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Refuse workers trash wage cuts

Following on from the attacks detailed in last issue of Catalyst, refuse workers in Leeds and Brighton have won significant victories defeating attempts to slash their pay under the twisted logic of ‘equal pay’.

In Leeds, following a mass meeting at which 79% of the GMB and Unison members voted to accept management’s offer, the 11 week Leeds City Council bin strike ended on 24 November 2009 when victorious bin crews and street cleaners marched back to work at Cross Green and Yeadon depots.

The workers had gone on strike on September 7, sparked by a new union-negotiated pay and grading structure agreed under the auspices of the NJC Single Status Agreement, that entailed loss of bonuses and weekend rates -leaving them facing a massive £4,500 cut to their £17,500 annual pay.

Having gone on strike initially in defiance of their national unions, the strikers (who made their decisions at mass meetings) succeeded in forcing management to negotiate (despite council leader Brett originally saying that he would not), and ultimately defeated the plans to slash their wages.

The deal however involves “efficiency and productivity improvements” (new shift patterns, reorganisation of rounds, and an increase in the number of bins collected per hour). The exact number of bins per hour was still to be agreed when the deal was accepted, but will be between 196 (the old figure) and 220 (an impossible figure proposed by the council in an overwhelmingly rejected “final offer” made in week six of the strike). The average figure in neighbouring local authority areas is 181.

Local government refuse workers in Bradford and Sheffield agreed deals shortly after the strike was settled, averting expected strikes in those cities. In Bradford the evolving deal appears to involve regrading jobs in order to scrap bonuses, with some workers expected to gain and some to lose.

In the words of one council cleaner disgruntled by union deals over equal pay “Some bin workers and street cleaners are being screwed and women cleaners are being treated like peasants”.

Meanwhile, in Brighton workers  needed just two days of solid strike action to bring the council tumbling down. Despite all of their sabre rattling throughout the summer, the council was ill-prepared for the resolve of the workers, and how solid their action would be, or for the level of support the Cityclean workers would command.

Both of these victories demonstrate that the only way to defeat the cuts being forced upon us is by standing together and fighting for our needs.  When action is solid, even the most obstinate of employers can be quickly forced into a retreat.

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