Bin strikes step up against Newham’s Labour council

by James Ivens, London Socialist Party

Bin workers in Newham, East London, were up for the fight at the start of their latest two-week strike over pay on 20 September.

The Labour mayor claimed that the council doesn’t have the extra £1 million needed to pay the refuse workers. Yet the council increased its ‘usable’ reserves to £616 million during the pandemic!

Newham bins strike
Newham bins strikers

Socialist Party members have consistently argued that the council should use these reserves, and launch a big campaign, with the unions and communities in Newham, to win extra funds from this totally divided, weak Tory government.

The action is solid. Only a small fraction of the usual number of wagons is leaving the depot, staffed mainly by agency workers.

Some have had threats to their jobs held over them by thuggish management. Others are untrained and barely capable of the job, making them ineffective at breaking the strike.

The bulk of both drivers and loaders, agency or directly employed, are standing strong. There’s a mood for coordinating with other strikes, and disdain for the borough’s Labour mayor and council.

The Labour council has offered a pay increase of £950 — but only if the loaders and drivers work every bank holiday. Unite the Union accuses the Labour mayor Rokhsana Fiaz of making “preposterous” claims, and has exposed that in reality the offer is zero percent on basic pay.

One striking driver said: “The mayor says we’ll get 17.9% more, but that’s only if you work all the overtime. That’s not what a pay rise is. A pay rise is when you do your normal hours and have more in your pay packet at the end of it. We don’t have that.”

A striking loader said: “We walk ten, twelve miles a day. I put my heart and soul into it, I work through my breaks, not for the supervisors, but because I don’t want to spend another minute having to do it. But when we work hard and finish early all we get is more work for no extra pay.

“We work in all weathers, we worked through Covid, we have to deal with all sorts — nappies squirting out, maggots frothing out the top of the bins. We’re not asking for much. They think we’re all stupid and uneducated, but they didn’t want to be exposed about all that money they have in reserve!”