Brighton bin workers win over privatisation
French firm- French tactics
By Colin Avey, victorious bin worker, and Sean Humphries
A BRILLIANT four-day unofficial strike and occupation by bin workers in Brighton and Hove defeated the giant multinational waste company Sita. It began three days after the election and New Labour's promise for further privatisation. It is a victory for millions of people who work in or rely on the public sector.
As Gary Smith, GMB union official, said in Saturday's Independent, "This will be seen as a landmark dispute. It has been about the question of whether private companies are best placed to deliver public services. "It should dispel the whole myth of private sector efficiency. Labour politicians should be very careful what they say about that." Sita management went on the offensive on Monday of last week.
In an aggressive attempt to increase productivity, Sita told street sweepers they would have to increase their rounds to 36 miles a day. That was impossible.
GMB shop steward Alan Teague says, "At 7.15am Sita imposed new street rounds. At 7.16am 11 workers refused to do these impossible rounds. By 7.17am they were suspended. Some partnership. Some consultation."
The response of the 250 workers at the Hollingdean depot in Brighton was to walk out on strike chanting, "Sita out! Sita out!" Management immediately sacked the entire workforce, including those on holiday and off sick. Sita told those reapplying for jobs they would have to accept worse conditions and pay cuts of up to 30 percent. The workers' response was a collective two fingers to Sita.
They occupied the depot and refused to negotiate with management until everybody was reinstated on their original terms and conditions. As Nigel, one of the strikers, said, "Working for a French company calls for French tactics." The occupation got massive public support and union solidarity. The public honked horns in support, raised fists, brought food and blankets, and contributed money. Delegations of teachers, nurses, railway workers, local government workers and students all brought solidarity, and basked in the growing local and national confidence amongst workers that we can win.
Agency workers, traditionally used by employers to undermine the rights of organised labour, refused to leave the occupation for three days and nights. That support inspired a fusion of secondary picketing and direct action to stop Sita using scab labour from Hyde Business Park.
As the bin workers picketed the depot and argued with scab labour, Jamie, an activist, locked himself to the drive shaft under the dust cart. No further dustcart left the depot and the strike remained solid. Growing support for the occupation forced the New Labour council to disown Sita, its wayward child. It was the New Labour council which gave birth to Sita, handing it millions of pounds of our money.
About 150 people, including the bin workers and their families, caretakers, secretaries and lecturers, cheered Andy Richards, chair of Hove Unison branch and recent Socialist Alliance candidate, at the solidarity rally called by the lecturers' NATFHE union on Thursday afternoon. He called for the immediate renationalisation of the railways. He hoped the magnificent dispute would be the first victorious blow against privatisation of public services in Blair's second term.
By Thursday evening Sita was forced to agree to pay �3 million to terminate the contract. Many of the bin workers know this is just the first battle. In three months time they will have a new employer. Already council leader Ken Bodfish is trawling the pool of private profiteers to look for another shark to run our services.
Private companies are committed to their shareholders and not to providing a decent service and good conditions for their workers. In the next three months every bin worker on site should send a clear message to the union and council leaders that we want a public service owned by the public and run for the benefit of all the people in Brighton