Link to this page: http://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/211/8561
Victory Against The Private Profiteers
WORKERS EMPLOYED by SITA, the private company brought in by Brighton council for refuse collection and street cleaning, have won a magnificent victory.
After spending nine months battling with the workforce over cuts in working conditions, SITA, the French multinational has been defeated.
The struggle culminated in a four-day occupation of a bin depot, with a lot of public support for the workers.
SITA was forced to reinstate the whole workforce and pay £3 million compensation to the council to end their contract early.
PETER WOOD, a graffiti remover, explains how the final battle was won:
"We came in on 11 June to do our normal weekly work. We found that SITA management had decided to impose new street cleansing measures which we knew were impossible. When eleven staff refused to do these impossible rounds they were suspended. The rest of us - over 160 GMB members - protested about the suspensions and management sacked us all.
"That's why we went into occupation. The whole thing is typical of SITA's attitude since they took over. Agreements with management have been torn up by them. Management talk at people not to them. And on numerous other occasions management have tried to impose working conditions without any consultation.
"We want to do a good job for Brighton and Hove, yet SITA was stopping us. And its costing an extra £1.8 million a year for the service since they took over. Services for local people should not be run at a profit."
During the occupation the workers approached local employment agencies who were recruiting more workers, which SITA wanted to use as scabs. But after some of those workers joined the picket lines, the agencies stopped recruiting.
The existing casual workers joined the strike and will be paid along with the permanent workforce for the time lost in the occupation.
When the workers returned to work on 15 June, they reported that management were 'maintaining a low profile.'
The council have three months to find an alternative arrangement and the workers are planning to put forward a bid themselves. But as Gary Smith, Brighton GMB pointed out: "This will be seen as a landmark dispute... It should dispel the whole myth of private-sector efficiency. Labour politicians should be very careful what they say about that."
In The Socialist 22 June 2001: