Manual workers employed by City of Edinburgh Council (CEC) are approaching the sixth month of a dispute over the implementation of its equal pay adjustment.
Among the hardest hit by the settlement would be the refuse and street cleansing workers, some of whom face a wage cut of up to £4000-5000. In response, they have declared an overtime ban and strict adherence to the Council's health & safety manual.
The work-to-rule includes all CEC manual workers in the Unite union, from gravediggers to catering staff, and has held steady over the period. In an attempt to save face during the Festival month, CEC began an expensive buying-in of scab labour. Initially these were brought from Liverpool by the agency Assist, but since it was revealed that public funds were being used to put them up in a £100-per-night hotel, scabs are being recruited locally.
In response, local people (including members of the Anarchist Federation and Industrial Workers of the World) have picketed scab bin lorries on 4 or 5 occasions, "ambushing" them and preventing them from moving along their route. CEC workers have welcomed the actions as putting the issue back on the public agenda and raising their morale. Two issues of a solidarity news-sheet, The Edinburgh Muckraker, have been distributed to council manual workers and members of the public. The first issue was popular enough that 4000 copies of the next issue 2 will be published thanks to funds collected by bin workers.
In mid-October, a mass meeting of affected workers was held, 400 from all sites and departments. The mood there was angry, and union officials were barracked for their inaction over management harassment techniques such as withholding pay for so-called "partial performance". The meeting demanded that the union go back to negotiations on the condition that "not a penny less" be offered by the Council.
At time of writing, anger remains high in the workforce. There are mutterings of one-day-a-week strikes but for now the work-to-rule will continue over the Xmas & Hogmanay bank holidays and the Council is continuing to pay over the odds for scab workers, worsening its self-inflicted budget crisis. The manual workers believe that Edinburgh's lack of funds will work in its favour - the dispute is hurting the Council more than it is hurting the manual workers.
Elsewhere, in similar disputes refuse workers in Leeds forced management to backtrack after an 11 week strike, and Brighton City Clean also beat pay cuts with strike action.
Text slightly edited from www.afed.org.uk by libcom