By Charlie Kimber
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Coventry Labour council suspends strikers’ union rep

It's a vision of how a Keir Starmer government would treat strikers
Issue 2796
Dozens of Coventry council strikers with red Unite union flags

Coventry council strikers protesting this week (Pic: Justice For Refuse Workers & Cleansers on Twitter)

Striking Coventry HGV2 drivers are even more determined to win after their Labour council employers launched a new assault by suspending Unite union deputy convenor Pete Randle. The council accuses Randle of gross misconduct and warns that if the internal investigation proves the allegations then he will be sacked.

But Unite says the charges are bogus. This has redoubled the bin strikers’ anger as they continue the action they started at the end of January and ballot for another one until June. It includes new grievances against bullying and intimidation.

The strikers protested outside the council headquarters on Thursday and chanted “Unite, Unite, We stand and fight”, “Shame on you for turning blue” and “Keir Starmer—are you still sniggering at Coventry”. The council’s latest offensive comes on top of its systematic scabbing operation designed to break the strike. It emphasises that this is not just about money but is a determined effort to break the union and workers’ organisation.

Haydn Jones, convenor of Coventry HGV2 drivers, told a Socialist Worker reporter, “By attacking our deputy convenor Pete Randle, Coventry City Council have shown that they are frightened of us. Make no mistake, we stand in complete solidarity with Pete. There should not be and will not be any further talks with the council while Pete is suspended. The Labour Party is adopting anti-working class behaviours, and Unite should no longer support it.”

The bin workers want a “market rate supplement” to bring their very low pay band rates up to the level that similar workers in the local area are paid. This is common practice in many councils.

It would cost the council just £300,000 to deliver this. Instead it has officially spent £2.9 million already on the dispute—with more to come. This is a vision of a Labour government under Keir Starmer. It’s one that would prefer to spend ten times as much on undermining unions than it would cost to settle a strike. It should be a warning to all workers, particularly in the public sector.

Unite general secretary Sharon Graham said, “A toxic mix of malevolence and incompetence appears to reign at City Hall and it is about time the council opened its books so taxpayers can see what else is going on.

“The council has a history of wasting taxpayers’ money, including on fat cat salaries and golden handshakes. A former deputy chief executive, Martin Yardley, was given more money than any other council staff member in the whole country in 2019-20 pocketing £573,660. And in 2018, the retiring finance chief waltzed off with just shy of £450,000.”

On Tuesday Unite announced that 94 percent of strikers who took part in a ballot had voted for more action. Now they need to up the action. They have to be as aggressive and determined as the employers.

A company wholly owned by the council has recruited temporary drivers in an attempt to undermine the strike. Recruitment agency AFE Recruitment did this on behalf of Tom White Waste Ltd—which says on its website that it is a “family-run business” but in fact is wholly owned by Coventry council.

Unite is calling a solidarity rally for the bin workers on Saturday 26 March. But it could do much more. It should be calling rallies for strikers and their supporters at AFE Recruitment and Tom White Waste to stop the scabbing. It should encourage other sections of the council workforce to put forward their own grievances and join the strikes. And it should make good on its threats to stop funding a Labour Party that is savaging its members.

  • 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]
  • Thanks to Sean Leahy and Richard Milner
  • Rally, Saturday 26 March, 11am at Broadgate, Coventry CV1 1FS

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