“We should have stayed out longer. Who knows what we could have won by next week?”
That was the response of one of the strikers as Haringey refuse workers in a London voted by 26 to 18 on Monday to return to work after two weeks on indefinite strike.
The strike was sparked when Accord, which has a contract with Haringey council to run refuse collection in the borough, threatened to cut two bin lorries. The 48 refuse workers voted unanimously for a strike, arguing that the cuts would make their workloads unsafe.
The deal now accepted by the workers means that only one lorry will be cut.
The vote to go back to work followed a heated meeting on the picket line as workers and officials from the T&G union discussed what the deal would mean. Union officials argued that the new offer was the best that they could hope to negotiate. But a number of strikers argued that they were in a better position to negotiate over all their grievances while they were out on strike.
Strikers added that there were wider issues than just the number of lorries that had prompted them to come out on strike, such as finishing times and the use of agency staff. One worker said, “If we go back these issues will be brushed under the carpet.”
After the vote was announced, a refuse lorry driver told Socialist Worker, “A week ago, the company said that there was no chance of either of the lorries staying on the road. This week they said one lorry can stay. What would they say after another week?”
Another worker said, “This deal is not what we wanted when we struck for two weeks.
“The strike was having a big impact. The company wouldn’t let rubbish pile up for another two weeks.”
Accord went to great lengths to try to recruit workers to break the strike.
On Friday of last week, strikers leafleted outside two job centres in Haringey, warning people that the advertised jobs were strike breaking.
Accord also gave the workers a deadline of last Wednesday to accept their original cash bribe of £1,450 to accept the loss of two lorries.
Workers rejected that offer, arguing that the strike was not about money, but about health and safety.
The new deal accepted by the workers does not include the original cash sum. It does include £650 “clean up” money if the workers clear the backlog of rubbish in two weeks.
Several of the workers pointed out that this is less than the money that they lost through being on strike.
The strike gathered a lot of support in the past week. Union members from the local fire station, workers from neighbouring Technopark, and other trade unionists visited the picket.
After the vote to return to work was announced, the strikers did a collection for Victor, a roadsweeper who was not on strike but refused to cross the picket line and stayed out with the strikers for the full two weeks.
On Friday of last week a group of Haringey residents dumped rubbish on the steps of the civic centre, saying that they supported the strikers and blamed the council for rubbish piling up.
Haringey council have stayed quiet throughout the dispute, despite the fact that the responsibility for refuse collection ultimately lies with them.
Several of the strikers told Socialist Worker that privatisation has been a disaster for the service and that it should be taken back in house.