The New Labour council in Newham, east London, took another step in its campaign of union busting last week when taxis carrying threatening letters arrived at the homes of refuse workers.
These workers had refused to breach safety agreements and rush through two days work in a single day to clear up work that could not be done when it snowed on 8 February.
Instead of the usual practice of sorting out the backlog with the union reps, dust crews were told they had to stay at work until they had finished both days work when the snow melted.
These instructions were ignored and work continued as normal.
At a mass meeting on 12 February, members of the T&G and Unison unions agreed to work properly and to the council’s own safe working code.
This was met by letters threatening immediate dismissal and accusing workers of being engaged in unlawful industrial action.
The council has also demanded that union reps repudiate their members and join in demands to do unpaid overtime!
Unison branch chair Michael Gavan told Socialist Worker, “The threatening and bullying is despicable. The council is trying to impose the worst union busting practices of the private sector. We are demanding that the threats of unlawful pay cuts and dismissal are withdrawn at once.”
This attack cannot be separated from the battle to stop pay cuts and speed ups in the single status agreement.
Refuse and street cleansing workers are at the sharp end of the council’s attempt to use equal pay laws to level down conditions of the best organised sections to those of the traditionally weaker groups.
Unison stewards have been engaged in a debate with regional officials about the need to reject a deal which offers some pay rises, but denies our women members their full equal pay entitlement. It will also see pay cuts of 20 percent for workers in the depot – some of whom are women.
Thirty years after the equal pay act came into force, we cannot accept the idea that the grades awarded to jobs which are traditionally seen as male jobs should be lowered in order to hold down the pay of women who have been illegally denied equality for so many years.
It appears that our New Labour council, for all its talk of equality and women’s rights, has taken an old Tory trick to heart. It believes that the path to making sure the women are kept in their place lies in smashing the traditionally better organised refuse workers.
Our branch intends to stick by the old union motto that an injury to one is an injury to all. It is demanding our regional officials agree to support effective action against pay cuts, unpaid work and bullying wherever it occurs.