff would book keys etc back in and clock out, thus raising the level of disruption. This was met with cheers and laughter from the strikers.
In addition, the Convenor reported that Unison were now balloting its members and that Unite were now balloting its membership amongst Street cleaning teams.
This showed the importance of keeping information flowing. We hope our bulletin has helped a bit in this, but if management are going to target individual workers, then the strike will need to overcome any sense of isolation they may feel, and to keep confidence high. Regular reps meetings and reports definitely help in that. Mass meetings, we believe would also help bind workers together and counter any sense of isolation.
Some strikers discussed approaching local MPs and Councillors about the dispute.
This led to a discussion on the current state of the Labour Party where it was suggested that Corbyn’s leadership and the ‘crew in Birmingham City Council’ were totally different. “They are all Blairites in the Council here”.
May’s Tories are weak and divided. Why is Birmingham Labour continuing to cut services?
The answer to this lies in the Socialist Party’s description of Labour as “two parties in one”. On the one hand Jeremy Corbyn has called Austerity “a political choice” and has campaigned against local authority cuts, but the reality ‘on the ground’ is that local councils are controlled by Labour groups loyal to former leader Tony Blair and his acolytes the “Blairites” who dominate areas like the West Midlands.
For a generation Labour Councillors have claimed they’re against cuts whilst at the same time carrying them out. This process speeded up with the Banking crisis of 2007-8 and the introduction of Tory Austerity.
The Socialist Party (previously Militant) has consistently argued that councils should lead a public campaign for more money from the Tories by setting budgets based on local service needs and refusing to make any cuts as Liverpool City Council did in 1983-87.
In order to ensure that representatives such as MP’s and Councillors are more accountable to the grassroots of the party, we’ve argued that Jeremy Corbyn needs to ensure that decision making is put in the hands of the local members through a mandatory reselection process. This way, local community members of the Labour Party can try to ensure that their voices are heard through their public representatives.
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: email@example.com
*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.”
At 10.45am on Friday 30th June Bin workers across the city of Birmingham began leaving their vans and depots to begin the first in a series of strikes against their employer Birmingham City Council.
The dispute has been triggered in response to the Labour Controlled authority plan to introduce a package of measures designed to cut the bin service budget.
The package includes the termination of the contract of, initially 122, now 113 full time staff employed at Grade 3 level and then re-employ some at a lower Grade 2 through a competitive process. In addition, the reconfiguring of working days -currently staff work four days at 9 hours with a ‘rest day’. This will be altered to reduced hours on four days plus working until 10.30am on the previous ‘rest day’. This will cut staff wages and eat into their designated rest day in what is a physically demanding job.
The trade unions are also demanding that Birmingham City Council cease their long-standing use of Agency Staff and recruit to full time posts for the Bin service.
The mood on the picket line at the Perry Barr depot was a mixture of anger, determination and frustration. The frustration comes as a result of the members having offered up suggestion after suggestion when asked by the employer on how best to improve the service, yet none of the proposals from staff have been recognised. In addition, a large amount of money earmarked to improve the service in previous commitments had never materialised. This has brought an accusation from the Local authority trade unions of “financial incompetence”.
In discussion with pickets many referred to learning the lessons of a previous dispute that took place in 2014 where, according to Unite members “we had them over a barrel only to let them off the hook and they reneged on the agreement reached. That won’t be happening this time!”
On the picket line there was some intense discussion on the issue of a “Labour Council continuing to make huge cuts when Labour could be in power within months” along with questioning of the failure of the GMB union to ballot its members despite their lodging a formal dispute with the employer. This issue and its consequences for individual GMB members not wanting to cross picket lines had caused a complication and worry that could have been avoided. It had been reported that, as a result, GMB members had been leaving to join Unite.
In addition, there was questioning as to why Unite itself had only called out the Grade 3’s across the city on strike despite balloting the Grades 2 and 4 members? Instead Unite full time staff had only asked Grade 4’s and 2’s to support their colleagues if they felt inclined to. In each Refuse Vehicle Grade 4 staff drive and take charge of the vehicle in road traffic and parked whilst Grade 3’s oversee the bin operation at the rear of the vehicle. Grade 2’s undertake the lifting and emptying of the bins. Clearly without the Grade 3’s in the operation then, not only will a gap appear in the pay structure blocking Grade 2 ‘progression’ but also, and crucially, Health and Safety will also be compromised as the Driver cannot take responsibility for all aspects of the job from inside the cab.
Unite members will continue the action with 2 hour stoppages on designated days throughout July (3rd, 11th, 19th and 27th) and into August (4th) to force the employer to back down over their proposals. However, even at this stage it would provide a massive lift to the Unite members involved in the current action if GMB were to announce that they intend to ballot their members who are equally affected by these proposals.
Click here for for copies of Socialist Party strike bulletins and info flyers.