In the Hackney refuse dispute a mass meeting of refuse workers has voted to suspend the two days of strike action called for Friday 6 and Monday 9 February. But the dispute is still very much alive and very much in need of solidarity.
Hackney Council suspended three Unison members and implied that another 10 may face disciplinary action after a demonstration outside the depot from which scab vehicles were run during the last four-day strike.
The dispute began on 22 December last year, when Hackney Council imposed new contracts which saw 58 refuse loaders lose income - up to £3,000 - and introduced unacceptable new working conditions.
The Transport and General Workers Union (TGWU) and Unison both held strike ballots with a big vote for action. The unions have held a continuous overtime ban since the date that the new contracts were imposed, and four days of strikes that were solidly supported.
The Council organised a scabbing operation, bringing in agency workers at a big cost to Hackney's finances. Strikers responded by demonstrating outside the agency workers' depot and attempting to persuade them not to undermine the action.
Council management, rocked by the strikers' refusal to be intimidated, has lost its temper. The Council has withdrawn from talks and threatened legal action against the union, is disciplining a T&G steward, and is demanding that T&G official John Perry is removed from the negotiating team.
The T&G has offered to discuss the issue of the new contracts at ACAS, and has submitted a "roadmap" which could help the dispute towards settlement. But Hackney Council management has refused to go to ACAS, and is taking an attitude which Perry describes as "willy-waving of the highest order".
It appears that the (Labour) Council leaders have taken a political decision to defeat this strike, whatever its merits and whatever the financial cost. And this in a Borough where every service has been cut to the bone with the excuse of financial crisis.
The strikers' determination matches the Council's. If it can be further bolstered by solidarity from the local community and the wider trade union movement, the strikes can win. If they do not, then no group of public-sector workers will be safe from wage-cutting new contracts.
What you can do to support the refuse workers and street sweepers:
- Send messages of support for the strikers to Hackney TUC (firstname.lastname@example.org).
- Hold a collection at your workplace, union branch and/or local area. The strikers are sacrificing wages they can ill afford to lose, and donations will really help.
- Invite a speaker to your next union or community group meeting. Ring John Perry T&G Regional Industrial Organiser on 07980 721429.
- Come to the Hackney TUC meeting on Wednesday 11 February, 7.30pm, at Marcon Court Community Hall (corner Amhurst Road and Marcon Place), to hear from the strikers and organise support for them.
- Billy Dunne, TGWU Refuse Convenor
- Brian Debus, Joint Branch Secretary, Hackney Unison
- John Perry, TGWU Regional Organiser
- Eddy Coulson, Unison Regional Officer