Newham bin workers strike over well-below inflation pay offer

by Ferdy Lyons, East London Socialist Party

On 27 August Newham refuse loaders and drivers started a week-long strike over pay and conditions after an enormous mandate of 99% vote in favour on an 81% turnout. The strike went ahead after weeks of negotiations with the Labour council, which only offered a measly £850 pay increase, when the workers are asking for £2,300 in line with inflation.

The day before the strike started the mayor was already spinning lies about how much the workers would earn with their so-called generous offer, but what they didn’t mention is that the rate was calculated with overtime included. The workers on the picket saw through this as they know the strike is about the basic rate of pay. People should be paid enough to live on to begin with, and not have to rely on working overtime to pay their bills.

The picket line had well over 30 workers, which was a great turnout considering it was an early morning on the Saturday of a bank holiday weekend. The picket was strong with no refuse worker crossing, and only one scab contractor bin lorry bought in, which was welcomed by boos from the pickets.

The workers were also resolute in their demands and are ready to stay out, with one telling us that if the council doesn’t come back with a suitable offer, they’ll be out for another two weeks in September. It was clear to the workers that this cost-of-living crisis is hitting working people hard, and something more is needed to fight it, with some of them even calling for a general strike.

Strikes at the council are only set to grow with the cleansing department preparing to ballot as well, and one worker from the civil enforcement team who walked past the picket told the workers how badly they were treated, being overworked, underpaid and in some cases even having to pay to use their moped to drive around the borough! It’s time we had coordinated action at Newham council throughout the departments and unions!

The Labour mayor claimed the extra £1 million needed to pay the refuse workers is unattainable, pleading poverty, stating the “council doesn’t have that level of money spare, as all our money is spent on vital services”. This is a flat-out lie; Newham Council increased its total ‘usable’ reserves to £616 million during the pandemic. This Labour council can easily afford to meet the demand of the refuse workers and invest properly in all council services.

If they did this, and launched a struggle to demand extra funds from the Tory government, it would get a huge response from the workers and residents of Newham. Instead, Newham Labour carries out the Tories’ bidding, making cut after cut and pushing extra charges onto residents. Only in February this council pushed through another £7.6 million of austerity. This latest brutal onslaught follows a mammoth £47.9 million in ‘savings’ (cuts and charges) over the past two years.

We need to coordinate the strikes against the cost-of-living crisis! We need to build a new alternative to Labour! We need a mass workers’ party that will stand up for workers!