Socialist Party
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27 June 2012

Sheffield recycling workers: Support their indefinite strike action

Alistair Tice, Sheffield Socialist Party

"You mean there'll be queues like this every day?" asks a driver as 30, 40, maybe 50 cars back up from the Dump-It site onto the main road. This is now the daily picture of 'grotesque chaos' caused by Sheffield's Labour council feebly passing on the Con-Dem cuts in the already privatised household recycling service.

After already taking 15 days of strike action over the last month, the GMB members started an indefinite all-out strike on 23 June. They are fighting for their jobs and conditions, and for re-opening of the sites every day to provide a decent service.

Big multinational Veolia, that has a 35-year contract to run the city's waste management services, wouldn't take a cut in profits so forced down the tendering bid by sub-contractor Sova to operate the recycling centres.

In turn, Sova have cut the opening days and hours of the five Dump-It sites, sacking six workers and cutting the hours and pay of the remaining 30.

The workers only get the minimum wage as it is, under the proposed annualised-hours they'll only get 22 hours a week in winter!

Everyone knows that the cuts in recycling will lead to more waste-dumping and fly-tipping.

Who'll pay for that mess to be cleaned up? Won't be Veolia, it'll be council tax-payers. So much for the council 'saving' 500,000!

"This is privatisation for you," says one queueing driver as he signs the union's petition, "why should they (Veolia) pocket the profit, that money should go back to the community."

Nearly everyone agrees with the strikers, the security guards direct drivers to the petition. But it'll take more than public opinion to win this strike.

Socialist Party members have been on the picket lines every day and helped raise money for the hardship fund.

We presented a petition to the last council meeting at which the Labour councillors were lambasted by the strikers.

The all-out strike needs to be as hard-hitting as possible. The Socialist Party has suggested that the GMB sets up a support group and appeals, not only for finance, but for supporters to help the strikers picket each site 24 hours a day in order to stop the full skips being emptied.

Because union drivers won't cross the picket line, Sova has hired another haulage firm to strike-break, protests should be organised against them as well. A few managers and a few scabs can't keep the sites going.

Please send messages of support (email: [email protected]) and especially financial donations to: Peter Davies (Sova Strike Fund), GMB office, 188/190 Norfolk Street, Sheffield, S1 1SY. Please make cheques payable to GMB.

Sova strikers will be marching on the Rally for our Future - Defend Education and Public Services called by education unions NASUWT and NUT. Saturday 14 July, assemble 11.30am, Devonshire Green, Sheffield

Open the books!

Sheffield claims to be the greenest city in the country. It won't be able to for much longer if the Labour council's cuts in environmental, waste-management and recycling services go ahead.

Instead of cuts, the council should be investing more in expanding recycling services which would not only encourage more environmentally friendly behaviour, but also save money in the long run.

Socialists believe that the way to encourage changes in behaviour is not through coercion or punitive charges and fines, but through education and providing the services and facilities to make recycling as easy as possible.

But Sheffield's waste-management services were privatised eleven years ago. The then Lib Dem council signed a 30-year deal with Veolia which was then extended another five years when Labour got in. Veolia sub-contract the operation of the recycling centres every five years.

This year Veolia will cream off over 300,000 profit just by sub-contracting out at a lower tender price. On top of that they make more profit from selling on recyclable materials, 1 million, maybe more.

Exactly how much, nobody seems to know. The GMB put in a Freedom of Information request but there are still lots of unanswered questions. Under the cloak of 'commercial confidentiality', what many suspect is a dodgy deal is being covered up.

The GMB learned that Sova Recycling Ltd were advised to reduce their tendering bid. At least two managers for Sova were working for the previous sub-contractors, South Yorkshire and North Notts Recycling. And Sova were only registered at Companies House in November last year, well after the tendering process started. This all smacks of an 'insider deal'.

This is why socialists call for 'opening the books'. The accounts of these companies should be open to inspection by the trade unions and workers' representatives. Let's see where all the profits have gone, profits which could have kept the sites open and workers in jobs.

Socialists oppose this privatisation rip-off. We believe that all privatised services should be brought back under council ownership and control.

In fact the GMB proposed that the council submits an in-house bid at the start of the tendering process. They were told that the council did not have the necessary experience to run the sites. But it's the workers who run the sites, know the job inside out, not councillors or management bureaucrats.

Under the current privatised and out-sourced set up, there are three tiers of management and supervision - the council, Veolia and Sova! If the service was brought back in-house and run under democratic workers' control and management, not only would it be a better service, it would be cheaper as well.