Socialist Worker

Two struggles by workers in Birmingham trigger a crisis for Labour council

by Sarah Bates
Issue No. 2643

Birmingham bin workers on strike last week

Birmingham bin workers on strike last week with supporters (Pic: Birmingham SWP)


Birmingham saw hundreds of workers strike together last week against attacks from their Labour council.

Bin workers struck on Tuesday and Friday of last week and home care workers walked out last Friday and Saturday.

And workers’ action is prompting a growing political crisis inside the Labour Party.

Unite and Unison union members who are part of the refuse service were set to take further strikes on Wednesday and Thursday of this week.

Chris, a striker at the Lifford Lane depot, told Socialist Worker that strikers were “flabbergasted” to be attacked so brutally by a Labour council.

“We’d expect it from a Tory council, but not from a Labour council,” he said.

Some 355 workers are fighting “secret payments” of an estimated £3,500-£4,500 made to GMB union members.

GMB members didn’t join in with strikes in 2017 against job cuts and attempts to make workers to reapply for a lower skilled role.

Chris said the safety training of experienced workers is important. “They’re in charge of the safety aspect of the vehicle,” he said.

A lot of people are experienced at driving bigger vehicles, but they’re not used to the reversing aspect of it.

“On some of the residential rounds we’re doing 150 reverses a day”.

A bin worker for almost three decades, Chris explained that the “service has been deteriorating for 30 years due to chronic mismanagement”.

He said that there are “not enough workers and not enough vehicles” to cover the rounds. And to meet requirements, the council is hiring out wagons from a private company.

The inadequate service means residents are frustrated that their rubbish isn’t being picked up.

Flak

Chris said that bin workers “get a terrible amount of flak”.

“But we just want to deliver the service and want the tools to do the job,” he added.

The strike is overwhelmingly supported by workers. Only four refuse wagons left the Lifford Lane depot on last Friday’s strike.

And strikers report it’s a similar picture at all the depots. Striking home carers joined bin workers picketing all four depots. Around 280 Unison union members have been striking for over a year against a series of attacks.

The low paid, predominately women workers are trying to stop brutal cuts that would see them lose up to £4,000 a year.

The council leadership shows no sign of stopping—and it has attempted to seek an injunction to stop bin workers from staging last week’s strikes.

In a move that further deepened the division in Birmingham Labour, the cabinet threatened to impose attacks on the home care workers last week.

Labour’s West Midlands regional board voted overwhelmingly to refer cabinet leader Ian Ward or his deputy Brigid Jones to Labour’s national executive committee (NEC).

It wants the NEC to investigate whether Ward or Jones have broken any Labour Party rules over their treatment of workers.

Some 23 Labour councillors sent an explosive letter to the council blasting the leadership’s handling of the disputes.

It said Ward’s regime was “a particular approach to industrial relations which gives rise to confrontation and disharmony”.

Both disputes are long running and involve key groups of council workers. It’s a nightmare for the Labour council. It is attacking its own workers—some of who are among the lowest paid—so they can deliver Tory austerity.

Workers need to be ready to step up the action to win

Workers’ names have been changed. Bin workers are due to strike 28 February and on 4, 8, 12, 13, 21 and 22 March

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