Solidarity with the Coventry bin lorry drivers

Build a movement to defend living standards

Coventry bin workers picket line

Coventry bin workers picket line   (Click to enlarge: opens in new window)

Dave Griffiths, Coventry Socialist Party

“Labour by name, Tory by policy,” chanted Coventry’s HGV drivers’ convenor Haydn Jones as he marched through Coventry along with his striking colleagues.

The supposed ‘Labour’ council has ignored their needs and has escalated the dispute by using agency drivers paid up to twice the council drivers’ normal wages to try to break their six-week-long strike over pay.

The council seems prepared to waste up to £4 million of our city’s money to beat down the bin workers rather than find the approximately £300,000 needed to fund the workers’ claim. It obviously has the money to pay them.

This ‘out-Torying the Tories’ by the council led Unite general secretary Sharon Graham to declare: “Let me be very clear – the remaining financial support of the Labour Party is now under review. There will be no Labour politician in the Midlands who will get one single penny from my members or any practical support of any kind while this strike is going ahead.”

Disgustingly, Labour’s HQ dismissed Unite’s views saying: “Labour is under new management”. That says it all. Starmer’s Labour is about managing capitalism for the bosses, not defending workers’ interests.

Working-class people are facing the worst cost of living crisis in decades, and we have no party – in Westminster or the council chambers – fighting on our side. On the contrary, Labour nationally appears to be backing Coventry council to the hilt.

The trade union movement nationally needs to build solidarity with the strike, as part of building a mass movement to fight for a living wage for all workers. Fifty years ago tens of thousands of Birmingham workers demonstrated at Saltley Gate in support of striking miners, resulting in victory. We need that kind of solidarity today.

An emergency national demonstration in Coventry, organised by the Trades Union Congress (TUC) and linking support for the Coventry HGV strike with a call for a living wage rise for all workers, and a minimum wage of at least £15 an hour, would be an important step forward and help build coordinated strike action to defeat inflation austerity.

If the TUC doesn’t take such action, left trade union leaders should form a ‘coalition of the willing’ to do so, while keeping up the pressure on the TUC as a whole to act.

Alongside an industrial fightback, workers also need a mass party that stands in our interests. The disaffiliation of the bakers’ union from Labour, and now Unite’s threat to withhold funds in solidarity with the Coventry drivers, are clear indications of trade unionists’ growing anger at Starmer’s New Labour.

Discussion is now urgently needed in the trade union movement on how to begin building a new party that would fight in workers’ interests. Individual trade unionists standing as anti-cuts candidates in May’s local elections would be an important first step.

When striking HGV workers marched to Coventry Council House, no-one was ‘available to speak to them’. No surprise to the increasingly angry workforce.

The council has combined employing agency drivers on twice the striking workers’ wages with a stream of lies and distortions against the strikers. Speaking at an online rally on 9 February, Unite General Secretary Sharon Graham said of the Labour council: “Time and again totally misrepresenting the union’s claims,” adding they should be “ashamed of the spin” being used.

“These dreadful misrepresentations are deliberately designed to enrage the general public which directly risks the welfare of workers”, she said. “Your behaviour and mistreatment of our members will not be accepted. It’s time to act like Labour, be the party for workers.”

The council – with dubious legality – is using a private firm it bought two years ago, supposedly to supplement their operations, to be a centre of strike-breaking. It is bullying non-driving crew members into working with the scab agency drivers. The crew’s anger is growing.

The workers and their union are responding to this challenge, taking the campaign to the streets of Coventry. The strike committee will make further plans this week to push the strike on to victory.

Workers also vow never to support these shameful Labour councillors again – councillors who have always been quick to grab funds from Unite, but who now ruthlessly attack its members. Unsurprisingly, the councillors are nowhere to be seen, hiding away behind council officers.

The council’s disgraceful policy is a result of years of choosing to fight their own workers and cut the services of the people of Coventry, rather than stand up to government cuts. However, when it comes to employing strike-breakers, the council can afford to pay double. Clearly the money is there to pay drivers a decent wage.

The raised stakes make the Coventry bin dispute of regional and national importance as workers across the country fight to defend their living standards. The workers can win, and need the support of the wider trade union movement.

Blue, Red and Yellow Tories need challenging

Dave Nellist, Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) candidate in the Birmingham Erdington by-election, said:

“For a party that calls itself Labour to pay twice the hourly rate to outside drivers to break a strike than the council pays its own drivers is scandalous.

“Sharon Graham is right to be angry, and the Coventry HGV drivers are right to fight for a decent pay rise. In the months ahead, working-class families in Erdington face a £1,000 – £2,000 cut in their living standards as food, fuel, energy, and taxes rise. With 111 live disputes calling for decent wages to combat the cost-of-living rise, Unite is showing how to fight back.

“I hope Unite members will consider standing as independent, anti-austerity candidates in the May elections. Blue Tories, Red Tories, and Yellow Tories need challenging. Labour doesn’t deserve union support when it attacks workers like this.”

See also:
Left Labour MPs under pressure over Erdington