Labour is not to blame for looming bin strike

Posted On 17 Jul 2019 at 1:03 pm

A disastrous bin strike is looming over Brighton and Hove, and for once, the fault does not lie with the politicians. The fault for the looming bin strike lies squarely and completely with senior council officers.

The union that represents the city’s bin and recycling workers, the GMB, has announced plans to down tools during the weekend of Pride (Aug 2 to the 5), following a ballot of members in which the union’s membership overwhelmingly voted in favour of strike action.

Here’s the background story. The dispute between the GMB and the council is around the council’s treatment of a union official, Dave Russell, who represented Cityclean workers at the Hollingdean depot.

The council restricted his access to workers at the depot, thereby disrupting an essential part of union organising. The council is also alleged to have carried out behaviour inconsistent with union recognition. GMB has demanded recourse and the reinstatement of Mr Russell’s access to the workplace.

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GMB branch secretary, Mark Turner, said: “It has always been made very clear that although we could discuss all other issues to seek a consensus and way forward, GMB members’ red lines on the most serious issues were not on a pick-and-mix basis. They either agreed to all or none.

“Those red lines were that their rep must be returned to the depot and that the unfair persecution and anti-trade union behaviour he was subjected to cease, along with allowing GMB members their statutory right of access to the union representative of their choice at all times should they need to.”

What use is trade union representation if workers do not have access to their trade union reps when they need them? Workers should always have access to their reps. People who work for unions as reps should also not have to put up with persecution in the ordinary course of carrying out their duties.

It is not clear what the intentions or thoughts of the senior council officers involved in the negotiations with the GMB are. It is not clear if they are acting in the hope that they have a bit of room for manoeuvre as the blame for a bin strike would go to the politicians and not to themselves.

Furthermore, it is also not clear if they are banking on the closeness of the relationship between the GMB and the local Labour Party to force through a resolution in the council’s favour.

They may possibly be hoping either that the union may not want to hurt the Labour-led council’s standing with the public by going on strike, or that Labour councillors might put pressure on the GMB not to go on strike, in the fear that blame for the strike will be laid at the feet of the politicians.

Whether or not any of those possibilities actually reflect the intentions and thoughts of the senior council officers, one thing is abundantly clear: a bin strike would not be the politicians’ fault.

The 1989 Local Government and Housing Act, which created the role of the Head of the Paid Service (i.e. the Chief Executive), gave senior council officers expansive autonomy from the political leaders of councils (i.e., the councillors we elect). Among other areas, the Chief Executive has ultimate control over the day to day operational management of council employees, including bin workers.

If there is a strike, it is the fault of senior council officers, not the councillors. Brightonians should demand a full resolution to this disaster directly from them.

Memories of the bin strike of 2015 remain fresh in the minds of many residents. One writer described the scenes at the time as “Armageddon”. Scenes in which “a tide of used teabags, eggshells, soiled kitchen paper, banana skins, smelly tin cans, and used sanitary towels (yes!) advanced in such a determined and menacing manner down nice residential streets, you could almost hear it breathing,” to quote homegrown writer Lynne Truss.

Brightonians certainly don’t want a rerun of the 2015 bin strike. Senior council officers need to resolve this crisis immediately.

Johnbosco Nwogbo is an activist involved with several social movements in the city and a PhD researcher in philosophy at Sussex University. He is a member of the Brighton and Hove Momentum steering committee.

  1. Paul Waters Reply

    What rubbish. Who employs the Chief Executive? The buck stops with those at the top.

    When the Greens were in control of the council it was their fault but now Labour are in control its not their fault. Don’t see the logic there.

  2. Alex Collins Reply

    How entirely unshockling that a Labour activist says Labour are not to blame.
    I’m sick of politicians denying their actions.
    Labour lead the council and tell the chief executive what to do. That’s why they wasted taxpayer money getting rid of the last one. Labour have failed the city in preventing their friends in the GMB from striking. It’s a disgrace.

  3. Christopher Hawtree Reply

    There is more behind this than is apparent, as yet.

    We cannot have a repeat odf 2013 when the public was not apprised of the backstory.

  4. Jon Rogers Reply

    Anyone wishing to make an informed comment could do worse than start by educating themselves about the content of the Council’s Constitution, as well as the legislation to which this article rightly refers. Day to day management of the Council, including operational employee relations matters, are indeed the responsibility of senior officers, reporting to the Head of the Paid Service (the Chief Executive) – and that is as true now as it was when there was a Green administration.

    • PickledPlumb Reply

      Which would be absolutely fascinating and super relevant if both Labour’s Deputy leaders Dan Yates and Nick Hypocrisy Childs hadn’t tweeted their support for the Chief Exec’s approach.

      Nice try, Comrade Rogers.

    • A L Brighton Reply

      Oh Mr Rogers. You are funny.

      Trying to distance the Labour administration run by your friends from having any responsibility.

      But we should expect it from you. Under your chairmanship of Brighton Pavilion CLP and the Labour Campaign Forum across the city, you managed to take 6 Labour councillors down to just 2 in Brighton Pavilion.

      You seem to have taken no responsibility for this complete and utter failure, despite being ultimately in charge of everything relating to Pavilion for the election.

      So it shouldn’t surprise us when failures of the Labour administration are excused as being nothing at all to do with them…shameful.

  5. PickledPlumb Reply

    Mark Turner. His name is Mark Turner.

    What ever your read in Jon Roger’s blog, in reality a Chief Exec is extremely unlikely to go against the democratically elected leader of the Council’s wishes.

    Interesting that Cllr Platts is now farming out Comms to philosophy students. Can we not hear it from her?

  6. Cliff Robinson Reply

    When the going gets tough, the Labour leadership throw the officers under the bus. Taken straight from the Boris Johnson songbook. We expect more from Labour.

  7. TollPuddle Reply

    The previous Tory, Greens and Labour councils sacked their Chief Exec.

    But you are saying somehow this Labour Administration is entirely held hostage by Geoff Raw, a wet lettuce in human form?

    Even Blairite Warren Morgan had more political courage then this.

    How are you going to deliver a radical agenda if you can’t even sort a bin strike?

  8. fed-up with Brighton politics Reply

    I think Mr Hawtree is most probably correct in saying that there is a lot more to this. We have the apparent police investigation into things that have allegedly happened at CityClean, although we, the taxpayers, have not been told anything about these alleged happenings, a review of the operation, news of suspensions and arrests ‘under investigation’ etc. All we seem to hear are the views of the GMB and Mr Nwogbo, which is biased coverage by B&H News. It is possible that neither council officials nor councillors are commenting for reasons (legal reasons? what reasons?) connected with whatever has been going on. But,if it is true, as the GMB says, that agreement has nearly been reached and then scuppered when a deal is taken back to the leadership team, why are the people who are scuppering not at the talks in the first place?? However, I do think the public, who will be the ones adversely affected by strikes and overtime bans, need to hear something from someone other than the GMB and a Labour activist, however guarded that information might be at this stage, about what is really going on. We residents do pay the bills, after all, and we have a right to get the absolutely basic services delivered. So, come on, Ms Platts or Mr Raw – just say something!

    I observe, without comment, that the last time we had a strike the current Chief Exec was in charge of the entity responsible for refuse.

  9. Port Sladé Reply

    Well we all knew Brighton councillors were useless, but now we have proof. What a pointless shower.

    Get rid of the lot of them and put the money into a decent bin service.

  10. Tony Stringer Reply

    So the city is going to be rendered a sewer in time for Pride, but all Labour can do is get some random bloke, not even a councillor, to get their excuses in.

    Bring back the Greens!

  11. Bad Dad Reply

    Brighton Momentum have decided to break with John Lansman’s Momentum faction. Which is a faction of Corbyn’s Labour. Which is a faction of the Labour Party.

    Are JohnBosco and the Labour Councillors the same faction?

    We are being run by the People’s Front of Judea. Splitters!!!

  12. Chickpea Reply

    Is it too much to ask for a comment from Nancy Platts herself? What is she planning to ‘can do’ about this?

  13. Karen Taylor Reply

    Of course it is the fault of the Labour council as they are running the city. Also if this strike goes ahead how they deal with it will be under the spotlight. It is a serious health and safety risk exposing residents to used sanitary towels, needles and rotting garbage for days in the August sun. LA didn’t take this seriously and they had a large typhoid outbreak. Cityclean did an incompetent job of sorting out the rubbish after last years Gay Pride festival. If they can’t manage this then fire them and get private contractors in.

  14. bradly Reply

    “The council restricted his access to workers at the depot, thereby disrupting an essential part of union organising.” = it is not actually “essential” … he could use the internet .. and/or a deputy … has/why he been suspended? .. why not use employment law ? …

  15. Martha Gunn Reply

    The sort of reasoning and logic that you could only get from a PhD student in philosophy.
    And someone who has not the first clue about the workings of local government.
    Totally ill-informed gibberish.

  16. Kerry Reply

    So there was no point voting Labour then?

  17. Darryl Telles Reply

    This is an awful article totally biased and badly researched. To think that the post of CEO only came 30 years ago becaus4 it was written into law is naive to the point of being absurd. To denigrate officers of the council in this way who have no right of reply may make good copy but doesn’t constitute an argument

  18. A L Brighton Reply

    Disgusting behaviour by a Labour party member who wrote the article and at least one other senior Labour member who commented.

    Througing council officers under the bus, distancing themselves from strikes happening under their watch, acting as if there is nothing they can do.

    Socialist Labour council? No. More like morally devoid, responsibility shirking Momentum council.

    How spoilt we were when we had a decent Labour run council under Warren Morgan and Daniel Yates.

    • Nicky Easton Reply

      absolutely everything you wrote

  19. Binkie Boo Reply

    Neither Mr Nwogbo or Mr Rogers speak for the vast majority of Labour Party members in Brighton & Hove. One is a self-appointed Momentum “spokesperson” who holds no elected office and the other enjoys his position by virtue of being voted in by fewer than 100 members. Over half of the Labour Group is backed by and instructed by Momentum – including the Leader. It won’t be long before the Greens pull their support and I don’t blame them. The way this shower is going, a Green/Blue Coalition will be the only way to ensure the city is properly run for the next 4 years. The only way Labour will ever be trusted again is when Corbyn and Momentum are consigned to history.

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