Birmingham Industrial Action: Solidarity with Care Workers, Bin Workers and Deliveroo Drivers – by Brandon Green (Spring '19 Edition)
The last few months have seen several strikes and industrial actions across the Birmingham area, including a Work to Rule by Birmingham City Council bin workers, ongoing strikes by home care workers in dispute again with the City Council and an autonomous strike by Deliveroo riders.
Bin Workers with Unite the Union originally went on strike in June 2017, winning popular support across the city, while GMB workers remained at work over the same period. After the three months the dispute was resolved. However, in the months since, it has been revealed that GMB workers were given a payment of around £4000 each over this period, purportedly as compensation for an error in protocol during negotiations between the council and GMB. Unite members claim that this was a payment made in discrimination against the striking workers. The workers voted almost unanimously in favour of action short of a strike, opting for a Work to Rule (where workers refuse to work overtime or perform any tasks which are not specified in the contract of employment). The Work to Rule lasted around 3 months, before the dispute was resolved at the end of March during a meeting with Birmingham City Council.
Things started to go wrong when workers in GMB and Unite did not manage to stay united in their response to the job losses which spawned the strike back in 2017. In periods of high union struggle, workers would strike together across industries and workplaces (a tactic called solidarity action or 'sympathy striking'), a practice now outlawed due to its power in the fight against the ruling class. Workers must stick together in their battles against bosses, landlords and governments, because solidarity is our greatest strength, while division is the favoured strategy of the ruling class.
Care workers are continuing strike action started 18 months ago in response to proposed changes to working patterns which could lead to wage cuts of up to £4100 and unworkable split-shifts which would effectively force many out of the job. The dispute has stretched to 70 days of strike action so far, with workers changing tactics since the new year, flyering houses in Birmingham wards to raise awareness of the strikes and gain public support for a fair resolution to their dispute.
Care workers were blocked in their collective delivery of a card addressed to 'Scrooges' at the Council House last Christmas, admirably attempting to force entry to the council building in defiance of a last minute lockout ordered by council members. RAG whole-heartedly applaud care workers for their bravery in confronting council security, who slammed the doors of the council building in their face as they sought to highlight the administrators' attacks on their livelihoods and those of their families. The same Labour councillors shamefully awarded themselves pay raises of over £600 a few months later, in April of this year. (You can donate to the Care Workers Strike Support Fund by clicking here).
Deliveroo moped and motorcycle drivers also took strike action this year, in response to imposed changes away from flexible work towards a system of booked shifts. With competition for shifts high, work now needs to be booked a week in advance, a change that has effectively left many riders out of work.
Workers took action autonomously, being unaligned to any formal trade union. This kind of self-organisation is brave and admirable, and we hope that we will have the opportunity to support them, alongside other cycle couriers, in future action against super-exploiters Deliveroo and Uber-Eats.
Trade Union struggle is inherently limited as a form of revolutionary struggle, constraining its demands to a better form of Capitalism for unionised workers. That said, RAG support all Workers in their fight for better pay and conditions, only hoping that union struggles become more generalised, breaking free of the legal and bureaucratic limitations of union activity. It is vital that the working-class gain confidence through battles with their exploiters, to understand for themselves the contradictions of the Capitalist system of production and the opposing interests of Workers and the ruling class.
If you are having trouble in your workplace, or want to understand how Workers can fight to achieve a better society, get in touch online or come and say hello at one of our open events.