Across Birmingham council workers gathered on Tuesday morning to strike and protest against wage cuts.
Up to 20,000 workers joined the biggest strike in the city in 30 years. The council’s attempt to cut wages in the name of equal pay had backfired.
Over 120 schools were closed and 24 libraries, 11 leisure centres and 22 neighbourhood offices were all shut.
Birmingham council is run by a Tory/Liberal coalition, but many Labour-run councils are pushing through equally vicious attacks on low paid workers in their implementation of the national single status agreement.
Birmingham council’s tough talking and attempts to divide the workers failed.
The refuse collectors were offered a new deal that would mean them “only” losing £2,000. They responded by striking in force.
At the Lifford depot, over 50 street cleansing workers and refuse workers joined together on the picket line at 5am.
As the fire in the brazier took hold, a manager drove up and lectured the workers about how they were being used by the union.
A chorus of anger descended on him with one worker shouting, “How dare you tell me I don’t know what I’m doing?
“I have a mortgage I won’t be able to pay. You have £100,000 a year and a pay rise. Just go.”
To heckles the manager drove away.
At Redmond Road the 60-strong picket took over the refuse depot. As workers played football in the yard, they joked and cheered the beeping horns of passing motorists.
In reference to Alan Rudge, who is in charge of single status at the council, placards read “Robber Rudge” and “Rudge out, equal pay in”.
On the 60-strong picket at the Montague Street depot, Trevor told Socialist Worker, “We’re facing a pay cut of £50 a week, and cuts in holiday pay. We’ve been told the loaders will be taken down to £13,000.
“I’ve worked here ten years. We’ve had job cuts while the workload has gone up. We’re fighting for fair pay.”
Striker Paul added that in 18 years working on the bins he had never been so angry.
Across the city as the morning went on, workers from different workplaces gathered. On every picket line there was unity across different grades and jobs, and between the unions.
Unison, Ucatt, the Amicus and T&G sections of Unite, and the GMB unions all stood together.
At Newtown swimming pool over 40 pickets lined the road. Library and hospital workers sent delegations in support.
On Broad Street a meeting of private companies and the council to discuss the further sell off of council services didn’t seem to be happening. Perhaps it was down to the 80 strikers outside.
Sheila, a homecare worker, said, “There are 823 managers who earn more than £50,000. I earn £13,500.
“It’s pretty obvious to me whose pay should be cut.”
School cooks, cleaners and teaching assistants struck, forcing many schools to close.
Vanessa spoke to Socialist Worker from her school picket line. “We have had loads of support from parents,” she said.
“I was initially optimistic that single status would bring equal pay. But it was a lie. The council is a disgrace.”
At Kings Norton Primary School the workers were joined by parents, swelling the picket line to over 80.
David Hughes, a neighbourhood forum development officer, said, “I’m here to show my solidarity with the 40 percent of employees who are being treated unfairly. We demand a deal that’s fair.”
Bert Hill from the GMB union said that if the council don’t budge this could be the start of longer running industrial action.
“If the council thinks this is going to stop here today they are wrong,” he said.