Thursday, May 09, 2013

Brighton Bin Workers Wildcat Against Pay Cuts

Striking workers occupied their canteen for two days
Bin workers in Brighton and Hove have taken two days of unofficial, 'wildcat' strike action after the city's Green-led council announced it would be imposing a £4,000 per year pay cut on them. This afternoon, the workers voted to return on a 'work to rule' basis tomorrow, pending further developments.

On Tuesday, Brighton & Hove council revealed sweeping cuts to the pay and allowances of some staff. While it is being claimed that the majority will not lose out, two hundred and sixty refuse and recycling staff at the Hollingdean depot are set to lose multiple thousands.

The wildcat began at 7am on Wednesday, with staff launching an occupation of the depot canteen. No vehicles left the depot, leaving bank holiday bins unemptied. The workers demanded a discussion with council executive Penny Thompson and council Jason Kitcat before "even considering working".

On Thursday, workers voted to continue their strike and occupation, and decided to hold a protest rally outside the town hall in the afternoon. With Kitcat coming under pressure from internal party rivals, an agreement was reached whereby the council will 'review' their own proposals, and the demands of the workers for "not one penny" off the pay. In the meantime, the GMB union will ballot for an official strike.

Kitcat and Thompson will no doubt be looking to impose a deal without a) conceding too much to the refuse workers and therefore encouraging others in his authority area and even nationwide, and b) giving too much ammunition to those Green politicians who are currently presenting themselves as critics of austerity. This will be a tricky political manoeuver, and the militancy of the refuse staff puts them in a potentially strong position if they reach out to other council workers and the local community.

Importantly, the dispute also exposes the Greens' 'progressive' posture as a filthy lie. Faced with a restricted budget, they - like the Tories, Labour and Lib Dems in councils across the country - have imposed cuts on the back of the working class. While the Greens are currently not in overall control of Brighton & Hove council, they had a majority in 2012 when a cuts budget won the vote of all but one Green councillor. In Bristol, the Green Party has supported a "rainbow cabinet", which has also imposed brutal cuts. One street cleaner's description of the Greens as "fucking Tories on bikes" is very appropriate.

But this is far from an isolated UK phenomenon. Wherever they have taken any power Greens have revealed themselves to be enemies of the working class. In Germany, their coalition with the Social Democrats proved hugely unpopular after drastically attacking working class living standards, and supporting war in Afghanistan and Iraq. And in Ireland, the Fianna Fail-Green coalition of 2007-2011 imposed some of the harshest austerity measures yet seen in Europe.

The Greens - like every party in power anywhere - are the enemy of the overwhelming majority of the population. They represent the interests of a dying petit bourgeois layer, and are prepared to side with anyone - no matter how reactionary - to do so. Wildcat strikes point the way to how we can all effectively fight back.
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