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Bin workers


Highlight keywords  |Print this articlePrint this article
From: The Socialist issue 1021, 5 December 2018: Not one more day - Tories out now

Search site for keywords: Birmingham - Strikes - Blairite - Bin workers - Carers - Council - Labour - Unite - GMB - Unison

Blairite Birmingham steps up union-busting and two workforces plan strikes

Birmingham bin strikers, photo Birmingham Socialist Party

Birmingham bin strikers, photo Birmingham Socialist Party   (Click to enlarge)

Birmingham Socialist Party

Birmingham's Blairite Labour council won't get an easy Christmas this year. Two of its workforces - bin workers and home carers - are balloting for strikes. And protests will continue against the sell-off of the city's nurseries.

Bin workers

Bin workers struck to save jobs and beat the Blairite council last year, after three months of action led by general union Unite. But new information suggests the council paid 4,000 to workers who did not strike - in effect, blacklisting striking Unite members.

Birmingham's Labour council disgusted many by spending 6 million on a strike-breaking workforce during the dispute. It is sinking still further with these payments.

At a Unite meeting, furious bin workers called for fresh strikes in response. The ballot will close on 14 December, and if successful the workers will be out from 28 December.

The workers who received the council's extra payment are represented by general union GMB. We need action to unite bin workers in struggle, not divide them so the employer can pick them off.

The GMB has not endeared itself to Birmingham nursery workers and users either. It has agreed the Blairites' plan to privatise or close the 14 remaining council-owned nurseries.

Home carers

Birmingham home carers on strike, 9.10.18, photo Birmingham Socialist Party

Birmingham home carers on strike, 9.10.18, photo Birmingham Socialist Party   (Click to enlarge)

As we go to press, Birmingham home carers are also returning ballot papers. Under the Tories' anti-union laws, they must refresh their strike vote every six months.

Their dispute over cuts to hours and pay - up to 11,000 a year for some - has already hit 12 months and 47 strike days. Rank-and-file members have pushed local leaders of public service union Unison to put more political pressure on the Labour council.

Frustrated that councillors have tried to ignore their action - less visible than the piles of refuse during the bin strike - home carers leafleted key cutters' wards. Council leader Ian Ward's area was fully leafleted in just 90 minutes!

The leaflet asks residents if their councillors, by attacking low-paid women and their service users, represent "Labour values." Councillors promised a meeting with the unions so long as home carers ceased leafleting immediately!

But the council has gone back on its word before. Ahead of May's council elections it promised home carers could trial their own self-rostering system if they called off strikes. As soon as the elections were over, so was the self-roster trial.

Joint action

The bin workers' victory in 2017 was a source of inspiration for the home carers to take on the council themselves. Joint strikes by these workers would strengthen both disputes.

Nursery campaigners could join up too. They are all fighting the same enemy and the same threat to jobs, pay, conditions and public services.

And as well as industrial pressure, the unions should work together to apply political pressure on the Labour council. Last year, Unite assistant general secretary Howard Beckett rightly told the council: "If you act like Tories, we'll treat you like Tories."

The unions should withdraw support from any councillor who continues to impose austerity. Anti-cuts councillors would instead use the platform to build a mass campaign to win more funding from central government, using reserves and borrowing to set no-cuts budgets in the meantime.

Birmingham workers can lead the way by applying pressure in their unions. Fight every cut, fight for socialist policies!

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The coronavirus crisis has laid bare the class character of society in numerous ways. It is making clear to many that it is the working class that keeps society running, not the CEOs of major corporations.

The results of austerity have been graphically demonstrated as public services strain to cope with the crisis.

The government has now ripped up its 'austerity' mantra and turned to policies that not long ago were denounced as socialist. But after the corona crisis, it will try to make the working class pay for it, by trying to claw back what has been given.

  • The Socialist Party's material is more vital than ever, so we can continue to report from workers who are fighting for better health and safety measures, against layoffs, for adequate staffing levels, etc.
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