The all-out indefinite strike by over 500 hundred refuse collectors and street cleaners in Leeds has entered its second week. Many depots had large picket lines with some agency workers being persuaded to turn back.
By the weekend, bins were overflowing in many areas of the city.
The strike was triggered by the employers’ decision to impose pay cuts of up to £6,000 per year on a workforce currently on £17,000 to £18,000 a year.
The “job evaluation” that triggered the dispute is part of an agreement with unions to equalise the pay of men and women. However, government underfunding means that pay is being “levelled down”.
There was a demonstration of over 200 workers at the Civic Hall on Thursday of last week with strikers shouting “Low pay, no way – make the greedy councillors pay.”
Real anger was directed at city hall bosses, in particular Richard Brett, joint leader of the Liberal Democrat/Tory council, who had been on television to defend the cuts and accuse pickets of intimidation.
There was a huge cheer when a large banner reading “Scabs are rubbish – support the strike” was unfurled.
A joint GMB and Unison union meeting then voted unanimously to stay out indefinitely until the bosses agreed to reverse the pay reductions.
Workers are enthusiastic about this decision. One picket told Socialist Worker, “These cuts are being imposed across the board.
“The absolute minimum any of us here are losing is £2,200 and for most its closer to £6,000. Pay increases aren’t even on the agenda.
“The recent ‘job evaluation’ by an ‘independent panel’ that recommended the cuts is a joke. It contradicted previous reviews that said we should not have a pay cut.”
Private companies have been brought in to put what the unions describe as “strike-breaking refuse wagons” on the streets of Leeds.
Unison and the GMB were seeking urgent legal advice about what action was available to them if the use of “these outside companies” continued.
Many workers are furious that senior councillors on annual allowances of up to £45,000 and senior officials earning over £100,000 a year are unwilling to take pay cuts but expect them to.
According to Glen Pickersgill, Unison senior shop steward, “There is a strong turnout and there is a strong feeling here, people are angry they are losing all this money and some even stand to lose their homes because they won’t be able to keep up the payments.
“We’re not asking for any extra money, although of course that would be nice. We’re just asking them to leave our money alone and not make these pay cuts.”