Standing up for the Homeless in Harborne

A poorly attended Harborne Labour Party branch meeting saw members vote down a motion that resolved to oppose the criminalisation of homelessness. The motion attempted to bring local homelessness policy into line with the national manifesto. It fell by one vote.

After consultation, West Midlands Police sent out a survey that introduced the possibility of a Public Space Protection Order on Harborne High Street, directed against “rough sleeping” and “aggressive begging”. A PSPO is an order in a given geographical area that would legally penalise non-criminal acts. If you breach a PSPO you are fined and you get a criminal record. Rough sleepers are the very poorest in our society. Fining them and giving them a criminal record only makes their lives far more difficult than they already are. The solutions to the problems of abject poverty are not to be found in criminalising homelessness.

The proposer referenced a recent tweet from Dudley MP, Ian Austin, responding to a Tory Councillor on the same issue. It read:

“This Tory councillor thinks the problem with begging is catching people.

I think it’s poverty, homelessness, addiction and benefit changes.”

Mr Austin clearly knows that criminalising homelessness only serves to further damage the lives of the most vulnerable. We should take this advice, and follow our national manifesto pledge to end rough sleeping within the next parliament. PSPOs directed at rough sleepers are not compatible with our national plan on homelessness.

Despite the attempt to show support for the homeless in Harborne, opponents of the motion pointed to an increase in drug dealing on the High Street. Police already have the powers to arrest drug dealers. The law already covers it. The fundamental and obvious issues for rough sleepers are a lack of housing, poverty and extreme vulnerability. A PSPO does nothing to tackle these problems.

One member highlighted stark differences of opinion in the party, speaking against the motion, stating: “I could not vote for a motion that publicly reaffirm(s) our complete opposition to any attempt to criminalise homelessness or rough sleeping.”

The meeting was poorly attended and far too short. However, the issues were discussed in a comradely fashion much thanks to the chair who did a fantastic job. It is, nonetheless, awfully disappointing that the party is keeping the option of criminalising homelessness on the table. We should always be looking to help the poorest in society. This was an easy opportunity to put acres of political space between us and the Tories, and we have not taken it.

The positives from the meeting were that the motion received 6 votes and there were about 5 new members there. Hopefully they will come to more meetings and join in the campaign to support the homeless across the city.

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Down at the picket line with the UCU

On a bright cold morning outside Aston University campus, members of the University and College Union formed a picket line in defense of their pensions. They were joined by local activists and supporters, all angry at the bosses who are trying to force the UCU members to pay the price for failures caused by capitalism. Despite the cold weather, around 100 members and supporters joined the picket line, including members of our group, South Birmingham Momentum. We spoke to those on the front line.

Graeme, a UCU rep, explained that the cause of the dispute was the bosses attempts to change the final pensions scheme entirely. He said that the proposed switch from a defined benefits system to a defined contributions system would cost the average lecturer around £10,000 a year. This is, quite simply, a wage cut. Pensions are not a bonus, nor an added extra. They are deferred wages that should allow workers to retire without financial worry. A defined benefits system means that workers pay into a pension pot and know what they will be getting in retirement. A defined contributions system is where workers pay into a pension pot and don’t know what they will be getting in retirement. Workers are being told to gamble with their future, taking on more of the risks from their pension investments. In Aston, 68% of UCU members turned out to vote in the ballot, smashing the 50% threshold that the Tory government introduced during their last round of anti-worker, union-bashing legislation. Of these, over 89%, voted in favour of strike action, just slightly higher than the national figure of 88%. Across at the University of Birmingham, the ballot returned a result of over 84% of members in favour of strike action. Annoyingly, this was on a turnout of 48% – 2% below the government threshold – meaning that they were not able to strike. Apply this same “threshold” to the council elections this coming May…….. we would never elect a council, and barely a Tory one. But, the working-class knows only too well: its one rule for the capitalist class, and a completely different set of rules for the rest of us. But, the huge support across the country shows that workers are not taking this lying down, and are determined to win this dispute.

Christina, a reader in Psychology, said that slashing pensions will worsen the quality of Further and Higher education. Bosses must pay reasonable pensions – which, we must remember, are deferred wages – for the fantastic work that is done. Instead, bosses want to reduce their own contribution and increase the worker’s contribution. As the UCU leaflet slightly understated: “University employers want to end guaranteed pensions and reduce retirement income for all.” Eventually employers will want to get rid of retirement income altogether and their friends in Parliament, who support the political ideas of the ruling class, will bend over backwards to help them achieve this by forcing workers to accept rotten pension schemes or, as has happened before, by increasing the retirement age. Workers need to stand up to this attack on there livelihoods before we get to this situation. Bosses are always looking for ways to make more profits by exploiting the workforce. We should always be fighting for better terms. As the late, great Bob Crow would remind us of the slogan of the RMT – “NEVER ON OUR KNEES!”

Given the huge support for the strike action, the workers are in a powerful position and the bosses would be wise to get back to the negotiating table and withdraw these attacks on the UCU members. There are a total of fourteen days of strike action planned, with two pauses in between, giving the bosses the opportunity to rip up their own proposals and halt the mayhem that this action will, no doubt, bring.

Dates for future activities are available on the UCU website – the next one is on Monday 26/02/2018 from 730am outside Aston University campus. Momentum South Birmingham encourages as many of our members to wrap up warm and get down to show solidarity with our class.

If you are in the Labour Party but you are not a member or a supporter of Momentum South Birmingham, please raise these important issues at your branch meetings and policy discussion groups (if you don’t know what these are, come to a Momentum South Birmingham branch meeting and we’ll make sure that your CLP starts having them!) and let’s show support for all workers who face savage attacks from the bosses. The Labour Party should be more than a talking shop about the problems of dog excrement, parking, and how difficult a decision it is to sack 120 refuse workers (a battle that the workers WON! VICTORY TO THE BIRMINGHAM BIN WORKERS!)

If you’re neither in the Labour Party or Momentum….. it’s about time you got involved.

Let’s defend ALL of our workers, ALL of the

time.

Join the Labour Party.

Join Momentum.

VICTORY TO THE UCU!

Rather than rolling over, they stood firm through thick and thin

Unite bin workers, took seven weeks of strike action throughout July and August in defiance of council plans to shed 120 refuse staff – 20 per cent of the workforce – and cut wages by up to £5,000 a year.

Councillor Lisa Trickett, BCC Cabinet Member for Clean Streets, Recycling and Environment ( Labour member for Moseley and Kings Heath), said:

 

‘None of the Grade 3 leading hands who are being made redundant need to lose their jobs with the council. Alternative Grade 3 posts, at the same salary in other parts of the council, are available for all those affected leading hands. No one needs to suffer a cut in their basic pay.’

 

Unite Assistant General Secretary Howard Beckett  rebutted:

 

‘The council claims alternative grade-three jobs are available, but this is disingenuous. Most of those jobs are on fixed-termrather than permanent contracts – and many of them need ITskills, hardly suitable for the people whose jobs are being downgraded. It’s simply not the case that these workers can just switch to a different job to maintain their pay.’

 

On 15 August Unite reached an honourable agreement with Birmingham City Council lead by Leader Councillor John Clancy. The Council accepted the refuse workers’ case and restored the grade 3 jobs, which are responsible for the safety at the rear of the refuse vehicles. This agreement was reached via ACAS whose director Malcolm Boswell announced:

‘ACAS can confirm that an agreement was reached by Birmingham City Council and Unite the union on 15th August 2017 following discussions at ACAS. The terms of the agreement were made public by ACAS at the request of both parties in a press release agreed with both parties.’

Strike action was suspended and Unite members vigorously began a great clear up.

Talks were due to resume on 1 September. Instead meetings were cancelled .Interim Chief Executive Manzie confirmed that the Council issued back dated redundancy notices to the Unite members .The notices contained humiliating terms. Ms Manzie is a Government appointee ,paid around £180,000 per year plus expenses. Her last employer, Rotherham, incurred  around £160,000 annual expenses from her.

Manzie contended:

‘the Council has taken the view that in order to protect its legal and financial position it has needed to issue redundancy notices.’

It is suggested that there were equal pay problems which arise from the 15 August agreement. However no such problems were particularised and the suggestion was questioned  in the strongest possible terms by Unite.

Clancy faced a vote of no confidence, having been elected Leader by a single vote against his Blairite rival.  It must be remembered that Clancy oversaw some improvements in Council policy and services, including the construction of homes. He resigned.

Unite obtained a High Court injunction to prevent the redundancy notices taking effect. The Council was ordered to pay legal costs. The matter was listed for a full hearing on 27th November 2017

On 25th November 2017 the dispute was concluded  with an agreement under which with the honourable terms agreed in August were ratified, albeit in different terms:

*All 109 leading hands will retain their grade 3 status and salary

*The ‘leading hand’ title will be abolished and replaced by a new ‘Waste Reduction and Collection’ role (WRCO), retaining safety responsibilities as well as communications with residents

*Each refuse wagon will have a team of driver, at least one loader and a WRCO –  for  crew and public and public safety

*Guaranteed protection against redundancies and any role changes for at least 12 months from the start of implementation

*Any future changes to waste collection services will be agreed by a joint ‘Service Improvement Board established jointly between BCC and the unions

 

Howard Beckett led the dispute. He stated:

‘This deal secures the grade three posts and protects the pay of workers who faced losing thousands of pounds. It is a victory for common sense and a victory for the people of Birmingham who no longer need worry about the disruption of industrial action. This deal, which protects the livelihoods of hardworking refuse workers ,would not have been possible without the determination and solidarity of Unite members. Rather than rolling over, they stood firm through thick and thin to defend their jobs and the service they provide to the city of Birmingham. The stand that Birmingham’s refuse workers took and the victory they have secured should be an inspiration to others right across the trade union movement.’

The Council paid private contractors  to inefficiently deal with clear-up during the strike It paid unnecessary legal costs.  It made the Council unpopular. It diverted resources from fighting the Tories. The money wasted could have been used to save frontline services for the young and elderly.

Momentum is proud to have stood with the bin workers. Mosely and Kings Heath ward Labour Party passed a motion supporting the dispute and held a members’ collection. Hall Green CLP supported the bin workers. Birmingham TUC established a support committee. Unite branches gave generous donations. The success of the dispute is due to the intelligent refuse workers, their principled Unite leadership and the support of the Movement.

Islwyn Ffowc Elis

 

 

 

 

 

Moseley and Kings Heath Labour Party come out in support of the bin workers

Members of Moseley and Kings Heath Labour Party ward had a liveley meeting on Thursday 14th, with the main item being the ongoing bin-workers strike. 

Lisa Trickett, one of our councillors, is the cabinet member responsible for handling this affair and so a number of us thought it was particularly important that we address the issue. An emergency motion was put in and accepted, with a quite basic position agreed in communication with Unite- that the council should honour the agreement reached at ACAS, as this retained the Grade 3 positions

A Unite member in the branch proposed the motion, focussing in particular on the dead-end that austerity represents for the Labour Party. We have seen in both France and Greece the process of virtual or complete destruction of social-democratic parties that have stuck to austerity and Labour both locally and nationally needs to avoid that fate. 

A lively discussion of the motion followed, at first in Trickett’s absence as she had not arrived at the meeting. When Trickett arrived and it was proposed from the floor that she should be given 10 minutes to address the issues which was agreed, although this was not unanimous. Some wondered why a member who arrived half way though the consideration of a motion should be given extra time. However Trickett was given the time, which she used effectively to argue that as the council had already regraded a lot of women workers and reduced their pay that there was no way she was going to allow ‘a group of men’ to avoid the same fate. Here, what was being argued for was equality of misery – all workers should be treated equally badly by the council. 

Members for the most part rejected this argument. The point was made that as the public wanted their bins collected and the public supported retaining the Grade 3 posts on the grounds of safety, the council should respond to this and retain those posts. The example of Bristol, which had an 8000 strong demonstration against austerity initiated by a Labour Mayor was a far better model of how to move forward than Birmingham’s sorry tale. 

When it came to a vote, the result was 22 for supporting a deal retaining grade 3 positions, 11 against and abstentions. A collection was then taken raising over £100 for the strikers. A number of us thought that this was the best meeting that we’d had in a long time and we will continue to do whatever we can to support the bin workers.

Bin it for the long haul 

For those of you following the bin dispute closely the email below may be very interesting. It would appear to be an attempt to get other council workers to do the refuse workers jobs for them while the strike continues.It would also seem to suggest that the council leadership is a) planning for the long haul on this one and no resolution is in sight and b) that the arguments about the planned changes to pay, terms and conditions being about efficiency and saving money are looking increasingly hollow if a plan as expensive as this is being contemplated.

 

******

 

This is an important update to the managers’ bulletin you received earlier today, which is attached below:

 

Please note that the £8.30 rate quoted for ‘loader’ is the bottom of GR2 grade but that this will be enhanced to £8.45 an hour under our commitment to the Living Wage. This rate took effect from 1 April 2017 and is reviewed annually.

 

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Managers’ Bulletin 320: Casual evening and weekend working opportunities for staff – supporting the collection of waste from the city’s streets

 

As all managers are no doubt aware, the council is in the process of addressing a dispute within Waste Management. To fulfil our duty to collect the city’s waste, and to minimise the adverse effects of the disruption on our citizens, we are looking for support from colleagues across the council who may be able to help collect waste during evenings and /or at weekends.

Please make sure you bring these opportunities – which are for existing council staff to undertake casual additional work in Waste Management – to the attention of all staff.  

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Why you’re getting this information

The support required is to collect waste from 5pm to 9pm Monday to Friday and from 6am to 3pm Saturday and Sunday, in addition to the work staff would normally perform as part of their existing role. Managers are expected to support any team member/s who express an interest in the opportunities – and release them for appropriate training, subject to the needs of your service.    

Staff are sought for the following roles:

Driver: £10.29 per hour  

• To be a driver, supported by a team of casual loaders, a Category B driving licence is needed to drive caged tippers to collect waste from allocated rounds. Applicants who don’t already drive for the council will need to attend an Occupational Health appointment and take a driver assessment.

Loader: £8.30 per hour

• Loaders will join a team of casual staff to collect waste from allocated rounds

Both roles will need staff to operate from any of our four depots across the city (Montague Street, Lifford Lane, Redfern and Perry Barr). Where possible, we’ll try to ensure any depot preference expressed is met.

Staff who are successful in being selected for any of these roles will need to complete a training course before being asked to undertake any work. The course will cover all relevant operational matters and health and safety. Staff will need to be released from their current role to undertake this training. (Dates to be confirmed.)

Payment for work will be made the following month. For example, work undertaken in September will be paid in October. Managers in Waste Management will keep appropriate records to ensure that payment is received.

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What you need to do next

If you, or any of your team members, are interested in one of these roles:

• Please download and complete the Waste Management expression of interest form, which should be returned to WasteRecruitment@birmingham.gov.uk by 5pm on 14 September 2017.

• In the first instance, you should discuss interest with your own manager to ensure that anyone who is interested can be released for the training. It’s also important to check that any effect on current duties is minimised.

Staff will be advised on the outcome of their Expression of Interest and the next steps by 19 September 2017.

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Additional information

• While the council is grateful for the support that staff may wish to offer, this may not be taken up if interest in the additional work is greater than the number of roles needed.

• The council reserves the right to undertake a selection process that would involve an interview and consideration of the availability of candidates in determining who may undertake this work.

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Further information  

If you have any queries, you can contact ************

Selections in South Birmingham – more developments in Weoley and Harborne

I’ve previously written about the Harborne selection for 2018 and the rather problematic candidacy of Sundip Meghani.

There have been a couple of interesting developments in the last few days that thicken the plot significantly.

Firstly, I’m hearing that a further meeting was held in the new Weoley ward on Tuesday with Tristan Chatfield, a well-known anti-Corbyn councillor, was selected unopposed after another candidate who wanted to contest the selection, Fiona Williams, wasn’t even told about the meeting.

Rumour has it that following vociferous complaints the meeting will be re-run. If this is true then that’s excellent news.

And then there has been this rather worrying piece in the Birmingham Mail about the Harborne selection. As well as all of the problems I was made aware of, namely two candidates not being told about the meeting, having the meeting in the middle of the summer holidays, Meghani’s empty ‘activity diary’ and women applicants to the panel not being given an opportunity to stand; we are now told there is an additional and potentially more serious allegation – eligible members not even being informed about the meeting.

The fact that Neil Elkes, the ‘Local Government Correspondent for the Birmingham Mail and Birmingham Post’ is now writing about this just goes to show how serious it is becoming and the damage the episode is doing.

Surely the time has come for the West Midlands Regional Office and leadership of Edgbaston CLP to stop stonewalling, do the decent thing, take a leaf out of Weoley’s book and re-run the meeting.

They can then help stop the reputation of the Birmingham Labour Party being dragged through the mud and maybe give the Harborne Labour Party a fighting chance of winning their local election next year?

 

MW

Report on the Refuse Workers strike 14/08/2017

One of our members has been closely following the refuse workers strike. 

Birmingham refuse workers from the Unite Union are taking a sixth week of strike action against the council’s proposals to cut jobs and change previously agreed terms and conditions. The industrial dispute has seen the workers increase action to three strike hours per day, as of 11/08/2017, Monday to Friday. Almost every worker at the Lifford Lane depot in Stirchley is picketing the main gate. Their resolve is stronger than ever.

This report follows on from report a fortnight ago and the MSB officers give 100% support for the industrial action, and firmly sent our message of solidarity to the workers taking it. We also completely distance our views from those of councillors who belong to any political party, or none, who choose to use this struggle as another platform to serve up devastating cuts that will continue to have the biggest effects to the public sector, and the working-class people of the city who use them and work within them.

The Birmingham Mail’s take on the industrial action has been, as is usually the case, heavily biased against the workers. One of its recent pieces is a thinly-veiled attack on the whole concept of collective industrial action (Neil Elle’s, 10/08/17, Birmingham Mail) and highlights a complete lack of understanding of working-class struggle. We expect nothing more from a paper that regularly blames the workers for the problems that have been created by the political class, introducing counter-productive systems with little or no consultation.

It is really important to look at the facts surrounding this dispute, and the workers on the picket line could write a lengthy book on it. These workers, the most class-conscious, politically-minded, and experts in their field, are fed-up with hearing the same old buzz words – “modernisation”, “productivity”, “challenging times.” They want to confront the real problems with real facts.

The bosses talk of “productivity”. So, it is reasonable to ask the questions. Narrowed down, the question for everybody might be; “How long does it take to empty a wheelie-bin?” Because the councillors have never emptied a bin in the same way as the workers have, day in, day out, they haven’t got a clue how long it takes. So to find out the facts, Momentum SB asked the workers on the picket line instead.


In our last report on the strike action we wrote about the one-size-fits-all approach that the council has taken to the time that it takes to empty a wheelie-bin. In doing this the council has entirely failed to consider the full logistics of the operation. One of the workers on the picket line told me about a number of properties on their round, where the wheelie bins cannot be left any less than 30 yards from the wagon. To correctly collect, empty and return a recycling bin from a property such as this involves a number of steps. After the sixty-yard initial round trip has been completed, the bin is opened and the pod (the paper/card recycling section) has to be removed and emptied. Because the pods are small, and many residents of Birmingham are so environmentally-conscious, the pods are often stuffed full with paper and card, and therefore it takes more than just turning the pod upside-down once to properly empty it. This adds more time to the job. Then the worker attaches the large wheelie-bin to the back of the wagon. This is the bin containing the cans, bottles and recyclable plastics, and can be very heavy. The bin is then lifted up, emptied, and comes back down, where it is released form the back of the wagon by the worker. The worker then picks up the pod from the floor, puts it back inside the wheelie-bin, and wheels the bin back up any kerbs and around any obstacles, for thirty yards and then puts it back. There are roads with thirty to forty properties like this. Workers question whether the councillors and bosses who are making the decisions to cut their jobs, based on the flimsy claim of increasing “productivity, and who have never had to empty a wheelie-bin in their lives, have taken roads like this into consideration, if at all.

If you factor in the assisted collections – where residents who are disabled or old require additional help to empty their bins – the process gets even longer. One worker told me that on their round there is a property with thirteen steps leading up to the property. At the top of the steps they have to manoeuvre through overgrown brambles and nettles to reach the bins. The dodging of brambles and nettles begins again as the worker wheels the heavy bin down back down the thirteen steps, the wheelie-bin behind them, back down to the pavement. After the bin is emptied correctly, the worker then climbs back up the thirteen steps, negotiates the overgrown garden with the bin behind them, replaces the bin, and descends the thirteen steps for a final time. This is for one property. Fifty-two steps, and not a clean run at that! This takes time, and the bosses completely fail to understand this.

Just as the large grass verge around Broadmeadow and Moneyhall Road, that separates the distance between the wheelie-bins and the wagon, takes a lot longer to travel than the councillors care to consider. Just as in some parts of the city, where the distance between the wagon and the wheelie-bins are separated by recreational areas, meaning that workers have to wheel the bins around lengthy paths, downhill and uphill in order to return them. Again, this takes time – but the councillors and bosses don’t factor this in. In their ignorance, they think that by cutting jobs from the refuse department, the service will somehow improve. And in their arrogance, they expect the general public to swallow this ridiculous claim.

The recycling collection in Birmingham has been effectively cancelled for over a fortnight. Darren Share, the Assistant Director of Waste Management at Birmingham City Council, has formally instructed workers to mix the recycling and refuse together. This means that the many residents that responsibly separate their refuse from the recyclable materials are wasting their time (Momentum SB urges everybody to still try to recycle as best they can – we only have one earth!). It’s all being taken to landfill. This looks awful on Birmingham as a city, and provides no incentive for people to use the recycling wheelie bins. The longer-term effects of this decision could mean that residents who previously took time to separate household waste from recycling materials may no longer do so in the future. This has huge environmental consequences, and the problems this decision has created should be laid squarely at the door of the council and the bosses who have given these orders and taken these destructive decisions.

Private companies have been given the contracts to collect the refuse from all of the tower blocks in Birmingham. In this poor attempt to undermine the workers, Birmingham City Council has created a paradox for its own weak arguments. Whilst trying to save money in the refuse department, they have incurred the costs of paying these private firms. How much extra is this costing the council? How much does this contradict the argument for making three-hundred-thousand pounds of savings? Momentum SB are sure that the residents of Birmingham would be very interested to find out these figures. If Birmingham City council really want to save money, why doesn’t it scrap these plans to cut the poorest hardest, and have a look at the incredible wages of the directors and some council positions? There are numerous salary packets that exceed five-times the salary of a grade-three refuse worker. Surely if this is a cost-cutting exercise the council should be looking to redress that balance by cutting the wages for those who are earning extortionate amounts. Momentum SB welcomes any new proposals to save money by reducing the wages of those people who are earning five-times as much as the grade-three refuse workers, whose jobs we wish to defend.

If you think that the private agencies and scab labour are doing a good-enough job, take a look outside your house. Have your bins been collected? Have your neighbour’s bins been collected? Walk to the next street. Have those roads been cleared? Now, compare your findings with the claim from the council that the majority of bins have been collected and the streets have been cleared. Does it look like the council has adequately managed the effects of the industrial action? Or does it look like the workers are seriously winning this dispute?


Political establishment venom, usually reserved for the working-class, has interestingly been partially redirected to the very councillors who are making these decisions (Matthew Snape Birmingham councillors condemn council’s inaction over bin strikes)

Momentum South Birmingham urges the council, who meet on the 15th of August, to scrap their proposals that led to this strike. If they do not, then it is more likely that they will have to worry about their jobs than the workers on the picket line.

Joint the picket line outside the four Birmingham depots! Every day, Monday to Friday, at the following times:

0700-0800​  1030-1130​  1330-1430.