Link to this page: https://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/765/16677
Brighton bin workers fight pay cuts - this time from the Greens
Brighton Socialist Party
Brighton and Hove staff at Hollingdean bin depot staged a two day sit-in last week in protest against cuts to their allowances.
A significant chunk of take-home pay is made up of these allowances. Many stand to lose up to £4,000 a year. 260 members at the Green Party-controlled council's Cityclean department would be particularly badly affected, with an average loss of £2,000 a year.
Disgracefully the council is trying to justify this action by saying it needs to implement equal pay for its workforce.
It is clear that just like the Tories and Labour councils elsewhere, the Green version of 'equal pay' means the driving down of workers' wages and conditions to the lowest level rather than improving the pay of women workers in particular.
The GMB union walked out of negotiations over a threat to sack and re-engage a handful of park staff on the new terms and conditions.
On 8 May this threat was extended to the entire affected workforce. Instead of waiting for the end of the ballot process, workers staged a spontaneous unofficial two-day strike and have attracted significant support from within the city and further afield.
This has led to large splits in the Green Party, with the party branch passing a resolution that condemns the plans if they result in a loss of pay and calling on the council to consult alternative lawyers.
Caroline Lucas, the Green Party MP, has likewise come out against the council and visited the workers to express her solidarity.
Fire has been directed at council leader Jason Kitcat in particular, with calls for his resignation. The workers have now returned to work (working to rule) after receiving a guarantee that the proposals would be re-examined, GMB has initiated a ballot for all-out strike action.
Since their election in 2011 the Greens have tried to square the circle of 'opposing' the cuts while refusing to try to build a mass movement against the government.
The next round of cuts will go very deep, with an estimated £120 million reduction over the next five years.
Disappointment with the timidity of the council has been steadily growing. The present strike has brought questions over the council strategy to a head. However there is no genuine opposition to these plans.
Will Labour support the strikes? Will they oppose the government and call for them to reverse funding cuts? Or will they try to play a similar game to the Greens and invariably fail, gambling away the population of Brighton and Hove in the process? They have voted consistently in favour of cuts. How can they now present themselves as standing up for the working class?
This dispute highlights the important and powerful role of the organised working class. The refuse workers are the best organised workforce in Brighton and Hove with a long proud record of fighting back.
GMB and Unison, many of whose members will also lose out under the pay proposals, should make it clear that this fight is not just about a savage attack on their members' pay packets.
It is part of the wider struggle against the cuts: political measures which demand a political response.
The union subs of low-paid council workers are still used to campaign for the election of Labour councillors who (with a handful of honourable exceptions outside of Brighton) vote for cuts and job losses in Brighton and elsewhere.
Every council election should be contested by a candidate committed to oppose all cuts and defend working people.
The Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition has been standing working-class candidates since 2010. How much more could be achieved if powerful public sector unions like GMB, Unite and Unison threw their weight behind a genuine electoral struggle against the cuts?
In The Socialist 15 May 2013:
Fight the bedroom tax
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