A summer of strikes by bin workers in Birmingham has caused a political crisis for the Labour-run council.
Council leader John Clancy was forced to resign this month—and pressure is mounting for chief executive Stella Manzie to step down too.
The Labour council is intent on pushing through attacks on workers’ jobs, pay and terms and conditions.
Tamar, a Unite union member, told Socialist Worker, “I voted for the Labour councillors because I wanted something different to the Lib Dems. It’s been nothing of the sort, I feel my vote has gone to waste.”
The dispute is also a key test for the Labour Party’s left wing leadership around Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell.
Tamar said, “The Labour leadership need to come down here so they can see what the hell is going on.”
The bin workers are determined to resist the council. They were set to strike until Thursday of this week—and backed further industrial action by 92 percent on Monday.
Richard, the Unite convenor, told Socialist Worker, “All of our members are working class, they are Labour through and through—and they feel betrayed.
“But we have got the full backing of the union, we’re 100 percent resolved to fight this.”
Unite and the council struck a deal at government conciliation service Acas last month after a series of walkouts.
But bosses quickly reneged on the deal—and issued redundancy notices to 113 “grade three” workers.
Lee Barron, Midlands TUC regional secretary, slammed the sackings at a 300-strong solidarity rally in Birmingham on Sunday. “We see the grotesque spectacle of a Labour council—a Labour council—scurrying around the city handing out redundancy notices to its own workers,” he said.
Both Corbyn and McDonnell have supported other groups of striking workers and joined their picket lines.
But at the TUC conference in Brighton last week Corbyn struck a more cautious note on Birmingham.
“We have a duty as a labour movement to find a resolution to this dispute as soon as possible,” he said.
Many of the bin workers are frustrated that they have not received the same support from the Labour leadership. Paul said, “I spoke to John McDonnell at the TUC conference, but I’m a bit pissed off.
“McDonnell said that he saw it as a strike against austerity, not Labour, but it’s a Labour council doing the austerity.”
The Birmingham bin workers deserve the same support as any other group of strikers.
Richard said, “It would be good if they came and met with Labour members to remind them that they’re there to represent the working class.”
McDonnell is right to say that Labour will support workers in parliament and on the picket line.
Birmingham should not be an exception because it’s a Labour council.
Unite must call further action and every trade unionist, campaigner and Labour Party member needs to build solidarity for their dispute.