Through a sustained and escalating series of strikes, refuse workers in Birmingham have stopped the Labour council’s attack on their terms and conditions.
Richard Beddows, Unite union convenor at the Perry Barr depot, called it a “massive victory”.
Daily walkouts with most workers turning out to picket have been disrupting bin collections for almost two months.
Council bosses wanted to get rid of the “grade three” workers who supervise the back of the bin lorries. This meant over 100 job losses as well as an increased risk to safety.
They also wanted to impose a new shift pattern that would mean doing more work in a shorter time, and had suspended a Unite rep.
But conciliation service Acas announced today, Tuesday, that council cabinet leaders have agreed in principle to maintain the grade three posts.
Richard said, “We’ve stopped more than 100 guys from getting the sack, and established the security of the role which means there’s another 30 or 40 vacancies.
“And we’ve got recognition that the safety function of having someone look out at the back of the lorry can’t be replaced by CCTV in the driver’s van.”
The suspended rep is back at work, and further talks will draw up new shift patterns with the union’s input. The industrial action—which had been set to last until at least 21 September—has been suspended.
With the agreement only “in principle” and the shift patterns yet to be decided, the workers must remain vigilant.
Richard said, “We’re only on a voluntary pause from striking, so if they renege on what they’ve said we’ll be straight back out picketing the gates. But if they do that it’ll be political suicide—residents will turn on them.”
But the agreement is a clear victory for the strikers—and their militant strategy of strikes that both caused huge disruption and mobilised most workers to the picket line.
Richard said, “Without striking and without the solidarity demonstrated by the workforce we wouldn’t have secured this victory. Agency workers weren’t crossing the picket line. And we’ve had massive public support, and lots of money donated to our hardship fund.”
This is a particular humiliation to council bosses. They wanted to turn the public against the workers, but the anger at piled up rubbish blew up in their own faces instead.
The strike was only ended when council cabinet members were forced to go over their heads.
“I’d say about 80 percent of the public was with us—they could see through the council’s disingenuity,” said Richard.
“These people are on £150,000 a year, and they’ve been outdone by simple dustmen.”
With pay restraint and inflation squeezing living standards and austerity continuing to devastate services, this is a valuable example to workers everywhere.
Richard said, “This isn’t just a victory for us in waste management—it can reverberate around the country. People need to see that by sticking together we can make a difference.
“Join a union and get organised, so that when your employer comes for you you’re ready to take them on too.”