Victory To The Bin Workers!

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.

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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:

Publicity campaign:

  • 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”

Finance:

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.

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Birmingham’s Labour Councillors: busy “ratting” on their own workforce

 

 

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.

Birmingham Binworkers Hold Firm

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.

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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”.

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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.

Birmingham Bin Workers Step Up Action

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.

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Jeremy Corbyn might be trying to change Labour, but for Birmingham bin workers it’s not happening here

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”.

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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: lynne.shakespeare@unitetheunion.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.”
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Bin Workers’ Strike Begins

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.

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Picket line at Redfearn Road depot

 

 

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.

May Must Go! Protest This Wednesday

Theresa May called an election thinking she’d win a huge majority – she managed to lose the small majority she had, but she still thinks she can carry on! Young people surged to the polling stations to support Jeremy Corbyn – now we need to carry on the fight against May and the Tories.

Join the protest in Birmingham on Wednesday 21st June – the day of the opening of Parliament/Queen’s Speech when the humiliated Theresa May and her new partners in the ultra-reactionary DUP will announce the attacks they plan on carrying out over the next year.

Assemble at Victoria Square at bottom of steps on New St at 6pm – and be sure to click attending on the Facebook event!

Cuts Leave Schools Unable To Meet Basic Needs

By Akila Kumar, Birmingham teacher

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has proposed to fund free school meals for all primary school children by adding VAT tax on private education fees.

At a time when schools are facing severe cuts to their budgets, Corbyn’s proposal is a welcome measure. It is an absolute disgrace that, due to cuts to benefits and the rise of in-work poverty, some parents go hungry so that their children can have a decent meal.

But to solve the crisis in education, Corbyn needs to go even further. His proposal should be just one of many measures to increase the funding available to schools. The government’s brutal cuts to education mean that primary schools will lose on average £403 per pupil and secondary schools will lose £554 per pupil by 2020.

Campaigning against school cuts in Erdington

It is no wonder that schools are struggling to fund basic resources for pupils: the school I work at cannot afford to replace basic classroom equipment.

Even more shocking, one primary school in Sussex has had to ask pupils to donate toilet roll and stationery, as it cannot afford to finance these items due to cuts. One in six state schools have sent letters to families asking for contributions of £20 a month or more for around 1.4 million students.

Elsewhere, schools are considering closing early two days a week as they cannot afford enough teachers.

Government cuts have left schools unable to meet the basic needs of pupils. Meanwhile, the government continues to promote inequality through academies, free schools and grammar schools.

These should be abolished and replaced by a properly resourced state education system for all. No school should have to ask for handouts from parents because they cannot afford resources.

No parent should have to go hungry so that their child can eat. There is enough money in the hands of the super-rich to finance a decent state education for every pupil.

Tories Win West Midlands Mayor Election – The Complete Failure Of The Labour Right

Reposted from http://www.coventrysocialists.com

The Tories have won the inaugural election for the position of Mayor of the West Midlands Combined Authority. In a tight race, the Conservative candidate Andy Street received 238,628 (50.4 per cent after the second round) to 234,862 (49.6 per cent)  for Sion Simon of the Labour Party.

No doubt this will be a boost for the Tories in the run up to the general election. However it is important to understand what happened and the lessons that can be learnt in order to ensure this victory for the Tories is not built upon in June.

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The loss for Labour is fuelling the narrative from both the capitalist establishment and the Labour Right that Jeremy Corbyn is a problem. The ‘blame Corbyn’ script in reality had already been written.  Sion Simon, although refusing to explicitly blame Corbyn, made the following comment which many are seeing as an attack on the leader

“I am talking about values – the issues that came back on the doorstep were about values and our regional campaign [being] overshadowed by national political issues all the time.” He went on to say “… Labour voters in Labour areas were saying to us ‘we don’t feel confident that you are strong enough in our traditional Labour values’, which we always have been hear in the West Midlands and that’s the lesson we need to learn as a party and learn it soon.”

The Labour campaign

These claims however do not stand up to scrutiny. The campaign was wholly a creature of the right wing of the Labour Party. The candidate Sion Simon, is a careerist politician par excellence. A former minister in the Gordon Brown government and current Member of the European Parliament for the West Midlands, he is the personification of everything ordinary people mistrust in politicians.

As an MP for Birmingham Erdington he was caught in the MP’s expenses scandal, breaching parliamentary rules by renting his “second home” in London from his sister, and was forced to repay about £20,000. Soon after he stepped down as an MP he attempted to position himself as a candidate for the position of a Birmingham City Mayor, that was rejected in a city wide referendum in 2012.

His election leaflets patronised working class voters with talk of building Spitfire aircraft and pictures of the cross of St George. There was little or no talk of Tory austerity and importantly how to fight it. There was little or no mention of the sorts of policies that won Jeremy the leadership of the Labour Party and have begun to win wider support – £10 per hour minimum wage and an end to zero hour contracts for example. Indeed, there was not even a mention of Jeremy Corbyn on the election material from the Labour Party.

Simon prefered to pose with numerous local councillors throughout his leaflets, most of who have carried out massive cuts to local jobs, services and facilities. No wonder the turnout was so low.

Many ordinary Labour Party members would have worked hard in this campaign – unfortunately the direction of the campaign was dictated by the right wing, with disastrous results.

Sion Simon is part of the same section of the Labour Party as Gerard Coyne the West Midlands regional secretary of UNITE the union,  who unsuccessfully challenged Len McCluskey in the recent general secretary elections. Indeed during the election campaign UNITE said it would suspend its donation to Simon’s campaign due to issues around the sharing of members data between the Coyne and Simon camps. The right wing say Corbyn is a turn off for voters, but they say nothing about the effects of their Councils in places like Coventry and Birmingham implementing Tory cuts!

The West Midlands Combined Authority and election turnout

The turnout for this election was 26.3 per cent  and it is fair to say that there was a great deal of cynicism towards the question of the Combined Authority and the position of mayor. Indeed, both the populations of Coventry and Birmingham had voted against having their own city mayor in referendums in 2012 . It also needs to be remembered how the WMCA was created, which was promoted by then Tory Chancellor George Osborne and then willingly supported by right wing Labour Councils in the West Midlands.

The WMCA was never about genuine devolution, more it is about devolving austerity and is a key part of Conservative public sector reform (i.e austerity) agenda.

Unfortunately Labour in the West Midlands, rather than pointing this out for what it is, have gone along with the whole sham. Linked to this, Labour Councils in the West Midlands have obediently implemented every single cut handed down from central government. This does not help Labour set itself out as an alternative to the Tories.

What next? Step up the fight – elect Corbyn on socialist policies!

It is clear from this election, that the Labour Right have nothing to offer in terms of winning elections. The West Midlands is the fiefdom of arch Corbyn enemies such as Tom Watson, the Labour deputy leader. Will he take his responsibility for this result?

Though a setback, it would be wrong for supporters of Jeremy Corbyn and all of those people who wish to see the end of the Tories, disheartened.

Working class people can be won over to a bold socialist programme! Jeremy’s policies as already mentioned ,around issues such as scrapping the Trade Union Act, restoring free education, ending the pay cap in the public sector, rights for people in rented accommodation are popular. They chime with the day to day experience of millions of people.  What is needed is a massive campaign across the country – rallies, street corner meetings, demonstrations in every town and city. Let’s bring the methods of Bernie Sanders and Jean-Luc Melenchon in to this election! The right wing can’t be allowed to airbrush Corbyn from election material. No more sabotage from Blair, Mandelson, Tom Watson and their ilk.

A campaign based around Corbyn’s key policies linked with the need for socialism can push the Tories back. The Socialist Party looks forward to helping take the fight to the Tories over the coming weeks.