Following months of bitter strike action, lorry drivers at Coventry city council have come out on top. Their dispute provides important lessons for the trade union movement. Through united, militant struggle, workers can beat back the bosses.
After six months of continuous strike action, HGV drivers at Coventry city council have won an inspiring victory in their struggle for decent pay.
Socialist Appeal supporters and readers congratulate our trade union brothers and sisters – both for the fight they have waged, and for the victory achieved.
This militant example provides a beacon to workers everywhere, showing that through determined, collective action, workers can win…and win big.
The bin workers’ strike began in the cold days of January 2022. But it ended recently in the sweltering temperatures of a summer heatwave.
Following a long – and increasingly bitter – dispute, the Coventry city council lorry drivers have won an inflation-busting 12.9% pay rise; Christmas bonuses; and, of particular importance, the dropping of disciplinary charges against local Unite shop steward Pete Randle.
This act of solidarity serves as a positive lesson for the whole movement: to fight against the employers’ attacks and victimisation – such as the witch-hunt against Unison’s ex-president Paul Holmes – it is not enough to rely on the courts, the legal system, or the union bureaucracy.
Instead, rank-and-file trade union members need to defend themselves through workplace organisation and militant action.
The Coventry workers’ struggle has been hard fought, in the face of an intransigent Labour council, who went to extraordinary lengths in order to break the strike: hiring temporary drivers as scab labour for months; spending millions of pounds to undermine the strikers; and carrying out a campaign of misinformation about workers’ pay and conditions.
But these pernicious tactics were not enough to overcome the unity of the workers, in combination with solidarity towards the drivers from across the labour movement. Alongside strong support from Unite the Union, this tipped the scales in favour of the workers, forcing an incredible victory.
Responding to this news, Unite general secretary Sharon Graham stated that: “This win shows the new direction of Unite.” Unlike in the past, in other words, the union’s leadership is willing to back workers all the way in their fight against the bosses.
This win shows the new direction of @unitetheunion. We will defend our members pay and conditions, however long it takes. This continuous action has delivered real terms pay increases for our members. #covbinstrike #JobsPayConditions 1/3 pic.twitter.com/qdoqTwjw8w
— Sharon Graham (@UniteSharon) July 29, 2022
With the cost of living spiralling, and the bosses on the offensive, it is clear that ordinary people are increasingly turning to their trade unions to protect their living standards and working rights.
This shift to the industrial front is also a response to the block on the political front, with a growing acknowledgement that Starmer’s Labour is not on the side of workers, but rather is seeking to act as the loyal servant of big business.
Many of the Coventry strikers, in this respect, expressed real disappointment and anger – not just with the local Labour council, but with the party’s national leadership too, which has conspicuously failed to back them and other workers taking action.
In the wake of their six-month-long dispute, Coventry refuse workers will rightly be buoyed by their victory. But workers everywhere must remain vigilant.
With double digit inflation on the cards, even these important wins can quickly be eroded away by soaring prices, if demands are limited to one-off pay increases.
At the same time, the Tories are ramping up their attacks on trade unionists, and on working people in general, threatening to make effective industrial action illegal, as a tsunami of strikes looms.
The trade union movement must therefore fully absorb the lessons of the struggle in Coventry. Militancy pays. United, we can win. There is no force on earth that can stop the working class when it is organised and mobilised.
But to ensure a lasting victory, organised workers must go further, and fight for a socialist alternative to austerity and inflation: for pay linked to prices; for the reversal of all cuts, funded by the expropriation of the billionaires; and for democratic planning of the economy, to end the chaos and crisis of capitalism.