by Niall Mulholland, East London Socialist Party
On 17 October, during a full meeting of the council at Stratford town hall, officials from Newham Labour council outrageously called the police to try to stop people in the public gallery voicing support for striking refuse workers.
A protest lobby took place outside the town hall, including representation from the refuse workers, who, as members of Unite the Union, have been on strike in recent weeks for decent pay.
A Unite activist interrupted the council meeting to say that a request for a relative of a sacked refuse worker to make a deputation to the council had been denied. He was quickly surrounded by council security staff and the chair adjourned the meeting, causing protests from the public gallery.
Socialist Party member Lois Austin, who previously stood for Newham mayor as a Trade Union and Socialist Coalition candidate, was singled out by an unelected council official, who told the meeting it could not continue until she left, and the police were called!
To allow a Green councillor the opportunity to ask a question about council cleansing staff, who are balloting for strike action over their disgracefully low pay, Lois decided to leave the chamber, accompanied by four other Socialist Party members.
In the foyer of the town hall building, they were met by police officers. A senior officer told the five that they were “detained” because there “may have been a breach of the peace”. After Lois and other Socialist Party comrades adamantly defended their rights, the police officer said they were free to leave.
When the council meeting resumed, a Labour councillor manoeuvred to change the order of business to stop the cleansing workers› plight from being taken on the agenda.
Despite this, councillors had the temerity to agree to erect a plaque to Eleanor Marx, a champion of the workers’ movement, at Canning Town library! On 28 October, Unite, with Newham Trades Council backing, held a rally and demo of refuse workers, relatives and supporters, trade unionists and community activists, in East Ham. Niall spoke for Newham Trades Council and called for an immediate pay rise for the refuse and cleansing workers, and an emergency needs budget by the council to meet the needs of the community.