Striking refuse workers in Leeds have forced the council into a dramatic climbdown in their bitter dispute over planned cuts that would see some workers lose £6,000 a year.
The workers are now entering their seventh week of all-out indefinite strike action against the cuts.
The council presented its “final offer” to union negotiators last Thursday—after initially saying it would not negotiate while the strike continues.
The offer is a big shift from the council’s original position. For example, the maximum a loader could lose under the new deal is £231, whereas previously it was between £4,000 and £6,000.
But it is still a pay cut—and the offer comes with strings attached.
It includes “pay rises” for some drivers who were previously facing cuts of thousands of pounds. But the rises are based on an extension of their hours—as one worker put it, “compulsory overtime”.
GMB and Unison union stewards met on Friday of last week to discuss the offer and unanimously voted that they would not recommend it to their members.
Workers were set to vote on the offer on Wednesday morning.
John Manson, a GMB steward and a driver, told Socialist Worker, “The council is playing with our wages. They want us to work harder for either the same money or slightly less.
“There’s one group of workers whose shifts would change to include compulsory weekend working and bank holidays, but for no extra money.
“They have offered bonuses for some workers, but it’s based on productivity. All that is guaranteed is basic pay.”
Peter, a loader, told Socialist Worker, “We’re not going back until it’s sorted.
“We’ve all got families and bills to pay, but the politicians don’t care about that.
“I get paid £12,000 a year—let them get paid what we get and see how they like it.”
The council is using the language of “equal pay” to justify cuts. But this is just shabby propaganda.
Karen Tomlinson, one of the striking drivers, told Socialist Worker, “We were already on the same wages as men, so how can they say it is about equal pay?
“I stand to lose £3,000. The new offer is all based on bonuses—but it’s a bonus that we can’t achieve.
“They are offering drivers a little carrot to try to get us back.
“But I’m not going to go to work knowing that my colleagues who stood on the picket line with me have got a shit deal.”
The strike has won fantastic support from across Leeds. At one refuse dump, pickets had a collection bucket for the public to donate to the strike fund.
It raised around £1,400 in a fortnight.
And hundreds of supporters flocked to a benefit gig for the strikers on Sunday night.
Dave Prentis, the general secretary of Unison, and Paul Kenny, the general secretary of the GMB, both spoke at the event.
“I pledge the national union’s support for this dispute,” Prentis told the audience. “We are in it for the long term and we are in it to win.”
The unions should use the high level of support for the strike to build effective solidarity on the ground.
Many workers believe that the council is trying to soften up workers and their unions for more attacks and privatisation.
If Leeds refuse workers win then those in every council across Britain will know that they don’t have to accept cuts and privatisation—and they will know what they can do to beat them.
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