Strikes continue into their fourth week as refuse workers in Leeds fight to stop savage pay cuts that would leave them
up to six thousand pounds a year worse off. Workers for Street Scene, the council department responsible for refuse
collection, graffiti cleaning and disposal of needles, have been solidly
manning pickets at Cross Green depot, the main refuse depot for Leeds, and secondary pickets at various public rubbish
tips and smaller sites.
As Socialist Appeal
explained in http://www.socialist.net/leeds-refuse-workers.htm,
refuse workers downed tools when talks broke down between unions and Leeds City
Council. ‘Talks’ is something of a misnomer, since the council has failed to
put anything serious on the table, offering simply to replace some of the lost
income with a bonus scheme. Workers know what this means! As anyone who works
in sales will tell you, such ‘bonuses’ are invariably tied to
impossible-to-meet performance targets, and usually non-consolidated, meaning
they aren’t taken into account when final-salary pensions are calculated.
Most disgustingly of all, the council has used equality legislation
to justify these cuts! Although female refuse workers are paid exactly the same
as the men, it is true that many female council workers, for example school
cleaners and dinner-ladies, are very poorly-paid. Instead of raising the
salaries of these workers to an acceptable level, the council is dragging
refuse workers, male and female, down to the lowest poverty wages!
The council claims it hasn’t the money to raise the wages of its
poorest workers to an acceptable level, but they’ve had 18 months to plan for
and implement the pay restructuring mandated by the equality legislation. Every other authority in the region has managed to reach an agreement with
the unions without strike action being necessary. Being extremely
charitable to Leeds City Council, they are guilty of gross financial
incompetence. In reality, these attacks are a prelude to privatisation (the
council has admitted as much), softening up the workforce and making the whole
enterprise more profitable.
To add insult to injury, council leader Richard Brett last year
claimed nearly forty seven thousand pounds
in expenses alone, more than twice the present salary of a refuse collector.
Socialist Appeal supporters in Leeds
have been regularly attending the various sites, helping the workers distribute
material to members of the public. A couple of us were asked by one of the
workers to help support a secondary picket at a public tip, where many members of
the public chose to turn round with their rubbish rather than cross the picket
line. All-in-all, there has been a good public response to the strike, with many
people expressing their disgust and shock at the way these workers have been
treated. Some members of the public even dumped their rubbish on Councillor
Of course, the council has attempted to use scab labour to undermine
the strike. I myself saw two agency workers, with Day-Glo jackets and scarves
over their faces, getting into a Leeds City Council van in the city centre. The
council has announced publicly that it has brought in outside contractors to
collect the rubbish, despite it being illegal to replace striking workers with
Whilst the council blatantly violates that law, the unions have
backed off when threatened with legal action by the council. Workers had been
leaving the main picket at Cross Green and picketing household waste sites,
with some success – some of these sites had been shut down as a result of their
workers refusing to cross the picket line. However, the council accused them of
‘secondary picketing’, so the unions have stopped workers doing this.
One lesson we can learn from other disputes, such as Lindsey, is
that the anti-union laws can be cast aside by militant action. When the
construction workers at Lindsey downed tools, joined by dozens of sites up and
down the country in solidarity actions, the government and employer backed off,
anxious not to widen the confrontation and provoke other sections of the
working class. If the unions in the refuse workers’ dispute were prepared to
defy the anti-union laws, the council would be powerless to stop them.
This scabbing operation shows the lengths the bosses will go to
fight workers who only want a fair crack of the whip. But so far rubbish is
piling up, suggesting the council’s efforts have met with limited success. The
workers say they’ll stay solid until they win the strike.
A rally two weeks ago was well attended, with at least a couple of
hundred people there. We were addressed by various union officials, and the
head of the Leeds Labour Group (the body that organises the Labour councillors)
Keith Wakefield, who came out in support of the strike.
Workers have been attending regular mass-meetings, where they have
consistently and unanimously voted to continue the strike. However, some have
complained of being kept in the dark about what’s going on. This dispute has
been going on for nearly a month – it would represent a huge step forward if
the workers were able to elect a strike committee to take over the running of
the dispute, thus involving the rank-and-file in the decision-making process.
Labour councillors Lucinda Yeadon and James Lewis attended the
picket, and we saw MPs Colin Burgen and John Battle down there too. MP Fabian
Hamilton also sent his support. Whilst we welcome the support of the local
Labour Party, which is in opposition in Leeds City Council, we, along with many
workers, haven’t failed to notice twelve years of privatisations and attacks on
the working class by a Labour government. We demand that the Leeds Labour Group
commit in its manifesto to reversing any pay cuts made to refuse workers. But
that alone is not enough. With prices of basic commodities such as food and
fuel continually rising, refuse workers should be fighting for pay-rises, not
merely to stave off pay-cuts. As a minimum, the Labour Group must commit to
increasing refuse workers’ wages in line with inflation. Labour has a lot of
work to do to win back the trust of the working class.
Of course, this does not represent an isolated attack, but is part
of a general phenomenon of attacks on public-sector workers. Recent postal
workers’ strikes are one obvious example of this. The only way to ensure decent
pay and conditions for all public sector workers is to organise all-out united
public-sector action. This should be organised and coordinated by the Trades
Councils, the local organs of the TUC. At the very least, the leaders of this
dispute should call on all Leeds City Council workers to come out in
We’re entering a period of increased class struggle, as workers
across the public and private sectors begin to fight back against twenty years
of attacks by Tory and Labour governments. The disputes at Lindsey, Visteon,
Vestas and now Leeds are but a foretaste of
what is to come. The working class is on the move!
(STOP PRESS: New talks are now planned between the union and management, set to take place this coming Monday)
action until all pay cuts are reversed!
the workers in struggle – don’t take your rubbish to scab-operated tips!
leaders to give full support to the strike! Defy the anti-union laws!
Public sector workers must come together to fight the
threat of cuts and privatisation – for coordinated public sector action!
an elected, rank-and-file strike committee and a democratically-run strike!
to put workers, not bosses, first – Labour councillors to stand
shoulder-to-shoulder with workers in struggle! Leeds Labour Group must pledge
to reverse all pay cuts once in power!
to privatisations, expensive consultants and bullying management! For
publicly-owned, locally-accountable and democratically run public services, as
part of a socialist planned economy, providing jobs and good conditions for all!