Refuse, resist! Brum rubbish collectors ready to strike as council talks fail

Brummie binmen are days away from an all-out strike, clashing once again with a Labour council that has rewarded scabs and blacklisted strikers.

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The following article has been shortened from an original carried by Sputnik, and is reproduced here with thanks.

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Unite cabinet members met at the Birmingham council house on Tuesday to negotiate a peaceful settlement of an ongoing dispute between council bin workers and city officials in Britain’s second-largest city.

Talks have resulted in deadlock between union workers and the council, resulting in piles of rubbish strewn across Birmingham sidewalks and rats infesting neighbourhoods since Christmastime, when workers began industrial actions against the council.

Calls to the council requesting emergency rubbish collections have spiked from 214 to 1,030 on average following Unite’s industrial action, according to the BBC’s Local Democracy Reporting Service (LDRS).

Councillor Majid Mahmood also resigned on Wednesday after refusing to support a council injunction against bin workers, which could result in legal action and 30-day redundancies amongst staff.

Thirty bin workers from the Unison trade union plan to join the industrial action amid collapsing negotiations, with an all-out strike appearing imminent. …

What the unions said

Unite the Union declined to comment directly, but offered a press release detailing the dispute. Roughly 300 Birmingham rubbish collectors voted 94 percent in favour of strike action in December after the council blacklisted workers striking in 2017 over payment disputes, it said.

Unite accused Birmingham council of paying “several thousand pounds each” to rubbish collectors from the GMB union for refusing to strike in 2017, as well as ‘blatant blacklisting’ against workers for joining trade unions which had “taken lawful industrial action”.

Unite workers then enforced a ban on overtime and observed a ‘work to rule’ as a form of non-strike action at midnight, 29 December.

The vote showed that striking refuse workers were “not prepared to be discriminated against” compared to workers paid off by the council, Unite assistant general secretary Howard Beckett said.

“The individuals who took the decision to make such payments must be accountable to the public,” Mr Beckett added. “To this end, we have openly written to each Labour councillor to explain the utter nonsense of the excuses given by the council for the payment to the GMB members.”

Unite also filed a complaint with the employment tribunal and said that blame for the incident lay “squarely at the door of the council”, Mr Beckett said, adding that Unite sought a work environment free of discrimination.

What councillors have said

Sputnik reached out to the Birmingham city council multiple times, which declined to comment but finally sent an official statement.

The council strongly denied accusations of paying off workers, stating that it was committed to mediating the dispute between staff and unionists to “deliver a waste service that the citizens of Birmingham deserve”, a council spokesperson said. …

What the communists have said

CPGB-ML Birmingham regional organiser Ed Woollard told Sputnik that his organisation gave its full support to refuse workers in 2017, distributing roughly 15,000 leaflets explaining reasons for the strike and challenging local councillors who had “criminally squandered £6m of public money in an attempt to make a saving of a mere £300,000”.

Workers negotiated a return to work “at the insistence of their trade union representatives”, not councillors, adding that binmen had kept their job grades but worked fifty extra days a year without pay, Mr Wollard said. The agreement left a “bitter taste in the mouth” of workers, he added.

Whilst pay disputes triggered industrial action, other conditions have led to strikes, Mr Wollard explained.

“Attacks on pay, terms, conditions of work and the safety of the public have been packaged as ‘modernisation’,” he said, which was evidenced by a 2010 BBC report highlighting the extent of public sector cuts and backdated wages, among others, adding that bin workers remained committed to preserving workers’ rights.

“Always willing to negotiate and compromise, these workers have been treated appallingly by Labour councillors hell-bent on driving through cuts to services,” he said.

Mr Wollard warned that Christmastime strike actions would have serious consequences and that council failures to “adhere to previously made agreements, their barefaced lies to the public in 2017 and their blacklisting of agency workers” was “utterly disgraceful in the 21st century”, he said.