Birmingham bin workers returned to the picket line at short notice this morning, Friday, after a shocking betrayal by the council.
The Unite union members had been expecting a meeting to ratify the deal they agreed with Labour council leader John Clancy last month.
Instead they got redundancy notices for the workers whose jobs the deal was to save.
Richard Beddows, Unite convenor at the Perry Barr depot, told Socialist Worker, “After they reneged on the deal it took ten minutes on the phone to get the strike back on.
“Workers had paused industrial action and gone back to work hopeful about this deal. So when I spoke to them they were even more angry than they had been before.”
Because the union had previously given notice of a strike, and had rightly not withdrawn it until the deal was finalised, workers were able to walk out officially immediately.
The council’s U-turn follows weeks of wrangling between councillors and the unelected, overpaid officers they appointed.
“If the leader of the council can’t uphold a deal then who can you deal with?” asked Richard. “Who’s really running the council, the leader or the officers?”
The council wants to axe over 100 grade three workers who supervise the backs of lorries. Clancy had promised their jobs were safe.
But now council bosses claim that, since the bin workers are mostly male, this would open up the council to equal pay claims on behalf of its women workers.
Richard said, “It’s completely disingenuous. Our pay grades have been in place since 2011. Why has no-one brought an equal pay claim against them in those six years? Because there isn’t one.”
Low pay for women is a real problem that must be addressed, but cutting men’s wages won’t help them.
And the dispute appears to be a prelude to much bigger attacks that would slash the pay of thousands of council workers, women included. Richard said, “Why are they so hell-bent on getting rid of the grade threes? You have to look at the big picture.”
The amount the council spent trying to break the strike nullifies the idea that scrapping these jobs would save money.
But if it breaks the resistance of one powerful group of workers it could pave the way to slashing all the council’s grade three and four staff.
The workers plan to strike every day until 21 September, and then return as rapidly as a new ballot can be won. The council’s betrayal is a disgrace, and the workers are right to fight it. Everyone should get behind them.
Management retreats in Wigan after strike threat
A threat to strike achieved results for refuse workers in Wigan this week. The Unison union members had been set to strike on Wednesday, but suspended the action after a new offer.
Changes to their working conditions will no longer be as severe as initially planned.
Plans to extend their working time to 5:30pm have been scrapped, and their will keep regular working hours instead of the irregular ones the council wanted. Though they still work longer.
Forced overtime at Christmas will be demanded every other year, not every year.
Tracy Roberts, Unison branch secretary, told Socialist Worker, “This dispute has been going since April and there wasn’t a quick resolution.
“It’s only once we took the vote for strike that they made this offer. I believe that we should be celebrating our wins. This shows what we can achieve when we stand together.”
Councils with disputes on the bins—including Wigan, Chorley and Doncaster—will have been wary of provoking the same intense disruption that strikes in Birmingham have caused this summer.
Wigan council even agreed to an uplift in pay that workers had long been demanding, separate to the dispute. Tracy said, “That’s how much the council didn’t want the strike to go ahead.”
At the same time, a number of its attacks are still going ahead. Workers face longer shifts. Jobs have been lost to voluntary redundancy.
And residents are going from two weekly to three weekly bin collections. Going ahead with strikes could have won more.
But the council’s retreat is a warning to others that refuse service cuts may not be an easy ride.