Special Report | ‘Fucking Tories on bikes’? Green Party under fire by Brighton workers

Michael Segalov reports for Ceasefire on today's sit-in protest by three hundred workers against a ‘pay modernisation’ scheme by Green Party-run Brighton and Hove City Council.

New in Ceasefire, Special Reports - Posted on Wednesday, May 8, 2013 14:35 - 24 Comments

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Brighton striking workers

Three hundred bin men (and women), street cleaners, recycling staff and more, backed by their GMB union reps, refused to leave their depot today after a meeting with management in which the final details of Brighton and Hove City Council’s ‘pay modernisation’ scheme were outlined.

The scheme, which applies to the 8,000-strong workforce of Brighton and Hove City Council, could mean that refuse and recycling staff at Hollingdean depot lose up to £4,000 a year. Today’s sitting-in workers are demanding that the assault on pay is scrapped. They will not ‘even consider working’ until Council Leader Jason Kitcat and the Chief Exec address them in the depot.

Today’s refusal to work comes after months of negotiation and consultation between the council and the GMB union during which, GMB branch rep Holly Smith states, council management ‘haven’t budged.’ Instead the consultation process has apparently resulted in claims from the council that they will sack all staff facing the proposed changes and re-employ them ‘on a worse contract, without compensation’ if staff refuse to accept the new terms. There was also dismay amongst staff that the council, a recently accredited living wage employer, would not keep this commitment to its staff.

A spokesperson for the Green Party councillors was clear that ‘the living wage will not be affected’ by the ‘pay modernisation’ process, and that the entirety of the changes were ‘not about saving money.’ On the £4,000 pay cuts, Lianne made it clear that ‘this is not the average to be lost. It’s difficult, but that is a worst-case scenario.’

To the occupying workers, however, averages are irrelevant and the worst-case scenario for at least some will have a stark and devastating impact on their take-home pay. And while Chief Executive Penny Thompson has promised compensation to affected staff, at present the specifics of such compensation remain unclear. Holly Smith suggested this was likely to be at a maximum one years worth of lost pay: ‘and then what?’

Though the workers today seemed mostly content with their union’s response, which has been to put the process for ballots on industrial action into motion, there was also a predominant feeling that waiting is futile. Refuse collector Runa explained that the wildcat action starting today is to ‘show the management that we’re not scared, and that we are willing to do whatever it takes.’ Heidi, a street cleaner in the City, was clear that her and her colleagues ‘want to strike now, and we’re not going to back down.’ She went on, ‘I can see it being a long strike, we’re not going to give in, us workers, not this time.’

There is also anger resonating amongst the staff towards the Green Party councillors who voted to push through the pay cut proposals, despite having run on a platform to resist all cuts. The Green Party currently runs a minority council in Brighton and Hove, and this ‘pay modernisation’ was voted through by four Green councillors along with their Conservative party counterparts. (Labour councillors voted against the changes.)

A vast majority of the sitting-in workers are Brighton and Hove residents who themselves voted in the current administration. When asked, one street cleaner labeled the Greens ‘fucking Tories on bikes’, to mass cheers from surrounding colleagues. This is a worrying atmosphere for the Greens whose current stronghold is Brighton. It is especially strange given that ex-party leader and Brighton Pavilion MP Caroline Lucas has made her ‘opposition clear’ to these proposals. She has even tweeted, claiming that she ‘will join picket line if Council forces pay cut on lowpaid staff.’

A spokesperson from the council insisted that while the outlined proposals announced yesterday represented the final proposition, it is ‘not complete.’ ‘While it’s not going to change a huge amount, there would be tweaks.’ With an indefinite walk-out on the cards and support from Union officials, it is clear that these tweaks would need to be considerable and significant to convince workers.

In 2009, the last time these staff members faced on assault on their conditions, sustained strike action was effective and the council leadership backed down. The precedent has been set that staff will fight and win and it is clear that prolonged action is on the table until proposals to cut staff pay ‘are thrown away once and for all.’

GMB suggest anyone wishing to express their concerns to the City’s councillors visit the GMB Southern website, and fill in the petition against cuts. Every time this is filled in an email goes directly to all councillor’s inboxes.

http://www.gmb-southern.org.uk/work-and-campaigns/campaigns/green-cuts-at-brighton-council/

UPDATE 2pm – Penny Thompson, Chief Executive of Brighton and Hove City Council, this afternoon went to speak to the staff sitting in. Upon her leaving, a unanimous decision was taken by all those walking out to continue the occupation tomorrow.

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Michael Segalov

Michael Segalov is currently studying at the University of Sussex, and is part of the Sussex Against Privatisation Campaign.

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‘F***ing Tories on bikes’: Green Pa...
May 8, 2013 15:36

[…] Michael Segalov reports for Ceasefire on today's sit-in protest by three hundred workers against a ‘pay modernisation’ scheme by Green Party-run Brighton and Hove City Council.  […]

Snapdragon
May 8, 2013 16:46

This makes my head hurt. Greens–in concert with Tories!–vote for “modernization” that produces serious pay cuts for some emplolyees…after running on a platform of opposing all cuts?! Caroline Lucas tweets she may join the picket line…

Hello, this is Earth (that Green place) calling Greens, do you read me? Whatever can you be thinking? Are you *trying* to commit political suicide? If so, could you kindly not do it as Greens?

With concern, a Green comrade from the (dis)United States.

Adam Ramsay
May 8, 2013 19:38

One piece of the story you’ve missed – the local Green Party has voted for a motion which instructs the council leadership to back down on this, and says the branch will support the striking workers against the council leadership.

http://blog.scrapperduncan.com/2013/05/08/brighton-and-hove-green-party-speaks-out-against-jason-kitcats-pay-negotiation-strategy/

Adam Ramsay
May 8, 2013 20:37

(@Snapdragon – to put it another way, this is a renegade group of councillors, acting against the expressed democratic wishes of its party. Clearly, it’s not good, but the rest of the Green Party here feels the same way as you do!)

Alex
May 9, 2013 9:48

As Adam points out you seem to have ignored the fact that the local Green Party is supporting the workers, whilst as you say Caroline Lucas the Green MP for Brighton has also voiced her support for the workers and strike action. The title of this piece clearly does not convey the political reality of what is actually going on. Also it’s worth pointing out that this isn’t about ‘cuts’ to the council’s budget as such but rather a bodged attempt at equalising sexist unequal pay grades for jobs with the same pay grade. That is not to say that the workers aren’t right about the way it’s been handled and of course pay should be equalised upwards, however, this is not a cut to council spending and it is, no matter how bungled a process, clearly totally ridiculous to compare the Green Party to ‘Tory’s with Bikes’ and not conducive to building a left opposition to the Tories.

Musab Younis
May 9, 2013 11:01

As you’ll see from the article, Alex, the ‘Tories’ analogy is a direct quotation from a worker involved in this dispute, not an invention of the author.

Alex
May 9, 2013 14:14

Musab yes but the choice to have it as the title was deliberate decision my the author to convey a particular message and suggests the authors agreement with that statement. Are you arguing that every statement by a striking worker is automatically the correct analysis of a situation or are suggesting that such comments are so unimportant they are not worthy critical evaluation? If the former then counterfire’s politics is going to be very confused, if the later then it is one of patronising elitism.

Musab Younis
May 9, 2013 14:40

Actually, I wrote the headline, not the author. I think it conveys an accurate sense of the article and the feelings of workers who were quoted in the article. My personal agreement is irrelevant: we publish a very wide range of (often contradictory) views; I don’t need to agree with every headline. Later this afternoon we’ll be publishing an update on this situation with more details about the Green Party’s position, so stay tuned for that.

Alex
May 9, 2013 14:43

Also worth noting that this situation is not the result of a full council vote but rather a vote by the Policy and Resources Committee, on which there are 4 Green cllrs who are saying they were misled by the council leader (Jason Kitcat) as they thought that any offer would be brought back to full council.

Michael Segalov
May 9, 2013 14:45

Alex, I think it is also important to note the question mark within the title. Whether I agree with the sentiment or not, a party that claims to represent the best interest of workers is being questioned and scrutinised, and it would seem strange to ignore the questions raised. As Musab has noted, developments from within the Green Party have come to light recently, and in an article I have written today this will be evident.

Musab Younis
May 9, 2013 15:08

Here’s a link to Michael’s new article on this situation, which I think makes clear the divisions in the Green Party over this issue:

https://ceasefiremagazine.co.uk/lucas-joins-strike/

Jacob
May 9, 2013 22:32

These changes are the direct result of misguided, EU-inflicted, ‘equalities’ legislation which says that a ‘traditionally male’ occupation which doesn’t need school certificates – however arduous, like emptying bins – can never be paid more than pen-pushing. Did Caroline Lucas ever vote against that legislation during her 11 years in the European Parliament? Nope.

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May 9, 2013 23:25

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Tom
May 10, 2013 1:13

Jacob, which EU directive please?

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Mike B
May 16, 2013 17:13

Not sure how Greens can be lumped in with Tories as their policies are generally socialist.

Paul Taylor
Jan 20, 2015 14:30

Shockingly one-sided article. No representation at all from the Green council or the Brighton and Hove Green party neither about the reasons for the dispute nor the rationale for their decision.

Paul Taylor
Jan 20, 2015 15:02

I note the link above to another ceasefire article, which does put the other side. Thanks.

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