Sunday, September 13, 2009

Workers' Fightback: Update 17

As local councils around the country try to make employees pay for their budget crises, refuse workers are in the frontline in the battle against cuts. Over the past fortnight, they have been taking industrial action in three cities, in struggles which union tops have not linked-up. However, the cases are similar enough to indicate that council staff nationwide are confronting essentially the same pressures on their pay and conditions, pressures which point towards unified nationwide resistance.

Rubbish has been piling up in Leeds this week, since refuse workers began an indefinite strike over pay cuts which unions claim will cost their members thousands of pounds per year. Leeds is following in the footsteps of Edinburgh, where their counterparts have also been struggling against decreased wage packets. Strike-breaking scab labour has come from Liverpool, with at least thirty scabs being put up at the £102 per night Hilton Hotel at Edinburgh airport. These scabs are employed by the Assist Streetcare subcontractors, and are being recruited through the Blue Arrow agency.

Indeed, it’s been a busy time for Assist Streetcare, because trucks and scabs are also leaving their depot in the Aintree area of Liverpool, to break the strike in that city. Six hundred refuse collectors, street cleaners, recycling and highways staff are currently in a second period of indefinite strike action, demanding that their employers consolidate bonus payments into their regular wages.

As always, active solidarity is vital, and campaigners have called a physical and virtual picket of Assist Streetcare for this Tuesday, from 9 am.

The Vestas factory on the Isle of Wight has once again been the scene of resistance this week. A blockade has been set up in an attempt to prevent the company moving the wind turbine blades left behind when the factory occupation ended. At dawn on Thursday, a tripod was erected, and a worker from the occupation perched on top, watching the sunrise over the River Medina. The 'Save Vestas, Save Jobs, Save The Planet' Facebook group and 'Save Vestas' blog both continue to call for the government to step in and protect green jobs.

Finally, subway workers in Buenos Aires, Argentina have found an ingenious way to fight back. Reviving the time-honoured practice of industrial sabotage, employees seeking union recognition from the government freed turnstiles for two hours. Whereas strike action often risks alienating the public, passengers getting free travel may be more inclined to support the workers’ demands.
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