“Cityclean is a powder keg”

Submitted by SJW on 9 November, 2021 - 8:06
Brighton bin strikers

A shop steward from Brighton bins tells us about their victory in their recent dispute.


Firstly, congratulations on winning the dispute, I wouldn’t have expected anything less!

Haha, yeah, it’s a brilliant outcome, to come out of a dispute with something even better than what we were demanding in the first place is just brilliant, but it shows you our strength.

So can you tell me a bit about the deal? What does it mean for the workforce?

So as you know, the dispute was about round changes, changes to working patterns at very short notice and without explanation, about management unilaterally ignoring agreed procedures and just making decisions as and when they felt like it and without consultation with the union and the workers involved. We tried for like 10 weeks or so to resolve it through the ‘proper’ channels and got nowhere. Our demands were about respect, about management not just making decisions about our working patterns and our working day on a whim, and about respecting the procedures which had been agreed with the union. That’s what we wanted. What we’ve come out with is a re-grading of the whole service. It was only the HGV drivers who were balloted and were on strike, cos it was them who were getting taken off their rounds, but ultimately what we need - and what we will now get - is a consistent policy for the whole workforce, for drivers, for refuse and recycling, and for Streets [the street cleaning service]. And on top of that, a re-grading of all of our roles which will result in the lowest paid see an uplift in their salary.

Fantastic. So how did it go from being about working patterns to ending up being about pay as well?

We smelt blood basically, haha. Obviously we’re in a position of strength in that if we don’t do our work for just one day it gets noticed. Even before the strike there were issues with dropped work, rounds not being completed. Our fleet [of lorries] is fucked. I know of a road that was missed 5 consecutive weeks in a row. There is longstanding issues in the service anyway in terms of the fleet and being short of drivers anyway, so then once any lorries at all stop leaving the yard then you will start to see the impact of that very quickly, especially in the city centre around the comm bins [Brighton & Hove has large communal street bins rather than individual household wheelie bins in city centre areas]. It was just mountains and mountains of rubbish. Obviously the council feel the pressure from residents etc, they want us to get back to work as soon as we can, so it’s about what it takes to get us there.

How strong was the strike in terms of ballots and turnout and actually during the dispute itself?

100% voted in favour of strike action on an 80% turnout. Pickets were solid, turning away deliveries and stuff. Obviously there is tactical stuff I won’t go into about what the loaders do and whatever. You’ll always get a couple of scabby bastards but it was really well supported across the workforce. So Streets obviously weren’t balloted and the sort of unwritten rule is that they’ll clean up split bags where there’s shit going across the road and whatever, and broken glass or needles that are a health hazard, but other than that all the bags and bins and everything are left untouched. People come and visit the pickets from other unions and groups and what have you, and we’ve sent videos to the Glasgow bin workers and elsewhere who are coming out [on strike] too. Loads of places are coming out at the moment and I think, you know, people have had enough with shitty pay offers and being treated like crap, especially with Covid and everything.

Do you think the context of the shortage of HGV drivers nationally influenced the situation at all?

100%. We used to have a whole pool of agency drivers but obviously they’ve all fucked off to Tesco and wherever who are paying retention bonuses and whatever. As it stands councils’ are well below the current “market rate” for the job. We used to do driver training internally, 6 weeks, they’d pay for the intensive course. Now, because of cuts to council budgets, staff have to be put through a 15 month in-work apprenticeship thing which is basically just getting a HGV licence so obviously that’s not helping either, and of course it’s at the apprentice [wage] rate. It’s a skill, it needs to be recognised as one.

I wondered if you could tell me a bit about the negotiations, especially with regards to the presence of GMB officers, who seemed perhaps a bit more prominent in this dispute than others. I know that in previous disputes the workers didn’t take too kindly to officers from the GMB coming down to the Depot, and that there’s been a strong culture of shopfloor democracy built up over the years.

Yeah, I mean, I remember stand up rows, and officers being told to fuck off out of the Depot and stuff before. The officer we have now is a decent bloke and he’s not a middle class wanker basically. He’s worked for the NHS for years and knows what it is to have a real job and to go on strike and organise and recruit members and what have you. I think people take him a bit more seriously because of that rather than previous nobs who have just been to uni and worked for an MP and try to tell us whether we should go on strike or not and what we should accept. [name redacted] isn’t like that at all, and obviously his son works at the Depot too, so there’s a vested interest if you like. It’s not game playing, like we’re the pawns in a wider political or industrial game or whatever, he genuinely wants to get us what it is we’re striking for and wants us to make those decisions. But of course all the shop stewards still have a role and are in the meetings with Directors and that, and we all have our ways of going about things – [name redacted] will be hopping about calling them twobob cunts and whatever and [name redacted] is obviously really bright and kind and is always there just to make it clear what the members want, that’s her bottom line, she’s brilliant.

But yeah, obviously we still have all the meetings in the canteen, and debates on the picket lines and updates from negotiations from the stewards all the time and that sort of stuff. We got some new reps as well, to make sure bits of the workforce that don’t have a steward are covered.

Can you tell me a bit about the political situation? Obviously it’s a Green-led council, the same as it was in the last big dispute in 2013 and then there was a very strong anti-Green message that was put out by the workers and by the GMB whereas it didn’t really seem to be the case this time.

Yeah that’s right. In the big one [the 2013 strike] we were calling for KitKat’s resignation [the Green leader of the Council] and whatever, but this isn’t really about them this time. I mean, perhaps they could have stepped in a bit earlier or whatever, but this is about bad industrial relations with management at Cityclean which dates back years. It was brought up with the previous administration [Labour], I remember us all having a meeting with Nancy Platts [previous Labour leader of the council] and they did fuck all as well so it’s not like it’s a party political issue this time around whereas obviously in 2013 it was a Green Party decision to try to sort out Single Status [the Equal Pay issue within Local Government] by cutting our wages down to dinnerladies or whoever. This time around it’s just bad management within Cityclean rather than council policy specifically so there wasn’t really that animosity towards councillors because it wasn’t seen as a political decision, although obviously all the other parties have tried to make it one “Oh look the Green Party can’t run a council” and stuff like that. But I mean, Cityclean is a powder keg isn’t it, it’s always going to kick off whoever’s in charge!

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