Bin Strike – Round Two Begins

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”

Perry Barr picket line shows support for McDonald’s strike this Monday

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?”

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Catching some rays on the Costa Del Digbeth

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.

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Bin strike back on – Victory to the Brum bin workers!

Birmingham Bin Workers will resume industrial action on Friday 1st September at 7am. The resumption of action comes about due to Birmingham City Council Chief Executive, Stella Manzie, pre-empting a debate due to take place at a Cabinet meeting on a deal brokered by UNITE, Acas and John Clancy, Labour Leader which secured 113 Grade 3 post responsible for Health and Safety in the loading process, and proceeded to issue Redundancy Notices.

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The action was suspended to allow exploratory talks to continue but will now resume in response to Manzie’s actions.

In the week leading to the postponed Cabinet meeting, rumours were circulating that suggested that the Labour members on the Cabinet could refuse to back their Leader as the Officers of the Council had prepared a report informing that the ‘deal’ could not be afforded without bankrupting the Council.

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The Bin Workers, members of UNITE, having already taken 7 weeks of industrial action involving 3×1 hour stoppages each day, are fully prepared for a return to action and are determined to force this rotten Labour Council, who have spent in excess of £2 million employing scab labour to undermine the official action, into a retreat.

Birmingham Socialist Party gives its full support and solidarity to the Birmingham Bin Workers!


See our previous posts on this website for our reports of the strike over the last few months  or to find out more about the Socialist Party or join us:  Contact – brum.sp@hotmail.co.uk, call or text 07941 003037   or go to birminghamsocialistparty.wordpress.com

 

Birmingham Bin workers – Fighting back wins!

BIRMINGHAM BIN WORKERS – FIGHTING BACK WINS!

VICTORY FOR STANDING TOGETHER AND UNION ORGANISATION  –  But issues remain to be resolved

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Following magnificent action by Brum’s bin workers with high turnouts at picket lines, the increasingly determined workforce has forced a management retreat. It was the strength and determination, organisation and unity with effective flexible tactics that forced a ‘hard-nosed’ employer to the table.

The strike has been suspended pending talks around other issues after the Council gave up their attack on Grade 3 workers. It represents a defeat for bosses and also included that a suspended union rep was re-instated.

Scandalously, the Council tried to make bin-workers pay for gross mismanagement over the years and attacked, intimidated, lied about and tried to turn the public against them.

Little wonder most bin workers don’t trust the Councillors -who were backed up by the TV and press. Councillors used the language of Thatcher to claim bin workers were ‘holding our city to ransom’. But who was holding who to ransom? The council demanding a 25% pay cut or lose your job, that’s who!

They spent over £2million trying to organise a scab army to break the workers dispute when it would have only cost £330,000 to settle the grade 3 issue.

They implied “other services” were being put at risk by the strike. Yet the only threat to services in Birmingham is the council that is voting to cut them!

Clearly they are New Labour not Corbyn Labour. 

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PUBLIC SUPPORT

The failure of the public to turn on bin workers surprised the council and media. But most Birmingham people now have direct experience of the constant attacks, cuts and speed ups that modern management use.  So their sympathy was with the bin workers. They too, have had enough.

A Union that fights for its members wins support: Unite members were left alone to fight this dispute when UNISON and GMB failed to join the dispute. UNITE will come out of this event stronger in terms of experience and with over 60 new members recruited.

 

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Issues still remain to be resolved  …..

Clearly, all the issues of work patterns and other management demands are yet to be hammered out, and bin workers will all have an eye on that. But other issues also arise.

Bullying and intimidating managers – A Lifford Lane worker said that their priority in any negotiations were to get rid of a manager who bullied a street cleaner wagon driver in front of the pickets, to keep the Grade 3 jobs and stop the £4,000 to £5,000 a year pay cut.

Agency workers – many of whom supported the strike. We must seek to get all agency workers on permanent contracts. One said “I’m on the agency we get £8.50/hour. The public think we get great money. It’s hard work out in the rain and cold, I’d like to see the councillors do a shift.”

The council They attacked workers, blamed them, used scabs and bullying. They can’t be trusted.  If they can say the things they did, they might be back for more.

And Labour….The Labour Party here isn’t fit for purpose and must be changed. Not one single Labour MP or Councillor publicly spoke in favour of the union member’s struggle. Only at the end, did Jack Dromey, Labour MP for Erdington, having told the union to ‘compromise’ early on, appear on local TV to demand the ‘two sides’ stick to the agreement in the best interest of the people of Birmingham. He totally ignores the anti-trade union tactics of this Labour-controlled Council.

One lad spoke for many “I’m Labour, I’ve voted Labour all my life, but never again, not after this.” The Blue Labour Blairites must go.

 


 

South East B’ham Socialist Party members took £100 collected at their recent public meeting to Tyseley picket line. Bill Murray presenting it said “Bin workers have drawn a line in the sand that enough is enough. No more attacks on workers to make them pay for a problem they have not created.”

A clear warning has been sent to government, councils and profiteers who demand ever more cuts to jobs and pay to bail out bankers – expecting workers to live on ‘chocolate buttons’ – we’ve had enough.

A bin worker said, “I know this sounds mad but I love my job, I’ve been here 16 years. Don’t get me wrong I don’t enjoy getting up at 5, working in all weathers, but it’s the team, they’re such great lads.”

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The bin workers are, and they deserve what looks like a victory. They have struck a blow for all workers in this city. Because be sure, what bosses wanted to enforce on them, they would have tried to enforce across the council and ultimately it would had an effect on all employment in Brum.

As negotiations continue, the workers watchword will be “Vigilance”.

Local Government in crisis – Austerity means Local Authority budgets across the country are being subjected to massive cuts. Not one single council has resisted and defended services but instead are cutting budgets and attacking their employees’ terms and conditions. Due to this, the next dispute will not be too far away. Lessons learned in this dispute must be applied to the next action.

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Socialist Party: proud to have supported bin workers.

Socialist Party members fully supported this dispute with initiatives and ideas. We were able to call upon members in trade unions across the country to arrange donations and picket line visits. We provided contact details for the impending binworkers strike action in Doncaster.

Next Socialist Party meeting to discuss the dispute:

Monday 21 August. 7.30 Upstairs Room, Wellington Pub, Bennetts Hill, City centre.  Bin workers welcome

Reports above from members of Birmingham Socialist Party. More on our website or to find out more about the Socialist Party or join us:  Contact – brum.sp@hotmail.co.uk, call or text 07941 003037   or go to birminghamsocialistparty.wordpress.com

 

Angry bin workers enter fifth week of strike action

 

Clive Walder, Birmingham Socialist Party

Birmingham bin workers, members of Unite the Union, feel angry that the Labour council has forced them into a fifth week of industrial action to defend jobs, pay and the safety-critical member of the bin wagon crew.

But as their action bites they feel determined to stick it out until victory. They want to get back to collecting Birmingham‘s rubbish but not on the council’s shoddy terms. Workers are furious with council financial mismanagement of the service.

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Pickets at Digbeth Depot

Solidarity action must be stepped up. The Socialist Party believes that all local government unions should hold workplace meetings to explain the dispute and the wider consequences should the bin workers be defeated. This can be followed up with bucket collections on the next payday.

In Small Heath, a community group have started their own rubbish collections. It’s unlikely a small group of volunteers could make a difference to the level of uncollected rubbish but it is significant that the council has taken no action. They may think it undermines the strike, but workers are concerned that these volunteers have not been trained to collect rubbish or meet health and safety standards.

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Placards at Perry Barr

Some workers wonder whether the council is digging in for a long dispute, but the truth is that they have been put through this five week disgrace by council officers and senior councillors. Most councillors will be unaware of most of the issues, and it is time they were lobbied and had things explained to them.

It has been rumoured that some Birmingham Labour MPs have been pressuring the workers to compromise rather than demanding the council withdraw the job losses and downgrading.

A local Communication Workers Union branch passed a motion of support moved by a Socialist Party member and also agreed to write to Jeremy Corbyn asking him to remind Labour councillors that they should not attack their own workers.

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Many feel that these Labour councillors should not be allowed to stand as Labour candidates at next year’s election. Labour Party members should challenge councillors who are not supporting the bin workers.

Unite has made it clear that they will back the workers financially and industrially for as long as it takes and a hardship fund is in the process of being established.

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Fire Brigades Union West Midlands Chair Dave Pitt bringing solidarity from fire fighters and a donation to the strike fund

Socialist Party members have been visiting the picket lines at all four depots regularly and are warmly welcomed by the strikers. Four bin worker bulletins have already been produced and been well received with many workers reading them on the picket line immediately.

On the ‘Support the Brum Bin Strike’ Facebook page‘ one worker is quoted: “We’ve been bending over backwards for these lot for eight years now, but you can only kick a dog for so long before it turns round and bites you. This is what’s happening right now”.

It is vital that solidarity is built as this dispute could drag on. All readers of the Socialist should pass motions of support and send donations from union branches and other organisations.

  • Please send messages of support to Howard.Beckett@unitetheunion.org and donations can be sent to Unite the Union, 9-17 Victoria Street, West Bromwich, West Midlands, B70 8HX

 

Why You Should Back The Binworkers

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.

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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?

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Another solid picket at Perry Barr

Mismanagement

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.

 

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.