The Socialist 23 January 2019 |
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Birmingham: hostile Labour council attacks striking workers
Councillor resigns from cabinet
Birmingham bins strikers, photo Rachel Jenkins (Click to enlarge)
Birmingham Socialist Party
Birmingham city Labour councillor Majid Mahmood recently announced that he will be stepping down from his cabinet role for Clean Streets, Waste and Recycling. He credits this decision to his frustration over the Labour council's hostile approach to both the bin workers and home care workers.
The council made public its plan to pursue legal action against Unite and Unison unions for the recent industrial action taken by their council worker members - another example in a long list showing how far the council will go to attack its own employees as well as find new ways to waste public money.
They spent over £6 million on agency staff to try and break the bin workers' strike last year and another £12 million on consultants to 'streamline' (ie cut) adult and social care, which the home care service is part of.
Union reps report bin workers' anger and frustration, not just at these right-wing Labour councillors carrying out the Tories' dirty work, but also the unelected financial officers of the council who appear to be pulling the real strings behind the scenes of who has power here in Birmingham.
Birmingham home care workers have been taking strike action against the Labour council for over a year, amounting to 50+ days' full strike action. In December, the leadership of Unison (the union leading the strike) finally gave in to the rank-and-file membership and started building political pressure on the Labour council cabinet members. It was these councillors who agreed to the drastic cutting of the jobs in this service, reducing them to just part-time positions and resulting in poverty pay for the staff.
The home carers have been leafleting the individual wards of the cabinet members, including Majid Mahmood, questioning their 'Labour values' while they attack their own workforce.
At the same time in December, Unite bin workers overwhelmingly voted in favour of strike action against the council after only just concluding their last dispute a year ago. Additionally, Unison bin members voted for joint industrial action.
The workers across both unions are currently following a 'work to rule' which has already had an impact with missed bin collections.
This new dispute is over 'bribe' money which was paid to GMB union members who did not take strike action last year. An alleged secret 'sweetheart' deal was made between GMB leadership and the Labour council which saw GMB members receive a lump sum of money directly into their payslip - essentially blacklisting Unite and Unison members. The details on this deal have still not been made public.
It is good to see a Labour councillor finally break away from these attacks and stand on the side of the workers, but it shouldn't just stop there. The labour movement needs genuine fighting councillors to push back against Tory austerity and the Blairites who carry out their cuts.
It's worth noting the actions of opportunists on the other end of the spectrum, like Labour councillor Lisa Trickett, the former cabinet member in charge of the bin service.
Birmingham home carers on strike, 9.10.18, photo Birmingham Socialist Party (Click to enlarge)
Recently she came outside the Council House (town hall) supposedly offering support and solidarity to the striking home care workers despite last year being the person in charge of attacking the bin workers.
Trickett and other opportunist Labour councillors can't pick and choose when and which workers and communities they want to support when convenient for them and their publicity!
The unions should continue to put political pressure on Labour, not just in Birmingham, but also nationally. Any Labour councillor who supports the strikers needs to stand on the side of all council workers and oppose all cuts to public services.
Councillors who truly want to stand up to Tory austerity should work with the unions to demand councils set 'anti-cuts budgets' while using reserves and borrowing powers to ensure not a single cut is made.
During this time all Labour councils and trade unions can coordinate to mobilise workers and the public to stand up against the incredibly weak and fractured Tory-led government. This would be the most effective way of bringing down 'wobbly' Theresa May and triggering an early general election.
Labour councillors in Birmingham and across the country should be accountable to the labour movement. But if they continue to carry out the Tories' dirty work, then their union sponsors should withdraw financial and political support.
Moreover, the unions should demand that Jeremy Corbyn and the national executive withdraw the Labour whip from councillors carrying out cuts.
These cuts not only damage the lives of ordinary people but also undermine the anti-austerity platform Corbyn stands on and which has received massive support.
Labour councillors who have spoken out against the actions of the council should be applauded but they need to put those words into action!
Trade unionists and Labour members opposed to the council's attacks need to ramp up the pressure on the council in support of the bin and care workers.
Unite and Unison should build a mass campaign towards further coordinated action across the council workforce in support of the home care and bin workers and against the attacks taking place across every inch of the council.
Mass meetings should be called in every department to discuss and build support.
If the council's legal challenge is successful, Unite and Unison should call a joint national demonstration and rally in defence of the action taken by council workers.