Amid twists and turns in the ongoing Birmingham bins dispute — in which the council reneged on a deal reached through conciliation service Acas, prompting the council leader to resign — Unite assistant general secretary Howard Beckett moved an emergency resolution on the sanctity of Acas deals at TUC Congress today (September 12).
Highlighting the Birmingham refuse workers dispute, he slammed the Labour council for “doing the job of Tories and working out on working people.
“Birmingham city council has a history of Tory mismanagement but the sins of today are very much on Labour’s watch,” he added.
The dispute revolves around bin loaders who have safety critical responsibilities – they are the eyes and ears of the driver and help prevent tragic accidents.
These grade 3 loaders who keep the public and their colleagues safe, Beckett explained, will see them downgraded to grade 2 under the Labour council’s proposals, effectively slashing their pay from £19,000 a year to £15,000.
Beckett noted how through the conciliation service Acas, a deal was reached that protected the grade 3 workers’ pay.
But just two weeks later, the council issued redundancy notices to 113 Unite members – in the process reneging on the Acas deal, denying its existence and ignoring collective agreements giving them 4 weeks’ notice of redundancy.
Beckett laid the blame squarely on the shoulders of Stella Manzie, a chief executive officer who receives £180k a year and who has claimed a £160k in expenses.
“Stella Manzie is wedded to austerity,” Beckett told Congress. “She is a Tory. Be in no doubt that these cuts are intended to be the thin end of the wedge.”
He said that Manzie was a “chief executive using the spectra of intervention to bully a Labour council and “a person who takes delight in bullying the low paid, happy to take home hundreds of thousands while slashing the wages of the lowest paid.”
“Our members deserve better,” Beckett told conference, as he recounted stories of bin workers and the struggles they face – one who was recently crushed at the back of a wagon, whose legs were broken and spleen ruptured.
Another member acted up to a grade 3 for almost 4 years to finally receive confirmation of his grade 3, only to receive a notice of redundancy two weeks later. Another member took out his first mortgage six months ago and now faces selling his home.
Beckett paid tribute to Unite convenor Richard, single parent of a 13-year-old girl, widowed after his wife died of a sudden heart attack four years ago.
“He is Labour to his core,” Beckett said. “He is standing strong protecting members who cannot afford to lose thousands from their already low wages.
“His core is not shared by Labour councillors — councillors who talk of hard decisions in language that has no place in a socialist Labour party,” he argued. “Those councillors should feel physically sick at the thought of working people losing thousands.
“But let’s be honest – a Labour council that does not stand up for our members is of no use to our movement. If they sound Tory, talk Tory and act like Tories then they deserve to be called Tory,” Beckett affirmed.
“I say clearly to these councillors that if you continue to act like Tories then Unite in the region will deal with you as if you are Tories.”
Beckett told Congress that the union is taking the case up in court this week to force the council to keep the Acas agreement – and in the meantime Unite will be balloting its members for further industrial action.
“The strike will continue because our members have something deep inside that the likes of Stella Manzie will never have,” Beckett said. “They have a strength from each other. They are strengthened by disputes of the past and know their dispute is a strength for others.
“They know that every x on the ballot paper is a dagger to Manzie — telling her very clearly that no matter what monies you earn, no matter your power you will not break us.”
Calling on Labour councillors to look deep inside and remember why Labour matters – standing up for workers and their wages – Beckett urged Congress to support the emergency motion to protect Acas deals.
The resolution was passed.
Watch Howard Beckett give his speech in the video below: