Socialist Alternative

Solid and determined start to Unite bin drivers strike action in Coventry

As reported in December last year, bin drivers at Coventry City Council are in dispute with their employer over demands for decent pay and changes to Christmas working arrangements.

Action took place on Wednesday and Thursday of the first week of 2022, with 4 more days of action during the week beginning 10th Jan. A further 19 more strike days are planned until the end of March. The Council should be very clear that the workers are serious about winning decent pay. Recent victories for refuse workers in places like Barnet, Bexley and Plymouth show it’s very possible and should give all workers a great deal of confidence.  

Coventry Socialist Alternative have stood in total solidarity alongside striking Unite bin workers on their Whitley Depot picket line from the beginning of industrial action.

The real situation with pay

The strike is over the wages that Coventry’s Labour-controlled City Council pays its bin drivers, who can earn as little as £22,183, as the council advertise on their own website (see picture below). In real terms this means workers are £1600 worse off than a decade ago, on top of a backdrop of rising cost of living. Despicably, instead of meeting workers’ very reasonable demands, the council have continually sought to spread misinformation about wages (for example using outlandish figures in their statements and including overtime payments) in an attempt to divide workers not only from working class Coventry residents but also other low paid council workers; The council argued in a statement from the 5th of January,  that no bin driver is earning ‘as little as £22,183’ and that ‘the lowest paid driver took home £28,148, with the highest earner receiving £52,163.’ 

A vacancy advertised on the Coventry City Council website contradicts their own arguments, as do the es wage slips from at least one of the workers involved, see pictures below. 

  ( Advert from council website)

(One of the bin drivers’ wage slips)

DIY bin service

Another tactic employed by the council to weaken the impact of the strike (after trying to force through last minute contractual changes to rob workers of their deserved Christmas holiday) has been the attempted introduction of a temporary “DIY bin service” whereby local residents have been encouraged to drop their rubbish off at sites around the city. This badly thought out approach has been widely mocked by working class people across the city, not least because the council offered no subsequent help to elderly or disabled residents, or those without a car. It should be noted that the council has form for things like this, such as trying to recruit unpaid volunteers to work in city libraries. The Council are simultaneously undermining the strike and attacking public services – more reasons why the bin workers should be supported!

The role of the Labour Council and why we need genuine working class political organisation

Many workers on the picket lines are understandably and rightfully furious with the role of Labour in this dispute. Labour are acting like Tories, and should be condemned appropriately. Unite and other unions need to begin an organised discussion about the future of working class political representation. If you attack workers, you do not deserve the support of working class people and the trade unions!  

Strong picket lines

On the picket line at Whitley Depot there was tangible anger towards the council, with many workers pointing out the abhorrent nature of a “Labour” council yet again attacking its own workforce. This was demonstrated in the fact that, despite the freezing early morning winter conditions, workers turned out in force and held placards with slogans such as “We refuse rubbish pay” and “Stick your rubbish deal in the bin”. There were many expressions of workers who no longer see the Labour Party as a genuine party of the working class and are looking for an alternative both from the unions and the Corbynite left wing of Labour.

Despite the council’s repeated attempts to divide people, there was a strong show of support for the strike from working class residents driving past who were regularly beeping their car horns in solidarity.

Coventry Socialist Alternative says solidarity with Coventry bin workers and builds support for the strike!

We have been actively building support for the strike through organising campaigning activities in the city centre before and after Xmas, and have produced two leaflets for workers on the picket lines. A Socialist Alternative member in Birmingham UCU branch helped to organise a solidarity visit to the picket line, with a £100 donation to the strike fund from his branch. 

(Pic: UCU Birmingham branch bring solidarity to the picket line)

We are speaking with residents and are coming across different reactions; some initially oppose the strike as a result of the deliberate misinformation spread by the council. However  through using a printed screenshot of the council vacancy advertisement we have helped in convincing them to support the strikers rather than the council. We also came across a significant number of people, young and old, who instinctively support the strike based on their experience with the council and as workers exploited by their own employer. 

Getting the truth out there and organising solidarity

We can step up such solidarity to build support for the strike through coordinated action. The truth about the shocking conditions of bin drivers needs to get to everyone across Coventry. Unite and the local trade union movement could produce leaflets and  undertake public campaigning activities with the help of other trade unions in spreading the truth about what’s really going on, to fight the council’s deliberate misinformation! The other unions in the council can come to the aid of Unite by loudly stating support for their action, balloting their members who are bin drivers, showing solidarity and help with spreading Unite’s arguments about the strike . This could galvanise all union members for what is coming down the line in terms of attacks and help to increase the pressure on the council that attempts to divide and turn workers against one another. A victory for bin workers will be a victory for all workers in the council and beyond!

[Pic: Socialist Alternative building support for the strike in Coventry City Centre 08/01/22]

Show solidarity with the #covbinstrike!

Messages of support to:

Pete.Randle@unitetheunion.org

Donations to the local branch of Unite:

Unity Trust Bank

Name of Account – Unite WM/7116 Branch Coventry Local GOVERNMENT 

Account number 20302665

Sort code 608301

Do you want to get involved? Want to help? 

Email coventrysocialistalternative@gmail.com

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