Link to this page: http://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/582/7397
Bristol refuse workers strike
"We don't want to go on strike, but you've got to stand up for your rights" explained one of the striking refuse collectors in Bristol to Socialist Party members on the picket line.
The workers were contracted out from Bristol City council to French firm Sita, whose main interests are profits. Unite, the union the 271 workers belong to, entered talks back in November for their 2007/08 pay award. "Maybe we were greedy" questioned the Unite official, by asking for 5% when inflation was only at 4.75%, yet Sita refused to even discuss it and offered only 2.75% - an insulting pay cut for the Sita workers.
Sita has agreed to three meetings since then, with no pay award forthcoming. The third meeting was after the workers balloted and decided to go for strike action. But only as long as the strike was called off.
The union immediately called off the strike, keen to sort out the dispute. After two hours of conversation, going round in circles with no mention of pay, the convenor realised this was just a ploy to get the rubbish collected that day and left.
The workers aren't giving up though. With a rolling strike on Friday 29 May and Monday 1 June, with only a couple of workers crossing their picket lines at the two main depots in Bristol, they are hopeful. "We need to get our message to the general public," the convenor explained on the picket line. They certainly did this on Friday with almost 300 workers descending on the Council House, demanding that the council sits up and take notice.
Although the work is contracted out to Sita, the council pays for the service and could easily take the service back in-house. Yet this is part of the broader programme to privatise as many of the public services as possible, making massive profits for big business, but with continual cuts in wages and conditions for the workers and year on year increases in council taxes for the public to pay for the companies.
In The Socialist 5 June 2009:
Workplace news and analysis
Socialist Party election campaign
Socialist Party feature
Socialist Party review
Marxist analysis: history