Bin lorry Bin lorry. Photo: Jaggery / Geograph / CC BY-SA 2.0, license linked below article

The victory for drivers in Plymouth shows the power of collective organising and the mood for combativity among workers hit by years of austerity, writes Richard Allday

The 46 dustcart drivers working for Plymouth council are celebrating a New Year which finally recognised that they are not unskilled. The regrading, won by Unite the union, sees their pay increase from a base rate of £24,000 to £27,000 – a 12.5% increase.

Partly this is a consequence of the national shortage of HGV drivers, partly it reflects a marked rise in combativity among local authority workers tired of years of austerity (witness Thurrock, Bexley, Glasgow to name but a few); but it is also a mark of the increased willingness of workers to resist attempts to make us pay for the cost of Covid.

The public commitment by Unite’s new General Secretary, Sharon Graham, to support members fighting to maintain or improve their pay and conditions no doubt helped to boost confidence, but the mood of resentment, and resistance, is not confined to members of Unite. It may be that the disputes in ‘the dust’ are a foretaste of a wider mood in local authorities.

Unite regional officer Tim Morris said:

“What has been achieved at Plymouth city council shows that by acting collectively local authority drivers can be regraded onto decent pay levels – and this could be a template for members at other local authorities.”

Refuse workers and drivers in Coventry and Eastbourne, represented by Unite and GMB respectively, are currently striking over pay and conditions. Unite’s General Secretary Sharon Graham made clear that the “ground-breaking deal in Plymouth should be a wake-up call to Coventry council that their refuse services will face long term problems if drivers continue to receive poverty pay rates.”

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Richard Allday

Richard Allday is a member of Unite the Union’s National Executive, a branch secretary and shop steward in road haulage.  A member of Counterfire, his comrades know him better as 'the angry trucker'.

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