After seven weeks of strike action and an apparent agreement with council chiefs, it seemed sense had prevailed; Birmingham’s Grade Three bin workers would not be sacked and a suspended union rep would be reinstated.
Instead the Labour run council has completely gone back on its word and issued redundancy notices to 113 refuse workers. The strike is back on.
Senior official Howard Beckett announced a new ballot “to seek another mandate of action from our members”. He condemned the council’s u-turn as “shoddy” – an understatement for sure.
Most strikers have been on the picket lines and received massive public support, even as rubbish piled up on the streets. The council, usually so keen on pursuing cuts, was still able to find £2 million to employ scab labour. They even claimed that redundant workers would be transferred to other jobs, but these turned out to be temporary contracts.
In another fake justification for the cuts, Labour council leader Jon Clancy warned of the risk of equal pay claims if it kept to its deal. Unite’s legal team could find no such risk and the Council has offered no evidence to back their claim.
Labour and the working class
The council’s actions have alienated many workers and cannot be squared with Jeremy Corbyn’s anti-austerity policies. Of course the root cause of the cuts lies with the Tories, but Labour councils should not be implementing them.
Instead they should be fighting austerity, organising resistance alongside the unions. Public assemblies should be held to help draw up people’s budgets and hold councils to account.
Birmingham Momentum has been mobilising support for the refuse workers. Their excellent newsletter The Organiser calls the bin workers’ stance “a lesson and encouragement to other workers facing cuts that militancy pays off”.
Spot on. The council’s downgrading of the refuse service is intended to pave the way for further attacks on the jobs, pay and conditions across the council. All council unions – Unite, GMB and Unison – should ballot other departments affected by cuts to strike alongside the refuse workers.
Jeremy Corbyn’s support for McDonald’s workers is fine but we need Jeremy to back Birmingham’s bin workers and pile the pressure on the Blairite councillors to back down. Class solidarity trumps party unity.