Saturday, 19 September 2009

Something Stinks In Leeds…

Ten days into a strike by the city's bin men and the dispute over Leeds' rubbish collection was already proving a dirty affair. With bin bags steadily piling up outside homes and businesses and dire warnings of streets "awash with wrappers and rotting food" (Ed: It’s Leeds – how long before people notice..?) the only winners were likely to be the booming local rat population.

But the passions brought out by the bitter stand off between 600 striking bin men and the city council leader, a conflict which comes as more than 120,000 fellow workers in the postal, steel and engineering construction industries voted on possible action yesterday, have taken a more sinister turn.

Such as..? Hand-clipped notes attached to dead rats? A horse’s head in his bed?

Not quite:
Yesterday West Yorkshire Police were continuing to question six people arrested in connection with an attack on the home of Leeds City Council leader Richard Brett, the man who has become the public face of opposition to the workers' demands.
Oh noes! An attack!

Bricks through the window? Arson?

No, just what everyone else is having to put up with:
Fourteen bags of rubbish were dumped on the doorstep of the Liberal Democrat's home in the north of the city all bearing posters declaring solidarity with the striking refuse staff who have staged an indefinite walkout in protest at plans which they say will see their pay cut by up to £6,000 reducing some to take home just £12,000 a year.
Now, I don’t doubt that having bags of rubbish dumped at his doorstep is unpleasant, but I don’t think it constitutes an attack.

But there’s more:
Detectives are also investigating a threatening message left on Councillor Brett's answer phone. The anonymous caller accused the council chief of lying and warned "be ready Mr Brett". Security has been stepped up outside the house.
Isn’t it amazing the difference in response by the police to this incident, compared to their studied indifference to the plight of Ms Pilkington, calling to report people actually vandalising her property, and being told to close her curtains?

Perhaps the police should simply advise Mr Brett not to collect his voicemail?

So, what has sparked this dispute?
The city council, which is run by a coalition of Liberal Democrats and Conservatives, says its hands are tied by legislation which required them to re-grade each job within the local authority to ensure women were paid the same as men for comparable tasks.
Oh, so this can be laid at Harriet Harman’s Equality door instead?

Perhaps Mr Brett should get a service to take the sacks of rubbish over to her doorstep instead…
The result was 10,500 winners and 2,500 losers they claim and that the suggestion that bin men stand to lose £6,000 a year is a deliberate over-exaggeration.
Well, no-one likes to have their job looked at, but everyone has to put up with it. Why should public sector workers be any different?

But it seems, if you peer through the smog, there’s a bit more going on here than just a dispute over regrading:
Tony Pearson, the regional negotiator of the public sector workers union Unison, has been quick to condemn the attacks on Councillor Brett but he is riled at allegations of misbehaviour on the picket lines and what he claims are council smears over the publicising of absence rates among his members.

He believes a resurgent Thatcherite ideology on the behalf of management is blocking progress toward finding a solution to the dispute.

"It is not like the old days when all these workers lived on council estates. They have mortgages now and will not be able to pay them. Houses are not easy to sell at the moment but some have already put them on the market. They are literally fighting to keep the roof over their head," he said.
OK, several points here.

Firstly, why should the council not publish the absence rates? These are public servants - we have the right to know that. We are the ones paying them.

Secondly, what the hell has the fact that they have mortgages got to do with anything? So does everyone else! Should the council (i.e. us) provide them with housing too?

As BoM said, this is a case of public sector unions flexing their muscles as the last bloc of unreconstructed union power:
“Thanks to the Iron Lady's reform of union law, and crucially the realism born of global competition, union power in the private sector is now properly limited.

But in the public sector there is generally no competition to concentrate minds. And union power is still a major block to necessary reform…”
The ‘Thatcherite’ rhetoric gives the game away…


David Gillies said...

You may mock:

…awash with wrappers and rotting food" (Ed: It’s Leeds – how long before people notice..?)

But seriously, the food in Leeds is outstanding, and up by the University the architecture is gorgeous. They've done some cracking regeneration with the city centre. I used to live in Bradford and the sole saving grace was you could hop on a train and go to Leeds in a half hour. Never mind the Bronx to Manhattan. This was like Detroit to Manhattan.

If they could develop a nuke that could stop on a postcode boundary then come friendly bombs and fall on Manningham Lane. But leave Leeds out of it.

James Higham said...

Yep, the moment the Thatcher reference comes in, end of story.

JuliaM said...

"But seriously, the food in Leeds is outstanding, and up by the University the architecture is gorgeous. "

Oh, I know. I've been there many times. Compared to Bradford, it is indeed paradise, and the shopping is to die for.

"..the moment the Thatcher reference comes in.."

They are never far away in the 'Indy' or the 'Guardian'...

Mark Wadsworth said...

Good article. Completely agreed.

But I thought that was the whole point of sub-contracting bin collection to private companies - the council, on behalf of residents, works out who'll do the best deal in £ per bin per week and that's the end of that.

If you get half a dozen different companies doing different parts of the area, and the workers in on company go on strike, then the council stops paying that company. That company goes bust and stops paying its worker.

The council then puts the bin collection in the affected area out to tender, the liquidator sells all the lorries etc to whichever company takes it over, that company reinstates workers on whatever terms and conditions it pleases and everybody gets on with their lives after a week or two of unpleasantness.

Anonymous said...

OOOOOOH! Manningham Lane? Racist...teehee...

Bill Quango MP said...

Perhaps the police should simply advise Mr Brett not to collect his voicemail?

Laughed all the way to the recycler.

JuliaM said...

"But I thought that was the whole point of sub-contracting bin collection to private companies..."

Perhaps that hasn't been done in Leeds, and they are still directly-employed council workers?

Anonymous said...

What confuses me about this is how are refuse disposal operatives classed so low in the pay stakes. t is an unpleasant and physically demanding job. It is also vital for the public health of society. We need these people far more than we do many of the better paid staff in the Town Hall.

is it that it is a job traditionally recognised as working class and therefore diminished in the eyes of the middle class who are paid to supervise rather than do?

Anonymous said...

I said it before, and I'll say it again: If town hall won't come and collect our rubbish, then let's take the rubbish to the town hall.