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Liverpool: council workers set to strike

Unite and GMB members employed in highways, grounds and maintenance work  will stage a 24 hour strike on Friday 9 August after rejecting a below-inflation pay rise. They will strike each Friday until they get a better offer.

The escalation comes after a work-to-rule and overtime ban observed by up to 600 workers since 29 July.

Workers are opposed to plans to cut 60 jobs in bin collection, and want guarantees that a move to fortnightly collection won’t result in job cuts – demanding the private company retrain and redeploy workers in new jobs.

Workers are also concerned that new employees, who were not transferred during privatisation, are being forced to sign contracts with worse terms and conditions.

Bosses at the company – which holds a £100 million contract from Liverpool Council – have offered workers a measly 1.7 per cent pay rise, well below the official rate of inflation at 2.9 per cent.

But the bin workers’ work-to-rule has exposed the profiteering motives of the private company.

After just one week more than 90 per cent of bins remains uncollected in parts of Liverpool. Collections are running a day and a half behind schedule – showing just how much the bosses rely on unpaid and overtime work.

Privatisation = privatising the profit

Like Serco, Capita and other outsourcing firms, Amey’s wins contracts by offering to perform the work cheaper than its rivals. It’s profits come from spending the least possible amount of the fee it receives from the Council on actually carrying out the work.

Keeping wages low, cutting jobs, and recruiting new employees on inferior terms and conditions are the most efficient ways for private companies to cut costs and boost profits.

The overwhelming urge for outsourcing firms to cut costs is revealed by looking at the web of contracts and sub-contracting which many formerly-publically owned services have become tangled up in.

Enterprise, the waste utilities firm which runs Liverpool’s rubbish disposal services, made a £61 million profit in 2010. In February, Enterprise was bought by AmeyCespa for £385 million. AmeyCespa, which saw its revenues jump 22 per cent last year after winning several new contracts to provide public services, is in turn owned by Spanish multinational Ferrovial.

In 2011 Ferrovial boasted of securing a net profit of €1.2 billion – the pay freezes and job cuts imposed by its British-based subsidiaries will have contributed a fat chunk of that profit.

Liverpool Council estimated it would save £30 million a year by privatising street cleaning, roads and grounds services. It did not estimate the increased costs as working people are sacked, public services degraded, and welfare claims go up as below-inflation pay rises don’t keep up with the cost of living.

Nevertheless the council blew £400,000 of that alleged saving on various ways of announcing the switch from weekly to fortnightly bin collection. Evidently marketing contractors can charge a hefty whack for calling fortnightly bin collection “managed weekly collection”.

Organise for united action

Although bin workers will not strike tomorrow, they will continue to observe the work-to-rule.

The decision by Enterprise to organise teams of scab labour from its Ribble Valley contracts to break the strike has been met with a threat to walk off the job – here workers remember the experience of 2009 when a three-week dispute was prolonged by Enterprise’s use of scab agency workers.

So far union leaders have refused to call out bin workers despite an overwhelming mandate to do so.

Recent stoppages and work-to-rule actions in Brighton and Sheffield resulted in improved pay offers and some further guarantees on jobs and the living wage.

If the bin workers take joint action alongside union members in other sectors, they have a chance of bringing the bosses back to the table.

But accepting a separate offer, or refusing to escalate beyond one-day strikes could allow the bosses to simply wait out the workers –relying on demoralisation, financial pressure and public hostility to force workers to accept this poverty pay.

Since the start of the crisis, bin workers and street cleaners have led some of the most militant struggles against attacks on a workforce which has some of the lowest pay and worst employment conditions in the country.

A victory in Liverpool would be an inspiration for many, but we cannot rely on the courage and energy of sectoral struggles to beat an austerity offensive directed from Parliament, with all the power of the banks, media and bosses behind it.

For that we need mass, national action – up to and including a general strike to say no to all cuts. Working class people didn’t create the crisis and we shouldn’t pay for it.

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