By Isabel Ringrose
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Rally boosts Coventry council strikers, now step up solidarity

Coventry Labour council is acting as badly as any ruthless employer. The Unite union nationally has to step up support
Issue 2798
Dozens of Coventry bin strikers with red Unite union flags behind a banner reading "Labour councillors, stop union busting"

Coventry HGV2 bin strikers protesting on Saturday (Pic: Socialist Worker)

Over 300 energised people gathered in Coventry city centre on Saturday to support 73 striking HGV2 drivers. The Unite union strikers, who began strikes in January, want the council to change its grading system so that they are paid in line with the market rate. 

But the Labour council is still hiring scab labour to break the strike through Tom White Waste, which is fully owned by them. It pays the scabs more than the strikers are demanding. And union rep Pete Randle has been suspended on trumped-up charges.

Striker Anthony told Socialist Worker that the turnout “has been amazing. People are starting to come round and know what this council is doing to us—not just to us drivers, but the whole workforce.  We’re not just out to benefit ourselves in the long run, but for everyone.”

Anthony explained that after over 50 days of striking, “Solidarity on the picket line is getting better, not worse. The strength is there and everyone is backing each other.”

Unite general secretary Sharon Graham told Socialist Worker, “I’m here to make sure my members get what they are asking for. The council has refused to negotiate and has forced us into this position. 

“Workers have been suppressed and no one is speaking up for them. They need more representation and more drive. I’ve asked, where is the Labour Party? Now it’s time for workers to stand up for themselves. And we’re ready to support them.”

Addressing the rally, Graham slammed the council’s behaviour as “disgusting”. And she had a direct message for Coventry’s Labour councillors. “Today I am going to put you on notice—you will receive a letter in the post and via email of your suspension from Unite,” she said. “You will no longer be able to hold office in my union or be part of our structures while we investigate your behaviour. 

“You’re not getting your hands on any of Unite’s money for the upcoming elections. Shame on you.”

Throughout the rally the crowd chanted, “Pay the rate,” “No justice? No peace” and “Labour by name, Tory by policy.” 

Speakers from Unite, the TUC union federation, NEU education union and local trades councils stood in solidarity and raged at the council. Calls were also made to picket and protest outside the Tom White Waste siteUnion banners from the PCS, RMT, Usdaw and UCU also supported the rally.

Strikers held posters of their wage slips to crush lies from the council that they’re paid £52,000. In reality the workers earn between £22,183 and £27,741 a year.

Striker Teresa told Socialist Worker, “We deserve fair pay. And we’re against all the disgusting lies the council are saying about us. All the misinformation from the council is shameful—I’m ashamed of their attitude. We’re fighting with all our strength.”

Anthony added that strikers have been “betrayed” by the council. “Management and those at lower levels who treat their staff disrespectfully, they’re bullies.”

Anthony thinks the strike could escalate to other council workers, especially bin carriers. “The carriers are the next ones. They’re being bullied into doing unsafe roles because the rounds are now five times as large,” he said.

“Workers’ standard of living is dropping due to inflation rising and wages standing still. How can you pay your bills if you’re a single parent? You can’t do it.”

Striker and Union convenor Haydn Jones told the rally, “We have had enough of getting onto our knees and begging for a pay rise. People on our picket line are receiving working benefits, having to use food banks and can’t afford dental care.”

He blamed the council, saying, “This is because of the crap wages they want to pay us. We will not go back until they’ve paid the rate and there’ll be no further negotiations until Pete Randle is reinstated and the bogus claims are withdrawn. We will not accept bullying anymore.”

All trade unionists should stand with the determined Coventry strikers. And Unite national leaders have to step up the solidarity. Big pickets of the scab company and the recruitment firm that has supplied it with workers could increase the pressure. So could a day of action, including walkouts, across the council. 

The local elections on 5 May are an opportunity to raise the strike and hold protests. No candidate or campaigner should escape without going on the record as to whether they genuinely back the strike or not—and the union should make such responses public.

And Keir Starmer’s Labour Party should not receive a penny of Unite money when its councillors are seeking to break a union and leave workers in poverty.

  • 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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