Striking refuse workers in Leeds have entered their tenth week of all-out, indefinite strike action—and their resolve is causing council bosses to wobble.
The 600 street cleaning and bin workers have already forced council bosses into a massive climbdown from a plan to slash up to £6,000 from their pay packets.
The council made an offer of smaller pay cuts for some and pay rises for others.
But the offer also included changes to shift patterns and productivity bonuses that workers said were damaging and unachievable—and so they voted by over 90 percent to reject it.
The council was forced to meet with union representatives again last week.
The workers’ GMB and Unison unions have presented an alternative proposal to the council and expect to hold a mass meeting with workers later this week to discuss the council’s response.
“The council is worried about opening up the possibility of other workers demanding pay rises and back pay,” one GMB steward told Socialist Worker.
“I think it’s inevitable that there will be some fall-out for management with other workers challenging them over back pay. But this would only be a one-off payment.
“The council is starting to accept that a lot of things in its revised deal just wouldn’t work. It seems that the penny is finally dropping.
“It originally wanted to increase ‘productivity’ and have us clearing 220 bins per hour—but now it has accepted that this is unrealistic.
“We’ve been told by people who have seen the receipts that the council is spending enormous amounts on bringing in contract workers while we’ve been on strike.
“If the council had settled the dispute and put the money where it should be going in the first place it would have saved money.”
The council has faced a number of setbacks in its battle with the bin workers.
Three employment agencies have now been warned off supplying staff to carry out striking workers’ duties by the government regulator.
This has had a serious impact on the council’s ability to use scab labour to undermine the strike.
Now the council has employed workers on a temporary basis to cover some of the work that striking bin workers would have been doing—in what seems to be a breach of the law. It is illegal to employ scabs to break a strike.
Meanwhile the level of public support for the strikers is such that the other side have resorted to dirty tactics.
The Liberal Democrats, who run Leeds council in coalition with the Tories, have issued a leaflet denouncing the strike.
The leaflet has been pushed through letterboxes across Leeds. It is headlined “Bin Strike—The Truth” and claims the council wants “a fair day’s work for a fair day’s pay”.
It attacks what it calls “unacceptable” levels of sickness among refuse workers.
The leaflet looks very much like an official council document. Only the small print reveals that it was promoted and published by Leeds Liberal Democrats.
“This is a political leaflet, not a factual one,” a striker told Socialist Worker. “It is offensive.”
The leaflet appears to be a sign of the council’s desperation to end the dispute.
“The council is trying to impose its will with no negotiation,” a driver told Socialist Worker.
“But the public is on our side. We had an event last week that raised lots of money and was packed with people supporting us.
“People think that getting any pay cut is bad—but the idea of taking a 33 percent pay cut is unbelievable.
“This is why we get leaflets through the door like the one from the Lib Dems. We’ve got them riled.”
The determination and resolve of the Leeds refuse workers is impressive.
They have shown that a relatively small group of workers can take sustained strike action and can force the bosses to retreat.
The unions should seize the opportunity to inflict a stinging defeat on council bosses that could inspire workers everywhere to take radical action to defend jobs, terms and conditions.
Go to » www.socialistworker.co.uk for updates on the dispute.
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