The following is an appeal to the volunteer group Bearded Broz. I'm asking you to avoid collecting the bins while the Birmingham bin strike now enters its ninth week. Although I feel the points I make are valid no matter who say them, I should mention that I am not affiliated with Unite, nor am I a refuse collector. I am merely a resident of Birmingham who also happens to share a Pakistani background with many of you. Although I admire your proactive attitude, I believe doing the bin men’s work while they’re on strike can only have an adverse effect on our already neglected communities.
I sympathise with and share many of your grievances. It seems like not a week goes by without the media publishing yet another dishonest story about Muslims, and then on top of that, many of us live in substandard conditions. You may feel that volunteering to clean up the city is a great opportunity to kill two birds with one stone. I can only urge you to ask yourself, why should anyone volunteer to take care of a problem, when a fully trained and developed workforce is waiting in the wings? In a time of disaster, volunteers play an important role, because the responsible authorities often neglect to prepare for the worst. However, the uncollected waste on our streets is not caused by a disaster. This is not an act of god, nor are we lacking in the appropriate facilities and logistics. The reason our streets have become overwhelmed with waste is very simple – the council are trying to implement a cost saving measure, at the expense of over 100 jobs and the public’s safety.
The long running story of the last ten years is that of austerity, but as you and I know, austerity has been our existence, since our grandparents settled here in the 1960s. Our communities became self-reliant not because we wanted to, but out of sheer survival. White employers wouldn’t hire us, so we started our own businesses instead. Denied social welfare, we became increasingly reliant on our families and community to take care of us when we were in need. The council refuses to clean up our neighbourhood, so what do we do? Of course, we clean it up ourselves. If we waited around for the government to give us a fair share of the pie, I daresay our communities will have been worse off than they already are. Your concerns are justified, and your dedication is worthwhile, but I’m certain this energy is misdirected.
The energy expended on doing the bin men’s work is better served supporting public service workers like the bin men directly. Our local representatives have shown no hesitation to dismantle public services. What incentive does the council have to avoid assaulting us even further if we roll over every time they propose another cost saving measure? Furthermore, doing the bin men’s work while they’re on strike only undermines their ability to prevent the council from carrying out further brutal measures. Now, if the workers of our public services are unable to protect these services, I ask: who will?
The workplace is an important site of action, because it is one of the few places where the relevant authorities are forced to take you seriously. We can attend as many protests and write as many demands on a placard as we like, but this has very limited use outside of raising public awareness. However, when a workforce collectively decides ‘enough is enough’, the bosses at least ought to pay attention, otherwise business as usual is over.
Workers have various means by which they can improve or protect their working conditions, depending upon the circumstances they’re confronted with, and the objectives they wish to achieve. Initially, however, workers will attempt to negotiate with their employer, and are often met with derisory or non-existent proposals. It is only when workers have exhausted these institutional processes and reached no satisfactory solution, that they consider using the most effective leverage they have over the employer; their labour.
There are different ways you can withdraw your labour to disrupt the status quo, and make your employer take you seriously. For example, if you worked exactly to your job description, dropping all the additional roles you somehow picked up during the course of your employment, an organisation’s productive output will suffer serious consequences. Whatever type of action you decide to take, however, is only effective if coordinated by the workforce collectively. It’s easy for an employer to dismiss or sway one person taking action, but it’s a lot harder to manipulate or sack a united and collective workforce.
One powerful way workers can use their labour to pressure their employers, would be to withdraw their labour completely. Regarded as a last resort because the risks are high, this is what is known as a strike action. Though English law recognises the right to strike, workers nonetheless often risk dismissal and are not entitled to wages during the period of action. Throughout the duration of a strike, the business community will engage in various underhanded tactics and try to demoralise the striking workers, in an attempt to end the strike. This includes but is not limited to: publishing anti-strike articles in the local media and/or hiring people to cover for the strike. If you’re a striking worker, in the ninth week of action, with a mortgage and dependent children, do you run the risk of another week without wages and a potential dismissal, or do you just give up?
A striking workforce runs this risk, especially when a strike is likely to be long and drawn out. In the case of the Birmingham bin strike, I’m sure the council are aware of this, and banking on disengaging until the already poorly paid workers give up. Meanwhile, Bearded Broz become the public face of scab work, even though the council happily leaks £40,000 per day to agency staff working from 6am to 10pm to cover for the strike.
Richie Beddows, Convenor (10-Sep-17) - Press image to watch
So, although Naveed Sadiq of Bearded Broz claims to be “on the bin men’s side”, actions speak louder than words, and the actions of Bearded Broz suggest this to be categorically false.Visiting the picket line early on in the dispute was a good start, but verbal support for the strike while objectively undermining it is of little use. Instead of asking people whether what you're doing is scabbing or not, you could ask them how best to help.
I don’t think your intent is malicious, rather, there seems to be a general misunderstanding as to how industrial action works. I hope I’ve provided some useful information to clear up this misunderstanding, after all, even beloved Labour and Green politicians have been guilty of undermining strike action recently.
If you’re on the bin men’s side, like you claim, you should begin with not doing their work, while they’re on strike. In fact, the longer the strike goes on, the more important the public’s role becomes in maintaining the morale of the striking workers. This could mean joining them at pickets, or dumping our bin bags at the Council House in Victoria Square. Let’s make sure the council doesn’t cut our services, sacrifice our health and safety, and divide our access to these services by ethnicity any longer. In addition, we should remember that the bin men are also our neighbours, and deserve a fair pay for a fair day’s work just like the rest of us.
I also want to say something about your effort to provide positive publicity for our community. I would be very sceptical about a media that constantly spreads lies and falsehoods about Muslims, but is also very happy to parade a group of Muslim men undermining the strike action of a majority white workforce. It would be absurd to suggest that we moderate our behaviour just because the press have an agenda, but I would also be very mindful of how you’re being exploited here.
I am also aware that CEO Abdullah Rehman (MBE), allowed Bearded Broz to use his organisation’s truck to transport the collected waste. Perhaps for Muslims like him, that have friendships with people like David Cameron to maintain, publicity like this does a world of good. However, for the rest of us, any positive spin is grossly outweighed by the pillaging of our public services by the very governments people like Cameron oversaw. Ultimately, what do the people of Birmingham need – a reliable and safe waste collection service, or community gatekeepers with easy access to the politicians destroying our communities?
Do not underestimate the loyalty you can gain from supporting the striking workers when they need our solidarity. When organisations decide to come after our community, workers across the city ready to stand with us side-by-side is worth a thousand times more than all the meaningless platitudes from a dull politician.
Nobody, apart from the council, wants the strike to last any longer, least of all the striking workers. Moreover, doing the bin men’s work while they’re on strike, will only serve to strengthen the council’s position. However, I also understand the desire to live in a clean and safe environment. In which case, if cleaning the streets becomes an absolute necessity, the best thing to do is accelerate the strike to its desirable conclusion. This can be achieved by way of dumping all that tonnage of waste you’ve collected from our streets, outside the Council House – kindly reminding the council how important it is to have a well-paid refuse collection service. The whole city rejoices as Bearded Broz end the nine+ weeks of strike action! Short of this, for the sake of our community, our striking workers, our public services and our city; please don't collect the bins on our streets.