Socialist Worker

Action is biting as Leeds bin workers fight back

by Simon Basketter
Issue No. 2171

Solidarity bin (Pic: Lucy Bagnall)

Solidarity bin (Pic: Lucy Bagnall)

The determination of Leeds council bosses to cut services is becoming clear after three weeks of an all‑out strike by refuse workers.

Around 600 workers are battling against the Tory/Lib Dem council. The council is attempting to cut wages by up to £6,000 and is using private companies in an attempt to break the strike.

Many workers fear the council’s real agenda is to sell off the refuse service.

Council leader Richard Brett, who is on holiday in Bournemouth after the stress of last week’s Liberal Democrat conference, says the council is “seriously considering the outsourcing of the service, the privatising of the service”.

Brett has even had the nerve to say refuse workers are “well-paid” on £18,000 – even though last year he raked in more than £45,000 in expenses alone.

One striker told Socialist Worker, “Look at the price of bread, milk and petrol. My shopping costs £100 a week. Who can afford to take a £6,000 pay cut?

“The council has got no respect for us. We can’t let them get away with it.”

Brett has attacked the strikers in the press and even claimed to the media that they had made “threatening” phone calls to him.

“It’s one thing having a go at me, but my family, in my view, is off limits,” he said.

Strikers strongly deny making any “threatening calls”. Marco, one of the strikers, responded, “Even if someone had, what’s the difference between his family and ours? He’s attacking our families with the pay cuts.”

The strike is starting to bite. Despite a scabbing operation from the council, rubbish is piling up on the streets.

And by provoking this strike, council bosses are putting people at risk.

Chris Boothby from Leeds Metropolitan University points out, “This is really starting to be a health risk.”

In a swab sample for harmful bugs one household bin recorded a reading of 48,029. A normal reading of a regularly emptied bin would be about 4,000, Boothby explained.

He said, “It’s spreading into the general environment.I would not like to walk down these streets and breathe in the air that is blowing around.”

The refuse workers are determined to win. Gary, one of the strikers, said, “The council wants us to give up, but we’re not going to.

“The strike is solid. The scabs have no idea how to do the job and are costing a fortune.”

The unions are organising a rally and benefit gig in support of the strike with the date expected to be announced this week.

Support for the strike is growing. But unfortunately union leaders have responded to the threat of the anti-union laws by lifting pickets on scab depots and leaving it to some union officials to protest at the sites.

The strike is strong enough to win, but the union should not be intimidated by the law. The pickets need to be escalated to bring an end to the scabbing and halt the council’s arrogant pay cuts and privatisation plans.

Send messages of support to and and

Click here to subscribe to our daily morning email newsletter 'Breakfast in red'

Article information

Tue 29 Sep 2009, 18:27 BST
Issue No. 2171
Share this article


Mobile users! Don't forget to add Socialist Worker to your home screen.