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The Weekly paper of the New Communist Party of Britain

One in the eye for Starmer

by New Worker correspondent

FIRSTLY, in Lady Godiva’s home city of Coventry, 73 dustcart drivers have secured a pay rise of up to 12.9 per cent (or about £3,600 annually) and a Christmas bonus of £4,000 after a long battle with the Labour council which began at the end of January. New starters will get an increase of 8 per cent, £1850 annually. An equally important non-monetary aspect of the deal was that a shop steward, suspended on trumped up charges, will be reinstated and no longer face charges.

The dispute was of more than local importance as it was one in which Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer was busy behind the scenes encouraging the council not to give in so that Labour could be seen as a “responsible” government in waiting. It was also one in which Unite made clear it would put its members first.

Unite General Secretary Sharon Graham claimed that: “This win shows the new direction of Unite. We will defend our members pay and conditions, however long it takes. This continuous action has delivered real terms pay increases for our members”, the union’s National Officer Onay Kasab added: “Unite members relied on the strength of collective action which has secured yet another win for workers. Con­gratulations to the Coventry HGV strikers!”

During the dispute Unite ceased funding the regional Labour Party and suspended over 20 councillors belonging to the union. The once suspended steward Peter Randle said that winning the dispute was vital for the city’s other council workers: “If they had beaten us, then everyone working for the council would be fair game for attacks by the bosses.”

In finally conceding the case last Friday a Coventry council spokesman moaned that: “This unnecessary delay has meant the council has had to deal with a net cost pressure of more than £4 million through a mixture of paying for mitigation measures to ensure Coventry residents continued to receive waste collection services and a substantial loss in commercial waste income.”

In other words the council now admits it could have resolved the dispute much earlier and spared itself the time, money and cost of setting up a scab service. The council set up its own company and actually paid its scab drivers more to run the strike breaking service.

At the start the council falsely claimed drivers earned £52,000 when the reality was that they got between £22,183 and £27,741 a year.

Back in Bexley

Meanwhile in the south London borough of Bexley another group of binmen are making progress in their dis­pute over pay and working conditions.

Talks between contractors Countrystyle Recycling and Unite are taking place at conciliation service ACAS, which has enabled Unite to call off a planned three week strike which was set to continue until Friday 19th August.

Unite acting national officer Clare Keogh said: “Following extensive negotiations held at Acas, sufficient pro­gress was made to allow Unite to suspend strike action.

“It is hoped that during further in-depth negotiations the remaining outstanding issues can be resolved and a satisfactory resolution to the dispute reached.” But the union warned that if the resulting offer is unacceptable strike action will resume on Saturday 20th August.

The 100 binmen involved have already been on strike in the middle of last month, Countrystyle Recycling had taken over the contract in October.

Unite accuses Countrystyle of offering “a below-inflation pay deal” to scrap a long-standing “job and finish” clause in their contracts. Regional officer Tabusam Ahmed added: “Our members are rightly asking for a pay rise that keeps up with rocketing prices. In response, Countrystyle is trying to punish them by scrapping a long-standing agreement”.

North of the Border

Meanwhile dustbin men and women are just some of the workers in Scotland who have voted to strike after rejecting a miserable two per cent pay offer from the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (CoSLA), the body which handles most local authority pay and conditions negotiations. As is traditional the SNP blame the UK government for not giving them enough to finance an in­crease. The SNP seem to have carelessly forgotten that they have had it in their power for fifteen years to allow councils to increase council tax levels, but have not done so to avoid upsetting better off voters.

Chancellor Nadhim Zahawi, politely told the acting Scottish finance minister John Swinney to get lost, pointing out that the Scottish government had already received “a record £41 billion per year for the next three years” which means “the Scottish govern­ment is receiving around £126 per person for every £100 per person of equivalent UK government spending in England over the next three years.”

Unite spokesman Eddie Cassidy said on BBC Radio Scotland’s Sunday Show that it was apparent that the Scottish government was not taking the issue seriously, adding that “The cuts to local author­ity budgets have been deeper and harder in Scotland than they have in England over the past decade and that was a choice by the Scottish SNP government”.

The SNP have indeed done a Pontius Pilate act and washed their hands of the business constantly saying all parties should find a resolution to avoid industrial action.

Cassidy pointed out that the SNP were playing up the “technical fact” that it did not have front-line responsibility for local government. But he reasonably pointed out that: “they are the ones who have ring-fenced the vast majority of the sums of money they’ve given to budgets and have told local government what they can and cannot do in relation to the community tax over the past 10 years”.

crystal clear

This view he said, is shared by CoSLA who “have made it crystal clear that they agree with us, that the money on offer is not enough for the workforce, and the only way local government get their money is by funding from the Scottish SNP government”.

Already members of Unison, Unite and the GMB have voted for strike action, which will also affect schools when janitors and other support staff take action.

Of the 250,000 council workers more than half earn less than £25,000 a year for a full week, with many of these only earning between £18,000 and £22,000.

He recounted reports of some workers unable to afford both bread and milk and some had asked to take holidays at the end of the month because they could not afford bus fares to get to work. In contrast members in England had been offered up to 10.5 per cent.

Unison has also said its members were “fed up of being used as a political football” between CoSLA and the SNP government.