Birmingham bin workers have defeated the Labour-run council’s attack on their jobs—but at a cost.
Unite union members voted to accept a new offer at a mass meeting last Saturday after a long-running dispute that saw weeks of industrial action.
Richard Beddows, Unite convenor at the Perry Barr depot, told Socialist Worker the deal was “a significant win”.
The council wanted to lay off over 100 workers on pay grade three and force them to reapply for different, lower paid jobs. The deal secures their jobs at the current pay grade for 14 months.
But it changes their role to include new responsibilities and concedes to the council’s demand to end the four-day working week.
Council bosses said the move to a five-day week and the new role will “save” £3.2 million—a deep cut at workers’ expense.
The reaction from Tory councillors showed the deal was a defeat for the council.
They raved that the council is “giving the unions everything they wanted”.
The new deal will make it much harder for the council to privatise the service.
And with attacks on other workers’ pay in the pipeline, the dispute showed the council’s weakness to workers’ resistance.
Richard explained that the deal also had “better longevity” than the one offered by former council leader John Clancy in August.
Unite had gone to court after the council reneged on Clancy’s deal.That deal could have seen the council start preparing a new attack on jobs.
The new one holds it off for over a year. But many workers are frustrated.
Paul Jackson, a grade three worker, told Socialist Worker, “For me that wasn’t a victory.
“Victory would have been keeping our jobs without extra responsibilities and a longer working week.”
The meeting to discuss the deal was called at short notice, with many workers unable to attend.
But union officials insisted on holding a vote. This was a response to blackmail from the council.
It threatened that workers would be sacked if the deal wasn’t accepted. Strikes had the council on the run. Suspending them was a mistake.
It’s clear that more could have been won.
Paul said, “We never should have paused the action. The workers didn’t want to pause—they didn’t trust them, and they were right. The rubbish was piling up and the council was panicking. This dispute could have been won on the picket line.”
Even as the deal was agreed, many workers were ready to fight on.
Richard described a “red mist” in the meeting, with workers “really, really angry at the way they’ve been treated”.
They need to keep that anger alive, and remain vigilant to further attacks from the council.
But for all the deal’s unnecessary shortcomings, the key message of this dispute is that hard-hitting strikes can push bosses back.