Socialist Alternative

unite members protest against pete randle's suspension

Labour-run Coventry council escalates attacks: strikers stand firm!

(This article was carried in issue 24 of Socialist Alternative)

The strike by HGV drivers in Coventry has inspired trade unionists across the country with hundreds attending a vibrant solidarity rally on 26 March.

This is a dispute that is being watched by other employers, eager to emulate the Council’s tactics if they can. After spending months spreading misinformation about the wages of the drivers, and using a council-owned company to collect waste, Coventry’s Labour council have upped the stakes by suspending Unite rep Pete Randle. This dispute needs to be won and Pete needs to be reinstated. 

Escalate, coordinate and link up disputes

We are now in a crucial phase. Unite members have shown their determination and courage to fight for better pay – now the rest of the trade union movement has to step up.

The question of widening and escalating the dispute is key. Ways need to be found to stop the council from collecting the waste – action taken by supporters of the strike to block the scab vehicles needs to be continued and stepped up.  Other groups of workers, including everyone on the bins, need to be brought on board to pile pressure on the council. 

Many similar disputes across the country could be linked up and have an enormous impact. A conference of bin workers from all unions to take inspiration and learn from the Coventry dispute could galvanise the struggle for better pay and conditions and help coordinate action. A national day of action, where workers across the country highlight the situation in Coventry, would build solidarity and encourage others to fight in their own workplaces. 

Council trade unions and organising public support

Within Coventry council, GMB and UNISON need to show concrete solidarity. A win for Unite members will be a win for all council workers. A proposal by a Socialist Alternative member in UNISON calling for the branch to support the solidarity rally on 26 March was voted down. This was a mistake. Sharon Graham could get the ball rolling by making a direct appeal to the relevant public sector unions to demonstrate solidarity action with these valiant workers. 

Significant public support for the strike could be mobilised by creating a broad solidarity group to work with the strike committee and discuss what actions could be taken Coventry TUC could initiate such a solidarity group. 

Need for working class political organisation

We support strong left challenges to Labour councillors at the local elections but we need to go further. This dispute will be won most swiftly through hard-hitting solidarity action which puts the council on the back foot, including stepping up protests against the council leader and his ilk. Coventry Labour’s role underlines the need for an organised debate across the trade union movement about the future of working-class political organisation. Unite is right to suspend Coventry Labour councillors from membership of the union; we believe that workers need a new mass left party based on working-class struggle, with socialist policies. 

Socialist Alternative says

  • Escalate the dispute, to reinstate Pete Randle and win the rate for the job. All unions nationally and locally build for concrete solidarity.
  • Organise a conference of refuse workers from different unions to link the disputes and build coordinated industrial action.
  • Launch a solidarity group to help build support
  • Organise a debate across the trade union movement about working-class political organisation. 

This is a fight that must be won!

Please send solidarity messages to: pete.randle@unitetheunion.org