Backbench Labour councillors in Birmingham have condemned their own leaders in a letter demanding that the council leaders “step back” from confrontation with two unions. The protesting councillors include several senior figures such as former council leader Albert Bore.
The letter adds to pressure on present council leader Ian Ward and his deputy Brigid Jones. Three days previously, the Regional Labour Party Board voted overwhelmingly in favour of a motion calling for Labour’s National Executive to investigate their conduct of the council leaders' continuing disputes with Unite and Unison. Striking refuse workers (members of Unite) are facing legal action by the Labour authority while Unison home care workers are also in dispute over cuts in hours and pay.
The last straw for many Labour councillors came in December when the Unison home care workers tried to deliver a card to Ward and were locked out of the Council House. The unedifying spectacle of low-paid women trade unionists being kept out of the Council’s HQ was the final straw for many Labour councillors. A letter signed by 23 Labour councillors asked the leadership to drop legal action against Unite and to end the 15-month dispute with the care workers. The Birmingham council leadership claims Unite’s action is illegal and plans to go to the High Court, using the Tory anti-union legislation to stop the strike. The Labour group’s chief whip, councillor Kerry Jenkins, has resigned, saying she “cannot, in good conscience, whip for policies and decisions that are anti-trade union policies, and I will not support them”.
Labour’s bins chief Majid Mahmood had aleady resigned over the council’s anti-union stance. More than 300 refuse workers picketed at four depot sites on 19 February in what Unite’s Howard Beckett described as “a last resort” after six weeks of talks collapsed. They struck on 22 February against payments that were made to members of the GMB who did not take part in the 2017 strike.
It is clear that the present council leadership has no idea how collective bargaining works, no understanding of basic trade unionism, and no grasp of Labour’s links with the trade union movement.