By Sophie Squire
Downloading PDF. Please wait... Issue 2807

Stand with Wealden bin strikers after police arrest pickets

GMB union members in Wealden, East Sussex, have been on strike for a month to demand higher pay
Issue 2807
3 cops arrest GMB official Gary Palmer during the Wealden bin strike

Cops arrest GMB union official Gary Palmer on the Wealden bin strikers’ picket line

In an outrageous attack on the right to strike, police arrested and handcuffed three trade unionists on a refuse workers’ picket line in East Sussex on Friday. The striking GMB union members and their supporters blocked vans from leaving the Amberstone depot in Wealden.

The workers, who are outsourced to corporate giant Biffa, have been striking for more than a month for higher pay.

Mark Turner, the GMB B50 branch secretary, said workers faced police intimidation because their action is hitting the council. He said the union had effectively blocked all vans from leaving depots since the strike began. “The workers are solid,” he told Socialist Worker. “The council never thought they would strike for as long as they have.

“They thought workers would be out for two days and then come back to work. That obviously has not been the case. The strikes are working. The council website says that waste collection is at 50 percent capacity. It’s less actually probably less than 50 percent.” 

Simon Hester, chair of Hastings and District trades union council, was on the picket line on Friday morning. “A number of GMB full-time workers and I were blocking vans from leaving the depot,” he told Socialist Worker. “We knew Friday would be a stand-off because the council had recalled all the vans to the Amberstone depot on Thursday.” 

“Vehicles were in line waiting to leave the depot, and I was in front of the trucks. They sent officers to deal with pickets. When the chief inspector arrived, he said we would be arrested for blocking a highway. 

“He also made it clear that we needed to stop blocking vans because public pressure on the council to clear the streets of rubbish was starting to mount.” 

“It was clear this was a political decision to try and repress a lawful dispute. What’s also clear is that police bill, and Tory attacks on trade unions are giving confidence to the police to repress protest.” 

At a negotiation meeting on Wednesday Biffa was still refusing to meet workers’ demands for £12.50 an hour for loaders and £15.50 for drivers. In a pathetic attempt to stop the strikes, bosses offered workers a £600 one-off bonus.

But an impressive 97.8 percent of the workforce rejected the offer on Thursday—and more strikes are planned in the coming months. 

These arrests offer a glimpse of how the new police powers are giving confidence to cops to intimidate workers and trade unionists. 

Socialists, trade unionists and campaigners should join the Wealden bin workers’ picket lines in a show of solidarity and defiance.  It would send a clear signal that the bosses and cops won’t be able to intimidate the strikers back to work. 

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