A union official has demanded an apology from a councillor who said that striking bin lorry drivers were acting like terrorists.
The remarks – made by Conservative councillor Joe Miller – provoked uproar, with GMB bosses writing immediately to those councillors and officials who were at the Brighton and Hove City Council meeting.
They were made nearly two hours into a six-hour special meeting of the council’s Policy and Resources Committee at Hove Town Hall this afternoon (Wednesday 13 October).
During a heated debate Councillor Miller also said that the GMB union, which represents striking bin lorry drivers, were holding the council and residents hostage.
The Green leader of the council, Phélim Mac Cafferty, called for calm and urged members to use moderate language.
GMB branch secretary Mark Turner wrote: “I listened with great interest to part 1 of this meeting and in particular the contributions Councillor Miller made where on a number of occasions during his comments to committee he referred to the GMB and its members as terrorists.
“As you are aware there are a number of employees that attended that public meeting in the public gallery (and others observing on webcast) one of those being a BME member who personally, along with his colleagues, was shocked and horrified at Councillor Miller’s contributions, referring to my organisation and those associated to it across the council as terrorists.
“It is therefore with regret that I have to inform you that … any decision made by councillors at this committee will be pointless, in particular if the intention is to bring us back to the negotiating table, unless Councillor Miller publicly retracts the statement he has made and apologies firstly, to the Cityclean workforce who are members of GMB and, secondly, to the wider council workforce and wider workforce outside the council who may be GMB members.
“Failure to do so means we will not enter any negotiations with the council, as Councillor Miller is a part of that council, and we can only presume that the Conservative group and the council as a whole therefore support his comments.
“Can we also take this opportunity to thank those councillors that did raise their objections to Councillor Miller’s comments in the meeting, including a number of Labours councillors and the chair.”
Councillor Miller replied: “Dear Mark, I said you are acting unreasonably, one can’t negotiate with people acting like terrorists.
“I withdrew the remarks if I accidentally misspoke and called anyone a terrorist. That is clearly not the case.
“However, you are holding the city’s residents, officers and councillors hostage for potentially millions of pounds: when the strike ballot was never about this.”
All four Labour members at the meeting criticised the remarks, identifying themselves as members of the GMB, and the comments were formally condemned by the committee as the meeting concluded.
And outside the meeting, GMB organiser Gary Palmer said that the strike was legitimate and lawful and that he was worried about incitement.
Mr Palmer said that two members of the union who worked for Cityclean – the council’s rubbish and recycling service – had already been attacked in the past few months. One needed hospital treatment.
He added: “It’s absolutely disgraceful to call our members terrorists and say that we’re holding a gun to their heads.”
Councillor Miller urged the council to bring in contractors to clear any rubbish causing a fire risk in tower blocks or a health and safety hazard.
He said: “With negotiations between the Greens and the Labour-backed GMB going nowhere, the council must take action to keep the streets in a sanitary condition and remove fire risks in buildings.
“The state of the city has deteriorated to a point where rubbish is building up inside and outside buildings, presenting fire hazards from cardboard boxes and household waste, as well as a general health hazard.
“If there is a fire the council may face corporate manslaughter charges.
“It is important to remember that the GMB pay people while they are on strike so this dispute could continue for many more weeks.
“The council has a duty to keep the city in a sanitary state and needs to use private companies to clear the streets and bin stores now.”
The meeting was told that this was an option that the council could consider.
After the meeting Councillor Mac Cafferty said: “Councillors have today agreed a way forward to resolve industrial action at Cityclean after being presented with options.
“We thank the Labour group for working together with us on paving a way forward to a resolution.
“We are hopeful of acceptance of a revised offer to the GMB and the subsequent suspension of strike action.
“The offer agreed by committee urges the employer to achieve best value for money and address low pay.
“It also includes a request to the GMB to consider removing rubbish from bin storage areas in flats, to avoid a fire hazard.
“The proposal also seeks to involve a mediator, should this latest offer from the employer not be accepted and further negotiations continue.
“Importantly, we feel that valued key workers and our residents need to have trust and confidence in the refuse and recycling service and the way forward.
“We urge all councillors to join with us in working to achieve this across the council, as it’s clear many of these issues have arisen across a number of years.”
LIKE WHAT WE DO? HELP US TO DO MORE OF IT BY DONATING HERE.