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.

The fascinating candidacy of Sundip Meghani

A source close to me reports back on a very interesting and slightly arbitrarily-chaired Harborne ward selection meeting on Thursday the 3rd August (when are Labour Party meetings ever held in August for goodness sake?) – attended by a paltry 14 out of probably a couple of hundred of eligible members.

Of the five candidates available to choose from for the two-member ward only three attended – it transpires that the other two were not contacted before the meeting and as they don’t live in the ward would have had no idea when and where the meeting would be unless they had been told.

This is a touch odd, and does raise a question about the legitimacy of the meeting from the outset.  

There were two ‘successful’ candidates – Jayne Francis and Sundip Meghani.

Jayne won the women’s slot unopposed – well done to her. She is, we hear, a popular and well-respected local councillor, but it’s noteworthy that there were at least 4 women who had expressed an interest in the ward who have applied to be on the panel but not had an interview or approval yet – despite promises being made at Birmingham Board and NEC level that women applicants would be fast-tracked……… these promises appear not to have been kept.

Sundip, the other ‘successful’ candidate, is a very interesting chap indeed.


More tellingly, his ‘activity diary’ is intriguingly bereft of much……activity.



For the uninitiated – an ‘activity diary’ is something that would-be councillors in Birmingham have to produce when they apply to show that they have worked hard over the last couple of years in support of the party – in theory it should exclude shysters and reward hard-working activists. In theory being the operative words here.

Sundip appears to have been initially turned down, managed to reverse the decision just in time for the Harborne meeting and got on the panel with an activity diary far emptier than people who have been turned down…. for having undertaken insufficient activity.

A lack of activity in and of itself isn’t a reason to exclude him – if he’s a good candidate he’s a good candidate. But when so many other applicants have been blocked because of insufficient activity it does appear that there is a serious inconsistency.

And despite repeated written and verbal requests to the CLP chair for conformation that Sundip’s expression of interest in the ward was submitted in time no evidence of the email exists and the chair is refusing to confirm whether he has received an email that he should, as chair, have received:

“HARBORNE:   2 vacancies, at least one woman to be selected – expressions of interest to and by 5.00 p.m. on Tuesday 1 August 2017.”  

*Source: the Birmingham Labour website

The whole episode does raise rather a lot of questions for the leadership of Edgbaston CLP and the West Midlands Regional Office. A few answers would certainly be appreciated.  



Holiday Hunger Fundraising Campaign

Ladywood Community Project

Over the summer months Momentum South Birmingham members have been organising collections to support the Ladywood Community Project. Here are some words by Gerardine Giblin the project’s coordinator:

“The project is situated in the community centre in the heart of a social housing estate. We have a garden, a cooker, a washing machine and a tumble dryer and these are regularly used by families.

We listen to parents and try to pick up on the things that they struggle with

The biggest disadvantage facing our children and their families today is poverty  For working families and those on benefits these are still difficult times and we know that the number of children living in poverty in this ward is 5078(45.2%) some 24% higher than the rest of the country. Therefore many of our initiatives are designed to ease the burden of low income and the consequences that poverty brings.

 84% of children in Ladywood receive free school meals during term time and during the long summer break families face increasing costs through using more food, gas and electricity, as well as the costs of updating school uniforms, stationery, books etc

 For the past three years we have operated a holiday hunger scheme. We work in partnership with Birmingham Central Foodbank to give 100 families a food hamper. We ask businesses to ask their staff to contribute food items towards this. We have had contributions from about 12 different agencies including banks, solicitors, universities and this year we have also asked for cash contributions so that we can put money on gas/electricity cards and keys.

The food hampers should feed a family for 3 days and we have put £20 on fuel cards for each family.

Families are referred from Support and social work teams, debt and money advisors and the local credit union as well as the families we engage with.

We also operate other low/no cost activities and this year we have raised money to take 72 residents to the seaside.”

If anyone wishes to get involved with fundraising or volunteer to help us please contact Gerardine Giblin on 0121 455 5070 or email me at


Certificate of appreciation HH2017


“Where’s the councillors? Why aren’t the councillors here to discuss this with us?” 

Down at the picket line with the Birmingham refuse workers 

For the past few weeks the refuse workers in Birmingham have been in dispute with Birmingham City Council over proposed changes to pay-grades, terms and conditions, and levels of public safety. Workers from the Unite union are now beginning a third week of industrial action. I went down to Lifford Lane depot this morning to find out more about the dispute.
There were a large number of workers on the picket line this morning. I introduced myself, telling them that I was a Labour Party member, and that I wanted to find out more about the dispute, but through the workers themselves, and not just those who had the fortune of having their views published, often exclusively, by the local mainstream media. Immediately, one of the striking workers exclaimed, “Where’s the councillors? Why aren’t the councillors here to discuss this with us?” This was an issue that was raised time and again throughout the morning, and contributed to a genuinely angry atmosphere on the picket line. Workers were collectively angry that councillors did not seem to be engaging with them. Moreover, they felt like they were being ignored by the political class who distance themselves from the realities of real worker’s struggles and real working-class life.

Part of the dispute is about a pay and grade review, where previously agreed pay levels linked to skill grades are threatened by council proposals. One worker was disgusted with the language that has been used by councillors. “They call it ‘modernisation’ – we call it job cuts,” he said. “We’re out doing this job year on year, we’ve told the council how we need to modernise, how we need to improve efficiency. They ignore us, yet they have no experience of doing our jobs.” Some workers spoke of the inefficiency of the council’s long-standing policy of relying on agency staff – some who have been doing the job for over a decade – rather than take the workers on permanent contracts. “Hardly modern, is it? But they do not listen,” grumbled another disgruntled worker.

Workers complained at the attitude of the council. “They won’t come to the table,” they said. “They have their view of ‘modernisation’, and that’s it.” Another angry worker told me that the proposed changes will mean the scrapping or downgrading of the grade 3 post. This is a safety-critical post. It concerns the very workers who are trained and skilled to drive the vehicles. One only has to think of the size of the wagons that are used in the huge operation of moving Birmingham’s rubbish to imagine the carnage that could occur if cuts to safety are allowed.

And what for the future? If the council can alter conditions and get rid of previously agreed terms then what is stopping them doing it again in the future? Could councillors simply abolish grades, after, in the words of Unite regional officer, Lynne Shakespeare, “woefully inadequate consultation”?

Council attempts to redefine the job are another slap in the face for the workers. They stressed that the job hasn’t changed at all – people still need to have their rubbish collected – but the conditions have. Expectations of time had been put on workers, especially since the introduction of wheelie-bins, but the council had shown arrogant disregard with a one-size-fits-all policy. The view that there is no difference is removing refuse from a wheelie-bin from two completely different areas in two completely different houses is as ludicrous as it is ignorant. Add to this the policy of side-waste – waste that is left OUTSIDE of the bins, that workers are not contracted to take, but bosses have instructed them to collect – then the time constraints become even clearer. Furthermore there are special requests from residents, for example, some elderly residents who cannot physically move their wheelie-bin on to the pavement, so leave it at the top of their drive. Both the council and the workers want to get this waste collected, but it is seemingly only the workers who recognise that this takes more time.

The points made by the workers were plentiful and detailed. Previous projects that had wasted many times more than the predicted savings were to make, ignoring the cost-saving advice of the unions and not listening to the solutions offered by the workers, the false offer of equivalent employment, the privatisation of the vehicle mechanics and maintenance, the lack of assessment on a variety of health and safety issues and the failure to correctly survey properties were just a sample of the points that were made.

The workers were clear:

• These proposals will not improve the service, they will make it worse.

• If the workers don’t stand up for their jobs now, the council will move to make even deeper cuts in the future.

• People never noticed the refuge workers……..until they weren’t there.

South Birmingham Momentum sends its true solidarity to the Birmingham refuse workers and supports their action 100%. We DON’T want a city with a fourth-rate, underfunded refuse collection service. We DON’T want the safety of all of us to be jeopardised in the name of austerity. We DON’T want the council to attack Birmingham’s most valuable assets – those workers who I met today. If we want to reduce pay, perhaps we should start at the top, those in senior council positions with fat-cat salaries that are in excess of ten-times the amount of some of the workers I spoke to today.

We DO want to show our solidarity with the refuse workers. We can do this by attending the picket lines every day until we win this dispute. Workers will be on strike outside Lifford Lane depot every weekday morning between 6am and 8am and every weekday afternoon between 1230pm and 130pm. Members of the Labour Party can further show solidarity by passing resolutions at ward and constituency level that support the industrial action of the refuge workers and oppose the council proposals that amount to nothing more than an assault on the working-class of this great city, and a guarantee of a worse service.

Statement of the officers of Momentum South Birmingham on the Birmingham Board meeting 16/06/2017

The officers of MSB note and welcome the decision of the Birmingham Board of the Labour Party to narrowly reject a motion from the Birmingham Labour Group of councillors at their meeting of Friday the 16th June 2017 for the Board and the West Midlands Regional Office to impose ‘slates’ of candidates on wards for the 2018 local elections.

We understand that the vote was 11 – 10 against and while a victory is a victory, the fact that such a proposal was even on the table for discussion, let alone that the vote was so close, gives an indication of how undemocratic the Birmingham Labour Party has become.

It is beyond belief that the majority of Labour councillors in this city (with a few commendable exceptions) voted at their meeting on the 12th June in favour of taking this proposal to the Board. It is completely inappropriate, and frankly an abuse of their incumbency, to even suggest that the current crop of councillors essentially protect themselves from democratic selection procedures and deny Birmingham Labour Party members their democratic rights (i.e. the members who put the councillors there and the people who will be campaigning for them next year).

In the context of recent political history, it was also a thankfully failed attempt at an act of self-harm.

The general election showed what can happen when the members are mobilised. The West Midlands mayoral election showed what happens when they are not. We also lost several seats in the West Midlands on June 8th and the sclerotic nature of the party in this region is doubtless largely responsible.

To impose candidates and disenfranchise all of the local members would have risked a repeat of the latter two examples and we totally condemn the Labour Group majority for this undemocratic, self-serving and utterly destructive move. They should be ashamed of themselves.

We also call on the West Midlands Regional Office to respect the Board’s decision and ensure that selection meetings begin promptly. We need candidates in place as soon as possible so we can start campaigning for them, and any hint at a delay would suggest that they are trying to subvert the vote of the Birmingham Board.

Sadly, at this point we should also point out that the July 2015 ‘freeze date’ remains in place so a huge swathe of the party membership will not be able to vote in any case. The lack of movement on this issue, and the failure by the local party hierarchy to realise the crucial role that the new members played and will continue to play in ensuring that Labour representatives at all levels of government are elected in the coming years, suggests to us that the West Midlands and Birmingham Labour Parties are in need of root and branch reform.

In solidarity


MSB newsletter 20/03/2017


Welcome to the latest South Birmingham Momentum newsletter, full of exciting events for you to attend and ways to support the group fight the good fight. If you’re reading this newsletter and haven’t joined the Labour Party, then please do so. And if you have and haven’t got involved yet, please do!

Of particular note this week is Momentum national conference which is being held in Birmingham and is now less a week away. More details below.

Women’s meeting, 21st March

Our women members are now meeting regularly to discuss women’s position in the Labour Party and how to gain gender equality. It’s a safe space for Momentum and Labour women to come together and the next meeting is tomorrow, Tuesday the 21st of March, at Loco Lounge (32/34 High Street Kings Heath, B14 7JT) at 7pm.

MSB social media class, Wednesday 22nd March

Nicky Brennan, one of our social media managers, is running a class this Wednesday if you are uninitiated in Facebook and Twitter etc. and want to learn more about how to make best use of them – they are crucial part of modern political campaigning and you are never too old to learn something new! It will start at 19:30 and will be held in Bournville. For full details or if you’re interested but can’t make that date drop Nicky a line:

Unison mayoral event with Sion Simon, 24th March

Siôn Simon will be speaking at a reception held by Unison on Friday the 24th, 5-8pm at Unison West Midlands, 24 Livery Street, Birmingham, B3 2PA, to launch their Mayoral Manifesto and he will be discussing his pledges for the first West Midlands Mayoral election. The event will mark the start of the short campaign and will also see the launch of the new Unison handbook for Labour activists. Siôn will be joined by Labour MPs, Councillors and Unison colleagues at this event. You can sign up to reserve your place here.

Momentum National Conference: 25th March

Inspired by the work of local groups over the last year and the hugely successful ‘The World Transformed’ fringe festival that took place alongside Labour Party Conference in Liverpool in September, Momentum’s first conference ‘Building to Win’ will take place on Saturday 25th March in Birmingham at 119 Floodgate Street, Digbeth. The conference will be open to all Momentum members and feature activist training, political education workshops and discussion focused on four key themes:

Transforming Labour – helping people navigate Labour Party structures and discussing how Momentum can continue to support the transformation of Labour into a grassroots, member-led party that offers a real alternative to the status quo.

Helping Labour Win – supporting Labour to mobilise its mass membership and win elections as well as helping equip people with arguments and effective communication techniques to persuade people of our vision.

Building the movement- discussing how we can further root our movement in communities, developing links with people and other grassroots groups to organise throughout the UK and build support for Labour’s policies.

Building Momentum – building capacity within Momentum networks and groups through skills sharing and training. Building Momentum will help us achieve our first three objectives.

We will be joined by activists from across the country and special guest speakers. John McDonnell has already emailed all members to let them know that he will be there!

You can book your tickets here. There will also be loads of stalls there from local groups and campaigning organisations – if you are involved in or know a group who might be interested please get in touch with us at We want to use this event to build on our good work locally too and give a platform to the many issues of concern to us. Please also get in touch with us if you are willing to volunteer on the day.

Billy Elliot Film Night, 31st March

MSB are putting on a showing of Billy Elliot at the Highbury Pub, Dads Lane, B13 8PQ on the 31st March. Film to start at 7:30 followed by a discussion on some of the topical issues in the film. £5/£3 includes popcorn! More details here.

New members meeting: 1st April

Worried about taking the first plunge into Momentum? We are (obviously) a lovely lot but getting politically active for the first time or after a long time out of the loop can be very intimidating. Join momentum members for a coffee and a cake at Cozy Coffee in Northfield on the 1st April at 11am. All welcome (child friendly) and lovely cakes!

Love Brum Schools Multi-Academy Trust Information meeting: 5th April

Seven schools in Moseley and Kings Heath are proposing to form a Multi-Academy Trust (MAT) Love Brum Schools will be running a repeat of their very successful public information evening with the same speakers as last time, on the 5th April, 7:30pm, at the Moseley Muslim Community Association, 496 Moseley Road, Balsall Heath, B12 9AH.  This time the venue is in Balsall Heath, in order to share information with the wider community. A huge number of parents, particularly of secondary school pupils, are either unaware of the schools’ plans or do not understand the implications.

If you were unable to attend the meeting in January, this is a second chance to find out more about what the issues are with the schools’ proposals and to ask any questions you may have.  If you were unaware of the issues at the time, please come along to find out more.

Please spread the word to anyone you know who will be effected by these proposals. For more information please click here.

Stirchley Library meeting: 29th April

The next Friends of Stirchley Library (FOSL) meeting is scheduled for Saturday 29th April, 11am – 1pm, Stirchley Community Church. After the collection of money at the last meeting, with which some bookmarks were printed, they’ll be asking for donations to fund printing some posters.

Edgbaston constituency dates for your diary

  • Quinton ward Labour Party meeting: Thursday the 30th March 7.15 pm, The Quinborne Centre, Ridgacre Road. Also open to Bartley Green members.
  • Harborne ward Labour Party meeting: 1st April, 10:30 am, Moor Pool Hall, 37 The Circle, Birmingham B17 9DY.

Hall Green constituency dates for your diary

  • Nothing we know of this week, but we’ll keep you posted when we do!

Selly Oak constituency dates for your diary

  • Selly Oak CLP meeting, 23rd March, 7:30pm St. Andrews Church, Cartland Road, Stirchley, Birmingham B30 2RD: Steve McCabe MP will report on his activities in the Constituency and Westminster and Liam Byrne MP (a Brandwood member) will discuss his recent book ‘Black Flag Down: Counter Extremism, Defeating ISIS and Winning the Battle of Ideas’.
  • Thursday 30 March at 7pm: An evening with Paul Routledge, at the E57 Club, 699 Alcester Road South, B14 5EY. Tickets are £10 and can be booked here.

Northfield constituency dates for your diary

  • Monday evenings until the conclusion of the mayoral election, 6pm to 7.30pm – phone banking (for Kings Norton ward and Mayoral campaign) – meeting at St Nicolas Place, The Green, Kings Norton, B38 8RU.
  • Thursday evenings until the conclusion of the mayoral election, 6pm to 7.30pm – phone banking (for Northfield ward and Mayoral campaign) – meeting at St Nicolas Place, The Green, Kings Norton, B38 8RU.
  • Campaign day of action for Sat 25th March with street stall and canvassing, please contact

School cuts

The NUT have set up a school cuts website providing information on what is going on and the likely effects. You can email your MP through the website, it only takes a minute. Please click here. Since the New Year a number of parents groups have sprung up across the country to fight for more funding for our schools. I think it is an important development that parents have started to organise because Governments cross parents at their peril. Please visit their website.

South Birmingham Momentum T-Shirts

Not before time in my view, wear it with pride: MSB t-shirts are going to be ordered: £10 red with South Birmingham Momentum on it. If people would like one email

Keep Our NHS Public Birmingham

KONPB do a huge amount of brilliant work but are always in need of more help. For those who are interested in supporting and/or joining KONP and contributing to campaigns their contact details are

Meetings are 1st Wednesday of every month (except August), so people can drop in any time. Currently they have campaigns on the STPs in Brum/Solihull and Black Country. the Midland Metropolitan Hospital (PFI/2) and they are looking to do some more work on the mental health arrangements for young people 0-25 years in Birmingham – currently ‘red risk’.

Please get involved in and support KONPB in any way you can.

MSB stalls committee – volunteers needed

Our stalls co-ordinator, Chris Kuriata, is on the lookout for people to join the group’s stalls committee. Stalls have been a crucial way that we have got our ideas across. You might even get your picture taken with John McDonnell! Email Chris:

Ward and CLP meetings

If you want the group to publicise upcoming local Labour Party activities and branch and CLP meetings to encourage attendance, please let us know either by emailing me direct or the group account below; our wonderful social media managers Kate, Lucy, Nicky and Sam will do the rest!

International Women’s Day and the February Revolution

by Richard Evans

International Women’s Day (always  on the 8th March) is the day of the beginning, in Russia, of the spontaneous uprising known as the ‘February Revolution’ (due to its date in the old Russian calendar). A hundred years ago today, the women of Petrograd (then the capital of Russia, now known as St Petersburg) came out onto the streets and were fired on by Tsarist troops, which sparked strikes and further demonstrations, leading to the abdication of the Tsar and power being transferred to the people of Russia.
The February revolution led to the formation of a republic with democratic rights, such as the freedom of assembly, freedom of the press and free speech. Restrictions on religion, class and race were removed. There was a general amnesty for political prisoners. The police were made accountable to local government and the penal system was overhauled. The death penalty was abolished. And preparations were made for the election of a Constituent Assembly with universal adult suffrage to draw up the constitution for the new democracy.
After a further insurrection on 7th November (known as the ‘October Revolution’ in the old style calendar) power was systematically taken away from the soviets (committees of workers, peasants and soldiers that had sprung up spontaneously in February) and the Constituent Assembly was forcibly disbanded, leading to an increasingly oppressive one-party dictatorship.
As always, there were benefits of party membership in a one-party state. In early 1918, Lenin had backed the plan for special closed restaurants for Bolsheviks in Petrograd and by 1921, party members had higher salaries, special rations, subsidised apartments and hotels, exclusive shops and hospitals, private dachas (country houses), chauffeured cars, and first class rail travel. 5,000 Bolsheviks and their families lived in the Kremlin and special party hotels in Moscow (the new capital). The Kremlin alone, had 2,000 service staff in its private quarters (in 1920, the domestic budget for these free services was higher than the budget for social welfare for the whole of Moscow). Top party leaders had their own use of landed estates, complete with servants (Lenin occupied the estate of General Morozov at Gorki and Trotsky had one that had belonged to the Yusupovs). And there was large scale corruption by party members, including the releasing prisoners for money and the selling of confiscated goods on the black market.
As a result there were widespread strikes and demonstrations. So, four years later, International Women’s Day was marked by the sailors and workers of Kronstadt (a hot-bed of Russian socialism) transmitting greetings to the women of the world as they were being attacked by the Red Army for trying to rescue the revolution from the brutal one-party dictatorship that was being consolidated by the Bolsheviks. It represented the last stand of the workers against the bureaucratic state that was to carry out horrific crimes in the name of socialism, over the next 70 years.
Some of the earliest critics of the moves towards the bureaucratic control of the Russian state were women. Alexandra Kollontai was a socialist feminist and leader of Workers’ Opposition, a faction of the Bolshevik Party formed in 1920 to fight against the growing bureaucracy and the exclusion of the trade unions in the running of their factories. Workers’ Opposition was banned in March 1921. And Rosa Luxemburg, who was born in Congress Poland (then part of the Russian Empire) wrote a masterpiece of criticism of the revolution in 1918, forty years before many socialists were able to see the problems of a dictatorship of one party.
Does this history have any relevance today outside Russia and Eastern Europe? Well only as a warning against vanguard parties and those who believe the hopes of the working class can be expressed within a monolithic organisation.