The council claims it has no choice but to sack bin workers and cut up to £5,000 a year from the remaining staff’s pay because of lack of funds. Like every council it has suffered savage cuts in funding from the Tory government, but that is no excuse for inflicting austerity on the council workforce.
In fact, the council has over £100 million in its ‘unallocated’ useable reserves which it could use to avoid any cuts in public services, jobs or pay and conditions, while building a movement to defeat this weak divided government.
Instead the council has shown it is prepared to spend money – to try and break the strike! It has so far spent £2 million on employing scab labour.
A striker explained: “We’re happy to discuss any terms and conditions that the council want to change, but we can’t accept a pay cut plain and simple. People have mortgages and they’ve got families to feed so a cut out of their wages of up to £5,000 a year is just not acceptable.
“What we need now is for the union to organise a rally that brings all the depots together. We need to take this more public now. We’ve got the majority of public support and we can win.
“We’re fighting for our jobs and we’re probably the strongest workforce. If we win this, I don’t think they can touch any other department. But if we lose this, every single department, and the city’s public services, will go downhill.”
The Birmingham bin workers are at the forefront of the national battle to stop cuts to local government. Building solidarity should be a vital part of the TUC congress taking place next week. The National Shop Stewards’ Network (NSSN) rally taking place before the congress will be demanding coordinated action to stop the cuts and smash the pay cap.
Paul, a striking bin worker, explained why he’ll be at the NSSN rally:
“I’m attending because I’m sick and tired of the working men and women of this country having the life squeezed out of their conditions to appease austerity, gross incompetence in management, and fuelling the wages of their fat cat bosses. So I’m making a stand to say enough is enough.”
Time for Jeremy Corbyn to back the bin workers!
A solidarity movement in support of the Birmingham bin strikers is urgently needed. All the council unions, plus other trade union bodies in the city, should be organising workplace meetings to explain what has happened and to hold collections to make sure the bin workers can’t be starved back to work.
At the same time the other council unions, GMB and Unison, are also facing job losses as a result of cuts. They should be balloting their affected members, hold workplace meetings and argue the case for strike action.
This should be combined with a major public rally in support of the bin workers, mobilising workers from across Birmingham and beyond.
Events in Birmingham show clearly that Labour is two parties in one. Labour councils in Birmingham and elsewhere are implementing savage Tory austerity, whilst at the same time Jeremy Corbyn won popular support in the general election by standing on an anti-austerity manifesto.
Jeremy Corbyn is rightly known in the trade union movement for his long record of supporting workers taking strike action. It was very good that he immediately backed the McDonald’s strikers which then embarrassed even some ultra-Blairite MPs to follow suit at least in words.
Unfortunately, however, as yet Jeremy Corbyn has not come out to support the bin strikers or to oppose the strike-breaking, anti-worker, pro-austerity actions of this supposedly Labour council.
In the past right-wing Labour leader Neil Kinnock viciously attacked Liverpool’s Labour council (in which Militant, now the Socialist Party, played a leading role) for issuing redundancy notices.
This was a mistaken tactic to buy time, but the council made clear to the workforce that not one single worker was to be made redundant – and none were. On the contrary, the council defied the Tories and succeeded in increasing the workforce, building 5,000 council houses and dramatically improving public services.
Birmingham, by contrast, is laying workers off and attempting to break a strike. It is urgent that Corbyn condemns the council’s actions, linked to a campaign to democratise the Labour Party, pledging to remove the cutters from office before next year’s local elections, and to stand candidates who are prepared to defy the Tories and refuse to implement cuts.
Unite, and other Labour-affiliated unions, should refuse to give any funding to Labour cutters as part of such a campaign. If this doesn’t happen workers in Birmingham and elsewhere are bound to conclude that, despite Jeremy Corbyn’s positive policies, Labour in office – at least at local authority level – remains a pro-austerity, anti-working class party.