Monday, September 02, 2013

Liverpool's Rubbish Deal Sets Stage For Future Conflict

Amey promise to improve services, cut costs, and protect workers. Hmm...
The Liverpool bin and street cleaning dispute was officially declared over on 16th August, after two weeks of growing litter piles amidst resistance to contractor Amey's penny-pinching plans. After an intervention by Labour mayor Joe Anderson on his return from holiday, the GMB and Unite unions called off all further action. Workers have won a below inflation 'pay rise' of 1%, but the worthless jobs and conditions 'agreement' they got from bosses contains the seeds of future struggles.

Refuse collectors and street cleaners had all been taking action against Amey since the start of the month, as workers pushed for an above inflation rise, plus a guarantee that Amey would not sack sixty street cleaning staff.

At the time of my last report, Amey were implicitly threatening to use scab labour in an effort to break the refuse workers' work to rule, which had already illustrated that the binnies normally work thirty per cent harder than they are paid for. The street cleaners started Friday strikes, but unions had managed to ensure that their members - doing different jobs but taking on the same bosses - did not take action together. In this way, disruption was minimised.

But that still wasn't enough to appease Joe "I was a socialist before you were born" Anderson OBE, who stopped short of fully condemning the workers, but made sure people knew his priority was to force an end to the dispute on unfavourable terms, declaring:

"I regret that the dispute has caused so much inconvenience and damage, I want to assure residents that I will do everything to ensure that what happened in our city centre over the weekend will not happen again."

Though he used the Liverpool Echo to position himself as an honest and neutral broker, he is nothing of the sort. In reality, Anderson had awarded the contract to Amey just two months previously, on the implicit premise that they would attack workers, the better to cut costs to the council.

In June, council mouthpiece Liverpool Express reported that workers from the previous contractor would be rehired, but:

"A new council deal promises to improve street cleansing and road maintenance – and will save the local authority £33 million, helping protect key local services in Liverpool. Liverpool City Council has awarded Amey its streetscene contract, covering highways and street cleaning."

These 'savings' would supposedly be made at the same time as huge 'improvements', but with little idea of how Amey's costs could still be much lower than under the previous contract. Perhaps the only clue came in the claim that:

"Amey has made a commitment to create 140 apprenticeships over the life of the nine year agreement, giving unemployed people the chance of on the job training and a career."

In all likelihood, these apprenticeships will not be in addition to the current workforce, but replacing them on much lower wages and short term contracts. Likely this is what triggered the dispute, though local news reporting failed to make the connection.

If Amey are to substantially cut costs and 'improve' services, this will no doubt mean some kind of assault on the workers they currently employ. In this context, the company's promises are worthless, and by his silence Joe Anderson is complicit in yet another attack on the class he bleats on about representing.
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