Brum bin workers win first round against redundancy plans – council humiliated

September 21, 2017 at 9:04 pm (Brum, campaigning, Cuts, Jim D, labour party, Liverpool, Socialist Party, solidarity, unions, Unite the union, workers)

 Len McCluskey addresses solidarity rally last Sunday (Image: Birmingham Mail)

Refuse workers in Birmingham are celebrating a major victory and Unite has suspended strike action after a high court judge issued an interim injunction to block redundancy notices sent out by the Labour council.

A full court case in November will rule on the underlying legal dispute over the council’s bid to shed staff and change working patterns.

Workers who attended the two-day hearing hailing the ruling as “fantastic” and a “massive victory”.

Unite’s assistant general secretary Howard Beckett said the ruling left the council’s “unfair and unjust plans in tatters”.

Beckett said: “This judgment will be a huge relief to Birmingham’s bin workers, who in just a matter of weeks were facing losing their job or pay cuts of up to £5,000 a year.

“As part of the ruling, Unite will suspend its industrial action until the matter is put before a full court hearing at a later date.”

The union also repeated calls for Stella Manzie, the council’s chief executive, to resign. This follows an deal reached on August 16 at ACAS between the council’s then-leader, John Clancy, and Unite. As a result, the union then suspended strike action and issued a statement saying plans to abolish 120 grade 3 (supervision) jobs had been dropped, and no redundancies would take place.

Then, out of the blue, the agreement broke down with council leader Clancy even trying to make out that there never had been a deal – a bare-faced lie that ACAS publicly disputed. As a result, Clancy was forced to resign as leader of the council

To be clear, the pressure on Clancy from fellow Labour councillors was not for having reneged on the deal, but for having reached it in the first place. It has also became apparent that the driving force behind aborting the deal was interim chief executive Manzie, a bureaucrat with a long record of driving through cuts at various local authorities: at the high court, Mr Justice Fraser read out an email sent on 15 August from Manzie to Clancy saying the council could not look weak and “as if it’s being walked over”.

Referring to the dispute between Clancy and Manzie, Fraser said: “Neither party comes out of this sorry saga with any credit at all – I could use the words remarkable, extraordinary and more.”

It seems that one of Manzie’s arguments against Clancy was that the deal would open up the council to a wave of equal pay claims – something that Unite’s legal team strongly disputes. Howard Becket says that the equal pay issue was not put to Unite by Manzie’s legal team during discussions and it was not raised by the council during the high court hearing.

Immediately following the council’s repudiation of the ACAS deal, redundancy notices were issued to 113 grade 3 workers – a provocative move that resulted in Unite’s successful high court action.

Unite is confident of winning at the full court hearing in November, but there can be no doubt that the refuse workers (who voted 94% in favour of resuming their strike after the ACAS deal broke down) are prepared to return to the picket lines if it proves necessary.

A relatively minor, but politically interesting, aspect of the dispute has been the stance of the Socialist Party (SP). They have been commendably active in their support for the workers, but noticeably embarrassed over the council’s issuing of redundancy notices. After all, this was exactly what the SP’s forerunner, Militant, did when they ran Liverpool council in 1985.

The SP has always proclaimed Liverpool council’s record to have been exemplary and refused to countenance any criticism of the decision to issue redundancy notices – until now. In an attempt to explain the difference between Liverpool council issuing redundancy notices in 1985, and Birmingham doing exactly the same in 2017, the SP now describes the Liverpool decision as “a mistaken tactic to buy time”. However, it was OK really because:

“[T]he council made clear to the workforce that not one single worker was to be made redundant – and none were”.

The trouble with this excuse is that Birmingham council are saying pretty much the same thing:

None of the Grade 3 leading hands who are being made redundant need to lose their jobs with the council. Alternative Grade 3 posts, at the same salary in other parts of the council, are available for all those affected leading hands. No one needs to suffer a cut in their basic pay”.

So perhaps a minor, but valuable, by-product of the dispute will be to force the comrades of the SP to make an honest re-assessment of their own tendency’s record when it ran Liverpool council.

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