Friday, 8 September 2017


Alongside the history-making strike by the brave, pioneering McDonald's workers, the other big conflict currently in the headlines is the battle of the Birmingham bin workers with the Labour city council. 

The media are quick to depict the mountains of rotting rubbish, but rarely expose the root causes of this long-running conflict. 

Back on 16 June, Unite the union won a 90% majority for strike action by the Brummie bin workers against the Labour council's plans - in their genteel phrase - to "delete" all 122 Grade 3, supervisory jobs; the leading hands on the teams collecting household rubbish. 

Under Labour council plans, safety-critical workers, on as little as £21,000, would be expected to continue their current roles - but after being fired, then offered jobs as bin collectors... on up to £5,000 less wages!

In a drive to save £5million a year, the Labour worthies and council officials also plan to turn the 4-day working week into a 5-day system, whilst keeping the same 37 hours; demanding collection from an extra 50-70 households per (shorter) day - on top of the frequently unmanageable current daily target of 1,500 households. All with the false claim of "a more effective, efficient and modern refuse service." 

Eating in The Bin Wagon

As one of the strikers (of 22 years' service) explained, he gets up at 4.45am, to start at 6am; others start at 5am. 

"We get a 15-minute concession break at 9am, during which we are obliged to eat in the bin wagon, with only wipes and hand sanitizers, because of the regular management intimidation over our productivity levels."

Birmingham appears to be the only council that insists on refuse collectors getting bins from the side of the house and returning them there, rather than the kerbside, closed-lid collection everywhere else. This slows down the job, but then workers are berated and bullied by management for their productivity. 

The job of the Grade 3 workers the Labour council wants to 'delete' is safety critical.
The drivers' vision is restricted, as they operate 12-tonne trucks, twice that weight when full. Kids run out from behind cars. Residents risk life and limb throwing rubbish in the back, where the lifting mechanism operates by sensors, and can crush you to death. Motorists rushing to work are abusive on a daily basis, get too close, and in one case drove into the back of the wagon and nearly killed the loader. Birmingham is the only council not to have a route risk assessment, despite demands by the union for years. 

As well as the physical safety of the public, the Grade 3 leading hands look out for other loaders, 40-50 per cent of whom (250-280) are hired as agency workers, on zero hours contracts, replaced daily on routes, continually forced to waive the right to permanent jobs - in one case for 9 years

Labour Redundancy Notices 

This dispute echoes some of the issues around Driver Only Trains; the crusade to eliminate safety critical jobs. But it's a Labour council that's acting like a bunch of dictatorial, Tory-backed bosses. 

Strikes began on 30 June. Through the conciliation service, ACAS, a deal was reached between the Labour council and Unite on 15 August, including:

"The council agreed in principle that Grade 3 posts will be maintained. Consequently there are no redundancy steps in place." 

In return, the union called off the strikes and agreed "to recommend to their members work pattern changes, including consideration of a 5-day week." 

By 30 August, the council reneged on the deal, issued 106 redundancy notices to Grade 3 supervisory bin loaders, with the Labour council leader denying a deal had ever been reached - which ACAS took the unusual step of publicly contradicting - and claiming it was "unaffordable". 

Aside from the appalling failure to uphold an agreement, the council's claims don't match the £269million increase in their 'useable reserves' in 2016 - to a total of £895million. The same Labour council spent a fortune hiring agency and contractors to try and undermine the strike action - which they've now provoked resumption of, since 1st September, by handing out very real redundancy notices. 

It would appear they are not only hell-bent on slashing wages and conditions, but breaking the union too, perhaps as the prelude to privatisation. 

Labour: Saviours from Austerity?! 

These bin workers need and deserve our solidarity. In defence of safety, wages and conditions.

But there's also a broader issue, especially for those (including in Scotland) who've placed their hopes for workers' rights and  workers' livelihoods in the Labour Party since Jeremy Corbyn's welcome, twice-over election as leader. 

For all the talk of Corbyn's Labour being anti-austerity, and winning mass support - especially in England - with that message, here we have a Labour council acting like the worst, anti-union Tories, carrying out austerity at local level. 

And just as we've said elsewhere, not once has the Corbyn leadership issued a clarion call on their own Labour councillors to resist and refuse Tory cuts.
Where has there been a word of criticism - let alone expulsion - of Birmingham Labour councillors from the same national Labour leadership? None that I can trace at the time of writing.

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