Birmingham bin workers on strike, photo by Ian Leech

Birmingham bin workers on strike, photo by Ian Leech   (Click to enlarge: opens in new window)

Birmingham bin workers step up action

Dave Griffiths

As Birmingham’s Labour council continues to try to impose job cuts and conditions changes on Brum’s bin service workers, members of Unite the Union are to escalate their strike.

They announced that from a weekly two-hour strike between 6 and 8am, they would now undertake such a two-hour strike every week day through to 4th August.

The workers’ mood is upbeat, but they continue to be disappointed that the GMB union has not balloted to join the action; but they are happy that at least Unison now has. There is an unconfirmed report that the GMB is to ballot this week.

Tuesday 11 July saw the second strike action by the bin workers. From the 30-40 strong picket line at Lifford Lane, Theo from Birmingham Socialist Party reported:

“A worker said the action should be stepped up to every morning because management were ‘using dirty tricks’ and said the dispute ‘was as much about breaking the spirit of the workforce as it was about austerity’.

Another spoke about the need for day long actions instead of just mornings. A guy who’d been there 11 years said he didn’t trust Labour whatsoever to handle the situation, which was echoed by others.”

Binworkers' placard. Jeremy Corbyn might be trying to change Labour, but for Birmingham bin workers, it’s not happening here.

Binworkers’ placard. Jeremy Corbyn might be trying to change Labour, but for Birmingham bin workers, it’s not happening here.   (Click to enlarge: opens in new window)

At Tyseley, where 40 pickets covered the gates, one worker suggested they strike for the last hour of shifts as well.

Management has attempted to break picket lines and to use Saturday overtime to undermine the dispute.

Eamonn reports that pickets at Tyseley believe temps were told to go in early and three crews had gone out before 6am.

The 40 pickets at Perry Barr depot had one lorry go through them but remarked that the agency worker crew had probably been bullied into working.

At Digbeth, where 15 workers picketed, Nick Hart reports that only one wagon went out – “a suit drove off in another, before being flagged down by workers who pointed out he wasn’t accredited to be driving it!”

A picket added: “There’s no trouble getting the agency lads out, we don’t even have to ask them – some of them have been here for 10 years!”

Ten years! So while Jeremy Corbyn is rightly campaigning against zero hours, agency working that undermines pay and conditions, and other dodgy contracts, Birmingham council is institutionalising agency work. Clive Walder reported this was echoed at Lifford Lane: “People saw Theresa May’s weakness but they had no time for Labour councillors”.

If, as workers say, part of the council’s plan is to demoralise the workforce, then the trade union and socialist movement around Birmingham must respond to support these workers.

Solidarity and support should be built now, beginning with messages/letters of support which could be sent to regional officer Lynne Shakespeare: [email protected]

Birmingham Socialist Party produced a bulletin that was well received, reporting on the issues in dispute, and commenting:

“The council … are demanding workers pay for the cuts being made by the government. Instead of attacking workers’ conditions, they should be fighting together with workers against Tory cuts. There could be a Corbyn government by the end of the year that would try to stop austerity. So, the council should use some of its reserves to defend services pending the removal of the Tory government.”