REFUSE AND street cleansing workers in Hackney, east London, are involved in a bitter dispute against wage-cutting by the Labour council.
Some workers could lose up to £3,000 a year under new contracts imposed by management just before Christmas. The wage cuts are the result of the way the council is implementing the national "single status" agreement. This is supposed to equalise the conditions of all council workers.
The council bosses have used this excuse to slash wages, take away bonuses, worsen the service, remove washing up time and change working times and targets. This means all workers will be expected to work harder for less money.
A strike ballot saw a 90 percent vote for action. Around 150 workers who are members of the TGWU union have started a continuous overtime ban, and refuse workers staged one-day strikes on the two Saturdays following Christmas.
All the workers affected also struck for the day on Friday of last week. As well as the TGWU, Unison members have also been taking action.
One picket told Socialist Worker, "The new contract will mean immediate losses of £3,000 a year for some of us. The council don't want to talk to us. They voted themselves a £1 million increase in their expenses while forcing through wage cuts for us. Mayor Jules Pipe and chief executive Max Caller have never come down here to see what things are really like. They don't know about the leaking roof, the lack of heating, the abysmal toilets. Our boots don't dry out before we go out in the mornings."
Another picket added, "In 30 years I've received nothing from the council at Christmas. Even the private firm who took us over a couple of years back gave us a £15 voucher. But we don't want to go private again. Councils were set up to serve the public. They were not set up as businesses to make a profit."
The council has even refused the union's request for a time and motion study to judge workloads. It is also saying there will be a bonus scheme to make up some of the lost money-but without saying what workers would have to achieve to get the bonus!
And the treatment of workers on temporary contracts is fuelling the anger.
A picket explained to Socialist Worker: "While refuse workers have been sacked, suspended or victimised, and vacancies left unfilled, management have been stuffing the depot with agency workers. We think there are between 50 and 60 working here. Some have been with us for more than a year. They would like permanent jobs. But it's getting to be just like the docks before unions. The temps come here at 6am. If they aren't chosen for work by 9am they are sent home with no pay and, believe me, Millfields depot is not an easy place to get to by 6am. We want all of us, permanents and temps, to be treated with respect."
While workers face wage cuts, consultants brought in to slim down the service are being paid tens of thousands of pounds.
Pickets last week were outraged by comments from Jules Pipe, Hackney's Labour mayor. One said, "Jules Pipe said in the Hackney Gazette that we are holding the council to ransom. We are not. They are the ones who are forcing through wage cuts. We don't want to hit the public. We want to provide a good service."
There was strong support for escalating the action to a week-long strike on the picket line.
CAROLINE CONWAY and CHARLIE KIMBER