The political crisis caused by the Birmingham bin strike came to a head on Monday night as council leader John Clancy resigned ahead of a no confidence vote.
The Labour party that runs Birmingham council is being squeezed from both sides.
The Tory government and the unelected council executive are determined to push on with austerity. The bin workers are determined to resist, and a summer of strikes has rocked the city.
Clancy went over the head of the chief executive Stella Manzie to offer workers a deal calling off the council’s attack on their jobs, shift patterns and safety.
But the executive refused to recognise the deal. Then some members of the cabinet denied backing Clancy to make a deal in the first place.
Then he all but accused the workers’ union Unite and conciliation service Acas of making it up.
The council broke its deal and started issuing redundancy notices on 31 August. Workers returned to the picket lines. They are striking for one hour three times a day until 21 September.
All eight Birmingham Labour MPs signed an open letter against Clancy last week. Backbench councillors submitted a no-confidence motion to Monday’s Labour Group meeting.
Clancy’s critics on Labour’s right say he should never have made a deal without permission from the council executive.
They echo the argument from Manzie and her allies that the deal opens up the council to equal pay claims from other workers. This is bogus.
The deal only keeps in place a pay structure that has existed since 2011. It has never been subject to an equal pay claim, and equal pay was never part of the initial case for making the cuts.
Bin workers warn that if they are beaten many more council workers will be next.
Unite assistant general secretary Howard Beckett said Manzie “must follow in John Clancy's footsteps and resign”.
People in Birmingham are furious with the council for provoking and refusing to settle a strike that has filled their streets with rubbish.
In his letter calling for Clancy to resign councillor Barry Bowles wrote, “I think we can go no lower than where we are now. We are hated by the trade unions and the Left and we are also hated by the right because of the way the bin dispute has been handled by yourself.”
But Clancy’s successor will face the same dilemma. It’s time to decide which side the council is on—workers, public services and trade unions or Tory austerity.
The outcome could set a huge precedent for councils across Britain. Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn needs to intervene on the side of workers.
At the TUC, Becket slammed the council. “A Labour council that attacks members has no place in our movement,” he said.
“If they sound Tory, if they act Tory, let us call them Tory. If you continue to act like Tories, then Unite will treat you like a Tory.”
Strikers must hold their nerve and fight until victory—and every trade unionist must stand behind them.
Unite has called a rally on Sunday with general secretary Len McCluskey demanding the council respects the deal. It’s a chance to show support for this crucial dispute.
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