By Isabel Ringrose
Downloading PDF. Please wait... Issue 2799

Coventry bin strike solidarity protest shuts scab depot

The Labour council is under new pressure after this direct action
Issue 2799
Six people stand outside Coventry bins deport with placards such as "Support Cov bin strike"

Picketing Tom White Waste in Coventry on Wednesday

Protesters blocked lorries leaving the Tom White Waste depot in Coventry on Wednesday morning in solidarity with the 73 striking HGV2 drivers.

Tom White Waste is fully owned by the Labour-run Coventry city council, which is using scab labour to undermine the bin strikers’ fight for higher pay. From 6am to 8.30am, the protesters delayed trucks from leaving and entering the site. The council then took to Twitter to apologise for delays and incorrectly claimed the action was illegal.

Sean Leahy, chair of Unite union’s Tom Mann Coventry and Warwickshire branch, blocked the gates with nine others including Unite officials. “We took them by surprise and never expected to stop the wagons—but we did,” he told Socialist Worker. “Security asked us to move as vans would be coming in and out and it’d be dangerous. But we stood our ground. We had a bigger impact than we thought—it’s a great feeling for us.” 

Sean added that what’s now needed is “real mass pickets” of strikers and their supporters to have an even bigger impact. At the site are two plants—one for agency staff hired as scab labour to drive the vans, with collectors who work for the council. The other is for regular Tom White Waste drivers who collect business waste.

“Most of the regular drivers were really supportive, honking their horns and giving us thumbs up,” Sean added. “One driver explained that the agency workers are getting £18 an hour, while the regular drivers get £14. They even discussed drivers joining Unite.”

Meanwhile the lowest paid striking drivers receive just £11.49 an hour. Homemade placards read, “Join the strike,” and chants of, “Pay the rate,” rang out. The strikers are demanding the council move the HGV2 drivers to a higher pay band. 

Unite and the collectors are set to meet on Thursday. Currently the collectors are doing more work than they should due to the impact of the strike.

Sean explained that one collector told the protesters that all workers—drivers and collectors—should’ve been balloted together while others cheered and applauded the protesters. “The collectors aren’t happy about working with scab drivers or being asked to do things they shouldn’t be doing for health and safety reasons. Unite is going to make the most of that,” Sean said. “Now it’s time to show a strength of force.”

Sean said the pickets “have been really solid again” following last weekend’s rally with Unite general secretary Sharon Graham. At the rally, Graham announced Unite was suspending Coventry’s Labour councillors from the union and would ramp up its public campaign of shaming the council.

But more industrial action is the most effective way to win the Coventry bin strike. “The council can and will want to sit and wait it out,” Sean explained. “Today’s action was useful and shows there’s a different strategy to further escalate the strike, which is what we need to do.”

Unite should look to ballot the bin collectors, as well as other local authority workers, to hit the council as hard as possible.

It has to ramp up efforts to unionise Tom White Waste drivers and escalate protests outside the depot. It’s vital that strikers themselves join these protests, and organise secondary pickets to have maximum impact and the best chance of winning.

  • Support the strike: Coventry bin worker’s strike fund: Unity Trust Bank a/c Unite WM/7116 Branch Coventry Local Government, Sort code: 60-83-01, a/c number: 20302665. Messages of support to [email protected]

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