Victory claimed in Birmingham bin dispute; but Labour-led Birmingham city council has other idea

binThe militant industrial action taken by the Birmingham bin men has achieved a famous victory in their dispute with Birmingham City Council, so claim Unite the Union.

The Council reportedly backed down and accepted the refuse workers’ case in August, agreeing to restore the grade 3 jobs, which are responsible for the safety at the rear of the refuse vehicles, to abandon plans for redundancies, and to reinstate the union representative that it had suspended. It was announced by Unite the Union that normal collection of bins will resume, as Unite and the city council hold further talks under the auspices of the conciliation service Acas to resolve outstanding issues, which apparently include discussion of how the service can be improved, with the intention of improving efficiencies in performance of the bin collection service generally, including what savings can be made, and specifically how best the current grade 3 roles can now be maintained and developed so that they take forward the ambition to deliver cleaner streets. It seems that the union, Unite, has also agreed in principle to recommend to its members work pattern changes, including consideration of a five-day working week.

LALKAR is proud to report that the only Party in Britain that fully backed the binmen’s strike from the very start was the CPGB-ML, especially its Birmingham branch. Credit can also be given to the Birmingham Socialist Party who joined after the second week in spite of the embarrassment their members had to endure accompanied on every picket line with their newspaper tucked under their arm giving gushing support to Corbyn and the Labour Party, the very same Party responsible for the plight of the striking workers.

The news sheet of the Birmingham CPGB-ML comrades, entitled the Birmingham Worker, was the unofficial voice of the workers throughout the dispute. Two strike editions were produced and more than 2,000 copies were distributed. In excess of 5,000 CPGB-ML leaflets were circulated explaining to the public the case of the bin men, and comrades attended at least one and in some cases four picket lines each day for six weeks. When Unite and the Socialist Party issued their statements of victory following the Acas talks, bin men from across the depots expressed their unease with the proceedings and many declared they held no faith whatsoever in the Labour Party promises. At that moment the Birmingham Branch of the CPGB-ML issued the following statement:

"The Birmingham Branch of the CPGB-ML and its newspaper the Birmingham Worker congratulates Birmingham’s bin men in what we hope is the first step towards an equitable settlement. Whilst encouraged by the promise that the Grade 3 posts will be protected, actions speak louder than words. At this moment in time, it would be wrong for us to echo the jubilant tone of both the Socialist Party and those from whom they take their analysis, the Unite press office.

"So far, the pause in industrial action is based upon the good will of the bin men and promises from the city council. Words are not deeds; Clancy, Trickett and Co are like the rest of the Labour bureaucrats – they’re anti working class careerists riding the Labour Party gravy train and must not be trusted. If they fail to implement concrete measures then workers must be ready to come straight back out. The Cabinet Meeting is yet to discuss the outcome of the ACAS talks and the city council have been very cool in statements they have made to the press over the course of the week.

"We have stood with the workers since well before the strike began, as many bin men know, our comrades have tirelessly campaigned on behalf of workers since before the mass meetings at the Alexander Stadium and from the very first day of strike action. This will not change, whether there is strike action or not. Our political line is simple – Labour, Tory, it’s the same old story, cuts at home and war abroad! We hold no illusions in local Labour Party careerists or the top nobs in London hanging onto Corbyn’s coat tail. Corbyn had plenty of chances to turn up to support striking workers, as did his MPs. They were nowhere to be seen, and the whole mess was caused by Labour Councillors in the first place.

"The political line from the Socialist Party that local Labour members are clearly not ‘Corbyn Labour’ and calls to remove so-called ‘blue Labour Blairites’ make no sense whatsoever. The Labour Party is a thoroughly bourgeois political party, the fact that some members of the Labour Party are of working class origin makes the Party no more a political workers party than any other right-wing Party with working class members. We appeal to workers to trust their instincts – put no faith in the Labour Party, put no faith in those who talk about a ‘red’ ‘left’ or ‘Corbyn’ Labour Party.

"Should the dispute be resolved or not we will be ready to play our part in the struggles to come. We hope that striking bin men see that this strike was just one skirmish in the class struggle, but in going up against a Labour Council they blazed a trail for the entire British working class to follow. Britain needs workers to learn the lessons from the strike; that workers need their own political party unconnected with Labour to voice their interests in the Council, that the main corporate media worked against the strikers and that workers need their own magazines and publishers to put across their point of view, and finally that if workers stand in solidarity for their class interests then for those moments their lives take on a greater meaning than they did previously, that in fighting for their class interests they point the way to the future, a society run not for profit but in the interests of working people. The world is nothing without its workers, our class is the most powerful force for social change and when it is united it is unbeatable.

"Class Against Class.

"Workers of the world, unite!"

Birmingham City Council have different plans

As the vast majority of bin men suspected, and as the Birmingham CPGB-ML cautioned, Birmingham city council and its Labour lieutenants appear to have no intention of compromising with workers and declarations of victory may well have been premature.

On 24th August the Council Cabinet meeting set to discuss the ‘reorganisation of waste management’ was deferred until the 1 September. The written report issued for the meeting by the Chief Executive, Stella Manzie, and Corporate Director of Place, Jacqui Kennedy, has however been made public and makes for a very interesting read.

The ‘update’ public report on the proposals for the reorganisation of waste management sets out recommendations that run counter to the informal agreement made between the Labour leader, John Clancy, and assistant General Secretary of Unite, Howard Beckett, during talks at ACAS which led to the strike being suspended. The report recommends that the initial proposals, as set out by the council on 27 June, the proposals that resulted in the industrial action from Unite, be maintained and plans go ahead to restructure without any alteration in response to the industrial action.

The public report contains within it reference to a ‘private report’. The private report, kept from the public gaze, will inevitably come into the hands of the Birmingham CPGB-ML and when it does we will publish it in full. This private report no doubt details the bungs Labour councillors and their lackeys in post are paying private contractors to clear the rubbish left by the bin men. The cost comes in at a staggering £311,000 per week by the time Unite suspended strike action. Even the top estimate, as referenced by the Council in this report, of paying the bin men at grade 3 is only £600,000 per year!

The public report, clearly states that despite the public pronouncements from ACAS and Unite, the chiefs at the City Council recommend pushing ahead at full steam with the attack on the bin men. We urge everyone to read the report in full, but the relevant section reads as follows:

"That the Cabinet note the recommendations below and consider them in the light of the accompanying private report.

"2.1 Endorse progression and implementation of the decisions taken by Cabinet 27th June 2017 for the re organisation of the waste management service and the next stages including issuing the redundancy notices to the 106 employees (in 113 posts) currently designated as Grade 3 Leading Hands.”

Furthermore the Council report announces:

"4.2.4 There are additional costs associated with the contingency plans that have been put in place in response to the industrial action. The estimated weekly costs have ranged between £21,000 per week in the early stages of the industrial action in July to the current weekly estimate of £311,000 as external contractors have been mobilised (the details are set out in a separate schedule in the Private Report). This will be an additional pressure on the Council’s finances for 2017/18. …

"5.1 The key organisational changes in the Refuse and Waste service, proposed in the June 27th Report were as follows:

• The removal of compressed working hours with all employees working a 5 day 7.3 hours per day 36.5 working hour week rather than 4 days at 9.133 hours per day

• Removal of the Leading Hand role on Refuse Collection Grade 3 (113 posts)

• Operationally the separation of commercial and domestic collections onto separate vehicles and crews where practicable to do so, thereby enabling domestic and trade waste operational resources and costs to be ring – fenced.

“The location of the start and finish points for each or any collection round will be across any of the Council depots and employees will be asked to work flexibly from any of the depots and employees will be asked to work flexibly from any of the depots as the business requirement demands. These changes are consistent with all employees on the Birmingham Contract …

"5.27 On 16th August an ACAS statement was issued as a result of discussions between the Leader, Unite and ACAS.

"Birmingham City Council and Unite the Union have today made sufficient progress in their talks for the Shop Stewards to pause industrial action. Birmingham City Council cabinet members have agreed in principle that the grade 3 posts will be maintained. Consequently there are no redundancy steps in place. …

"5.28 The Council issued the following statement:

“’The Acas statement in connection with the Waste and Refuse dispute does not represent the Council’s position until these matters are considered at the Council’s Special Cabinet Meeting on 24th August 2017. The decision on the waste reorganisation taken by Cabinet on 27th June is still the current position of the Council.’

"5.29 While productivity is still extremely low there does seem to have been a limited return to work from the Unite members. However given uncertainty about the ACAS discussions the Corporate Director of Place has continued to operate the contingency arrangements in place already, to assist in the catch up. There has been a request for overtime from the operatives, which has been refused."

It is clear from the above that bin men were quite right to suspect that the Council would push ahead with its proposals. It seems quite possible that Labour Leader John Clancy will now become the sacrificial lamb, punished for making promises to Unite and Acas that he was not mandated to make.

Labour Party strike breakers

Lalkar readers will also be interested to hear that Unite officials informed the local Labour bosses that their actions amounted to strike breaking in breach of the Employment Agencies & Employment Business Regulations 2003, Part 2, s.7:

7.—(1) … an employment business shall not introduce or supply a work-seeker to a hirer to perform—

"(a) the duties normally performed by a worker who is taking part in a strike or other industrial action …”

The Employment Agency Standards Inspectorate at the Department for Trade and Industry has the power to fine the Agency a £25,000 lump sum, and £5,000 per scab worker and slap a big £200,000 fine on the Council.

Of course the Council, like all employers have the upper hand when it comes to labour legislation in this country and they ignore it with impunity. Should a trade union ever fall foul of the legislation the full weight of the law is brought to bear, demonstrating clearly which class such laws serve in imperialist countries.

It can only be hoped that Unite, under pressure from its members, will expose and cease support to all these anti-working class Labour Party careerists currently waging war on Birmingham’s bin men. The strike is a political embarrassment to Corbyn, the Unite leadership and the Labour Party. When Caroline Lucas and the Green Party attacked Council workers in Brighton some years ago, the labour movement was quick to declare that the Green Party was no friend of the working class. The silence from the same labour movement and the army of Corbynistas on the pressing political questions arising from this dispute is deafening.

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