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17 August 2017
Birmingham bin workers - fighting back wins!
Victory for standing together and union organisation - but issues remain to be resolved
Birmingham Socialist Party members
Following magnificent seven weeks of action by Brum's bin workers - members of Unite the Union - with high turnouts at picket lines, the increasingly determined workforce has forced a management retreat.
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. A suspended union rep has also been reinstated.
Scandalously, the Labour council tried to make bin workers pay for the council's own 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's Labour. They even lied by claiming they had gone to conciliation service Acas when in fact it was the union pushing for that for weeks.
The public's refusal to turn on the bin workers surprised the council and media. 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. Over 60 new members in waste have been recruited to Unite during the dispute.
Some issues, like work patterns, are yet to be hammered out.One 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.
We must seek to get all agency workers, many who supported the strike, on permanent contracts. One said: "I'm on the agency contract, we get £8.50 an hour. The public think we get great money. Its hard work out in the rain and cold, I'd like to see the councillors do a shift."
Birmingham council claimed they wanted to "modernise the service in line with best national practice". That meant moving from a four to a five day service in Birmingham. Funny, they're modernising the Doncaster service from five to four day working!
It's any old excuse as the same old failed managers and same old failed policies are recirculated around the country. But there's one common factor - the workers pay for it with fewer jobs, low pay and more sweated hours.
Birmingham council has attacked workers, blamed them, used scabs and bullying. They can't be trusted - they could be back for more. The Labour Party here isn't fit for purpose and must be changed. One lad spoke for many: "I'm Labour, I've voted Labour all my life, but never again, not after this." The Blairites must go.
South East Birmingham Socialist Party members took £100 that was collected at their recent public meeting to the Tyseley picket line. Presenting it, Bill Murray 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 five, working in all weather, but it's the team, they're such great lads." The bin workers are, and they deserve what looks like a victory. They have struck a blow for all workers in this city. 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 Birmingham.
As negotiations continue, the workers' watchword will be "vigilance".
- The next Socialist Party meeting to discuss the dispute: Monday 21 August at 7.30pm in the upstairs room, Wellington Pub, Bennetts Hill, Birmingham city centre. All welcome
This version of this article was first posted on the Socialist Party website on 17 August 2017 and may vary slightly from the version subsequently printed in The Socialist.