By Arthur Townend
Downloading PDF. Please wait... Issue 2913

Redbridge refuse strike against Labour council

Unite union members in Redbridge, east London, are striking over working conditions
Issue 2913
A group of strikers with flags during the Redbridge refuse strike

Redbridge refuse strikers rally following a march from the depot on election day (Picture: Alan Kenny)

Striking refuse workers in Redbridge, east London, marched on the Labour-run town hall on Thursday. The Unite union members at Redbridge Council Services (RSC) began a seven-day strike over working conditions on Monday.

Craig, a Unite rep, was one of the 60 strikers on the march. “People don’t know how bad we are being treated,” he told Socialist Worker. “There’s no one to turn to for our demands, which has forced us to strike.”

On Friday of last week, workers met bosses and rejected a bad deal. “Everyone has been really supportive,” Craig added. “I’ve not heard one negative response. People stop and talk to us when they’re on the way into school.”

RCS workers have worse working conditions than other Redbridge council workers. This is because they work for RCS—a wholly owned subsidiary of Redbridge council, set up by Labour MP Jas Athwal in 2019.

The council is therefore refusing to take responsibility for the conditions they have put workers in. 

Workers consistently start and finish late due to vehicles breaking down and are forced to work an extra hour daily with no overtime pay.

Bob, an RCS striker, said, “We haven’t got the lorries—we were promised new lorries, but the council just aren’t interested. 

“RCS often hires the wrong vehicles because the correct ones cost more money. And then they break down, so we have to work longer. We need the right tools for the job, it’s as simple as that.”

Bob added, “There are too many managers. Management often moves people around. I’m a driver, but I have to sometimes load the bins onto the lorry. 

“And they change our routes. All this makes the job take longer, and it makes it harder than it has to be.”

Some RCS workers died during Covid—but they still don’t get proper sick pay. “We get ten sick days, and other council workers get six months full pay and six months half pay after they’ve worked for five years,” Unite rep Danny said. 

“Guys work in all weathers and are working with rubbish all day—of course they are going to get sick sometimes. Everyone does.”

Bob added, “If we take three separate sick days, you get a disciplinary. This happened to me, and I’ve not even taken seven sick days this year. We have to work, even when we shouldn’t.”

On Thursday, workers marched to the town hall. Cars beeped to show their support, and passersby stopped to talk to workers. 

But council bosses came out to complain when workers arrived. Striker Terry said, “If they spent as much time sorting out the issues as they did complaining, we wouldn’t have this problem.

“I think it’s outrageous that, even on election day, a Labour council outsources its services and then pretends it has nothing to do with the problems.”

Unite regional officer Nick, addressing the striking workers, said, “The council don’t want this happening here.

“The people in the townhall make decisions that affect you, but they don’t seem to care about you. We have been able to expose how poorly RCS have been treating you.”

Alan, a Socialist Worker supporter, told the rally, “One worker said this is the first strike he’s been on in 34 years. You should all be proud. You’re standing up for yourselves and saying you won’t take this bullying from management.

“This is an embarrassment for them—the people of Redbridge cleaning the streets are being treated like dirt. 

“But can we expect more from the Labour government tomorrow? In truth, people have to take a leaf out of your book. Like you, we all have to fight back.”

Bob said, “If the council doesn’t make the changes we’re asking for, we might have to strike again.”

Trade unionists should build solidarity for the Redbridge strikers in their workplaces and union branches—and take inspiration to organise strikes.  

  • Donations to support the strikes can be made to:
    • Unite LE 436 branch
    • Sort code: 60-83-01
    • Account number: 20284301
  • Some names have been changed

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