By Isabel Ringrose
Downloading PDF. Please wait... Issue 2788

Coventry bins strikers won’t take rubbish pay

“We want a substantial increase,” say striking bin workers
Issue 2788
Coventry bin workers on the picket line with Zarah Sultana MP

Coventry bin workers a joined on the picket line by Zarah Sultana. (Picture: Richard Milner)

Bin workers in Coventry have been on strike for a pay rise since the beginning of the year.

Senior Unite union rep Mick Shortland told Socialist Worker the workers have been “pushed” into this situation.
 
“We’re not going to allow the council to get away with the fact the salaries they’re paying aren’t enough,” he said.
 
“We want a substantial increase—and inflation is rocketing.
 
“The frustrating thing is the council knows in ­reality that they’ve got to give a higher rate of pay—as they’ve done for the latest recruits.
 
“We’ve had members and staff leaving that have been with local authority a long time because they’ve had better offers.”
 
The strike is going well. “There’s a great atmosphere on the picket lines,” Mick said.
 
“They’re well attended and we’ve had quite a lot of support from various ­organisations, unions and Unite branches.”
 
He added that the ­council has got to realise strikers “won’t just be railroaded with our tail between our legs and just go back into work”.
 
“We’re public service workers who were on the frontline through Covid. Management thanked the workforce—that seems to be forgotten very quickly.”
 
Instead, the council is trying to mislead the public with claims that HGV drivers earn more than they do. “I’ve seen quotes that drivers earn up to £54,000 a year as a salary and the public are falling for it,” Mick explained. 
 
“In reality the starting salary for a HGV driver is currently £22,183 a year—that’s £11.50 an hour.
 
“We’re angry about it. It means working 77 hours a week to earn what they say we earn.
 
“It takes 12 years to get to the top of the current pay grading. And even then the maximum figure for a HGV driver is £27,741.
 
“That’s including ­contractual overtime as well—three hours a week.”
 
Mick said the workforce has been trying to get the council to recognise the recruitment issue for HGV drivers for many years. 
 
“This came to a head in the summer when it became a national problem,” he added.
 
Strikes have been extended to the end of March.
 
“No one comes out and takes industrial action for the sake of it, and it’s not the warmest of weathers to do this in,” Mick said. “But the way it’s got to this situation is the council’s attitude to us—hence why we’re determined to continue.”
 
Mick pointed out that the Coventry strikers’ fight is the fight of every worker fighting for pay. 
 
“If we can improve our members’ salaries and wages, that can hopefully be seen,” he said
 
Send donations to Unite WM/7116 Coventry local government—sort code 60-83-01 account number 20302665.

Lessons to be learnt after Unison vote
Council and school workers in England and Wales voted by just over 70 percent for strikes over pay—but on a turnout of just 14.5 percent.
 
That falls far short of the 50 percent turnout demanded by the anti-union laws.
 
It’s the latest example of how such laws are used to stop workers fighting. But the shocking turnout is also a crisis for the Unison union and its activists.
 
Unison is one of the largest unions in Britain and organises workers in every council—some 375,000 of whom were
asked to vote.
 
The problem is not that workers are apathetic. They all face looming attacks on their living standards, and there’s a pool of bitterness among those who worked throughout the pandemic.
 
But the result suggests many have no real relationship with the union.
 
But a bigger, underlying issue is that at least a decade without a serious national fight against attacks on pay, pensions and jobs has weakened Unison.
 
One way to rebuild is by building solidarity with workers fighting back in other unions—and using them to encourage Unison.”
 
Nick Clark

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