This summer, Brighton CityClean workers held a week-long strike against reduced pay conditions. Many of these workers face pay cuts of up to £4,000 from their annual pay, which equates, for many, to as much as £90 lost from their weekly take-home pay - an amount which will decisively worsen their living standards, raising questions as to whether or not rent can be paid, or food laid on the table from one week to the next.
The industrial ballot, held on June 7th and led by the union GMB, took place after two initial days of action and refusal to work. The ballot was passed with 95.6% of its membership voting in favour of strike, a clear demonstration of the overwhelming sense of frustration and anger present among the workforce.
On Saturday 15th, the CityClean workers rallied outside the local depot and led a march to the council offices. Members of the Sussex Marxist Society were present showing solidarity from the wider movement.
Within two days of the action starting, bins were piled high on street corners, being torn apart by sea-gulls, rotten and decomposing rubbish lined the streets, thoroughly exposing the local Green council’s “green” and environmentally friendly reputation. Yet despite the almost Dickensian state of squalor, many citizens photographed and posted images onto social media websites in support of the strikers. Many people had attached signs onto their overflowing bins reading ‘Solidarity to the CityClean workers!’ and ‘If you’re an agency scab, do not take my bins!’, entirely supportive and understanding of the workers urgent need to strike.
Within the first few days of strike action, a group of residents attempted to organise a volunteer team to pick up litter on Brighton beach. This harmless act, only motivated by good intentions and concern for the local marine environment, did however undermine the cause of the strike. The CityClean workers responded with an eloquent public statement expressing the need for residents to leave refuse and litter on the streets by way of maintaining the impact of the strike, and upholding their bargaining power by humiliating the Green council. The residents complied respectfully. This is a wonderful example of the capacity that exists among the working class for co-operation and acts of solidarity.
The reputation of the Green Party locally and nationally is now in tatters. The fallout from this dispute has divided the Green Party across class lines. Green Party members and supporters nationally have written to GMB Southern and to the CityClean workers, and even posting onto their facebook page, expressing their concerns and sincerest apologies on behalf of other left-leaning Green Party supporters, who are now attempting to oust Brighton’s Green Council Leader, Jason Kitkat and other masquerading Tories of similar ilk inside the Green party.
The Council has since reduced the pressure on the CityClean workers, agreeing not to enforce pay cuts if the workers simply ‘work harder’. However, the CityClean workers are correct in their assumption that this is indeed, not yet a victory. These threats to ‘work harder’ will inevitably be followed by the same encroaching cuts which are being fought against, but masked by shallow attempts at justification, such as ‘efficiency saving’ and ‘stream-lining’. The CityClean workers, and many other council workers, will yet be threatened with redundancies or pay cuts in the coming years. The CityClean workers are now considering a second week of strike action in the near future.
Simultaneously, GMB now has another fight on its hands in Brighton; outsourced green keepers and park maintenance workers at local golf courses and public spaces such as Hollingbury Park, employed by ‘Mytime Active’, are being faced with the same £4,000 fall in annual income. The company itself has notoriously overpaid directors and senior managers, the number of which has increased in size despite shamelessly poor wages being given to rank and file employees.
GMB must build solidarity and bolster its support for both CityClean and MytimeActive workers in Brighton to resist the cuts to pay within the public sector and the private sector. The parallels between the dispute facing the MytimeActive works and the CityClean workers are identical, whether privately owned or under management of the city council, there is no difference – workers are facing the same reduction in working and living conditions, under managements operating in the interests of capitalism and private profit. The only slight variation is that in the case of the CityClean workers, it is the Brighton Green Party-led Council which is enforcing the cuts at the behest of the Tory-led government at Westminster.
Neither the public sector, nor the private sector, under the current economic system of capitalism, can operate in the interests of workers, or to the benefit of the environment. Only by nationalising the commanding heights of the economy in the interests of the people and not capital, can the capacity for decent working and living conditions be acquired. Only under the democratic control of the worker’s themselves will wages and work hours become fair, and care for the environment enforced by word as well as deed.