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All-out bins strike wins ‘good victory’ in Coventry

Coventry bin strike has ended after seven months of continuous strikes. Isabel Ringrose speaks to a striking worker on the excellent example of class action.
Issue 2816
Coventry bin workers rally

Bin workers rally against the Labour council in Coventry town centre with Unite leader Sharon Graham.

Coventry HGV2 drivers have won their dispute against the Labour council after being on all-out strike since January over pay.

The deal includes a pay rise of up to 12.9 percent for drivers. It also includes a one-off £4,000 bonus for working Christmas week and all disciplinary charges dropped against rep Pete Randle.

New starters will begin on an increased rate equivalent to 8 percent. Striker and strike committee member Mel told Socialist Worker, “This is a really good victory. The lower earners don’t have to wait 11 years to reach the top of the pay grade, we’ve taken four years off that.”

At the beginning of the strike the Labour council claimed the drivers earned £52,000. In reality the workers earned between £22,183 and £27,741 a year. All 73 striking Unite union members except for two voted for the deal. 

Mel says the strikers weren’t just let down by Labour in Coventry, but Keir Starmer too. “I’ve been a member for 20 years—I’ve gone now and relinquished my card,” he said. “I’ll never vote for Labour again while it is the way it is.”

Mel says the strike wasn’t just about drivers versus the council. “From two weeks in we were saying that this has got a lot bigger than us—it’s now about Unite and Labour. The next move should be for Unite to completely defund the Labour Party.” 

The council even paid scab labour more than what strikers were asking for. “This came from higher up than the councillors. They were told not to let Coventry win to set an example,” Mel said.

Haydyn Jones, Unite Convenor of Coventry HGV2 drivers told Socialist Worker, “This dispute demonstrates the difficulty trade unions will have with the Labour Party.” He added, “Unions affiliated to the Labour Party need to take a long hard look at this.” 

He added that the union’s political levy—workers’ contributions to its political campaigning—should stay. “But I’m against continued affiliation to the Labour Party,” he said.

Mel explained that strikers felt “a whole range of emotions”. “Every time the council came back with something made up it made us stronger,” he said. “We got a lot of support from different people. And now we go to others’ pickets and support them.”

Strikers did lose holiday days from last year, but were allowed to carry five over as well as getting their full holiday for this year. Some workers will be offered early retirement or voluntary redundancy.

The council is now claiming that the deal was on the table before strikers balloted for action last year. It accuses Unite of “unnecessary delay” and blaming it for the costs.

Mel said, “I’ve never been attacked like that by an employer telling such lies. They could’ve sorted this in the first few weeks for £300,000. Now it has cost at least £4 million.”

Mel said the fight “isn’t over yet”. “People have got the idea in their heads that they cannot keep being downtrodden by the elites. There are more billionaires now than ever in Britain, and the gap between poor and rich is getting wider.”

The determination and show of strength by the Coventry bin strikers demonstrate what can be won by standing firm on the picket line. Their victory should inspire more solid fightback, as well as show there is an alternative to Labour that looks to break strikes.

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