Bin workers in Birmingham are waging a heroic fight against the Labour council’s funding cuts.
The Unite union members, based at four depots around the city, are currently striking for three hours every day.
They have gradually stepped up the length and frequency of their walkouts, and plan to keep escalating with action organised into September.
The council is pushing through a restructuring of the service that it claims will modernise it and save money.
But workers say this will hit their income and residents’ safety. The proposals would give them more work to do in less time, and remove the workers who supervise the back of the lorries.
Pete—not his real name—has been a bin worker for 25 years. He spoke to Socialist Worker on the picket line at the Lifford Lane depot. “They want to take money off workers who earn less than the benefit cap,” he said.
“The service won’t improve.”
Councillors are under pressure from an “independent” board of overseers set up by the government to “hold their feet to the fire” over cuts.
It came out of a review that called, among other things, for the bin service to be privatised.
Workers believe the restructuring is laying the groundwork to do just that. As Pete said, “This is the tip of the iceberg.
“After us it’s going to be the rest of the council workers—the cooks, the teaching assistants, the care workers.”
Workers have been told to keep quiet or risk the sack, but council bosses are under no such gag. Pete said, “This is utter hypocrisy, they can stand there and tell lies, we’re not even allowed to tell the truth.
“The local paper is just an organ of the council and won’t put our side of the story.”
He added, “Jacqui Kennedy, one of the council’s corporate directors, is on £13,000 a month for decimating the service.”
To try and break the strike bosses are hiring agencies and cutting corners, angering workers further.
Pete said, “Assistant director of the council Darren Share says he’s passionate about the environment.Our bins have posters on designed by local primary kids about saving the planet and recycling.
“But we have been told to put all the recycling material into the bin with the rest of the waste and it’s all going into landfill.
“Normally the paper recycling earns the council money—they’re literally throwing thousands of pounds away in order to break the strike.”
The strike is hitting hard with uncollected rubbish stacking up.
Unite has hinted that it expects the council to agree to more talks, though that’s no reason to let the pressure up.
Labour councils often condemn Tory austerity while passing it on. These workers are right to resist them, and deserve the support of workers everywhere.