Brighton GMB members vote to break Kitcat

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GMB members employed by Brighton and Hove City Council have voted overwhelmingly in favour of taking industrial action in response to Green Party plans to reduce their take home pay.

The members, who are employed in refuse, recycling and street sweeping, voted as follows:

Votes in favour of strike action: 95.6%

As a result GMB has formed a strike committee, which has decided that action will begin with a full week’s strike commencing on 14th June. Further dates of action will be announced in due course.

The dispute began in January when the Council’s Green Party leader, Jason Kitcat, gave full authority to its £150,000 Chief Executive, Penny Thompson, to negotiate and implement a revised pay and allowances package without any recourse to Councillors. This led to a final offer being made in April, which included cuts of up to £4000 a head from some of the Council’s lowest paid employees.

Mark Turner, GMB Branch Secretary said:

“A 96% vote in favour of industrial action clearly shows that the workforce are determined to fight these unfair cuts.

Cityclean employees have delivered over £7.5M of efficiency savings for the Council, whilst still maintaining a record satisfaction rating of over 89% (See notes to editors 1) in the most recent survey of the public. In return they have been rewarded with 3 years of pay freezes and now the Council is seeking to implement cuts to their take home pay of up to £4000 a head.

Having stood on a platform of fighting austerity and defending workers rights, the Green Party should now be ashamed that their leader, Jason Kitcat, is seeking to slash and burn the terms and conditions of some of the lowest paid staff in the Council.

Whilst our members do not take strike action lightly, they have no option but to defend themselves from these savage cuts. At a meeting of the workforce this morning, they have personally asked me to thank the public for the overwhelming support they have received, with over 1,500 residents signing petition on our website and posters in support appearing in windows throughout the City.

20 comments on “Brighton GMB members vote to break Kitcat

  1. Manzil on said:

    Good for the council workers.

    Despite generally being left cold by the site, I’ve gotten into the habit of looking at Jason Kitkat’s Twitter feed. It’s the equivalent of those screenshots of the Turkish media’s complete blackout of the ongoing protests. It must be a very surreal world he lives in.

    In Southampton, when refuse workers struck against cuts to pay (with only about 55% voting for strike action), it brought down the Tory council at the next election, and members got their pay restored. I doubt that a situation where 96% vote to strike will see any less determination.

    Shame Kitkat can’t see the iceberg approaching, really.

    The rest of Brighton Green Party must realise how this will turn out. What the hell are they waiting for?

  2. Vanya on said:

    Caroline Lucas is an asset for the left in parliament and I understand that the Greens have played a positive role re the bedroom tax on the council, so if either are adversely affected by this in the next elections it will be tragic. But again, what are they going to do about it? Surely they don’t believe its enough just say they don’t agree.

    The Greens need to realise that substantial numbers of those people who vote for them in urban areas do so because they are seen as better than Labour. If they seem to be no better or even worse in their main stronghold, the future may not be so good.

  3. The Green Party also clearly fails to understand who they are taking on. GMB are not Unison, not only will GMB never walk away, but the City Clean workers will have total unflinching support from their stewards, the branch, their organisers, region, national officers, right up to Paul Kenny ; but they won’t just face a strike, but also political campaigning at every level to prosecute the interests of our members.

  4. Andy Newman,

    It all depends on what you mean by the Green Party of course. Brighton Green Party has voted to support the City Clean workers and called on the Council (i.e. Kitcat and a slim majority of the Green councillors) to settle on the basis of no pay cuts. Caroline has backed the workers and said she will be on the picket line with them. Not only Green Left but the Deputy Party Leader and local parties and party members from all over the country are publicly backing the workers.

    However, the problem is that the party not only has no mechanisms for holding people like Kitcat to account but the party’s leading bodies – it’s Executive Committee and it’s Regional Committee (a curious name for it’s national committee) – appear to be totally ill equipped to deal with a crisis like this, even to the point of not seeming to be able to issue a public statement on the Brighton situation. Of course, if they did they would have to either back the local party, Caroline and the City Clean workers against Kitcat (and watch the Green Group split and go out of office as a result) or side with him against the majority of active party members and their only MP and watch many of their activists walk out. Either way they are fucked. So they are paralysed, although no doubt someone (possibly the External Communications Co-ordinator) will attempt to square the circle with some sort of anodyne press statement.

    This entirely self induced crisis is the inevitable result of the Green Party’s petit bourgeois left reformist politics. Because they have no real grasp of the nature or function of the state or any conception of the fundamental class nature of the political battles they have blundered into, despite their sincere (in most cases) commitment to progressive causes, when push comes to shove most Green councillors will be pushed and shoved – to the right – in just the same way as has happened to left Labour councillors in their thousands over the years. It is no longer possible for Greens to imagine that there is a painless route to progress that just needs perfectly formed patent remedies and good will – they have to decide what side they are on. This is the Green Party’s Comrade Delta moment.

  5. Sean Thompson,
    Yes that is well argued.

    Kitcat has shown extreme naivity in treating this as a non political and technocratic issue that can be passed to officers ; but the Green councillors all voted to abdicate responsibility to the non elected executive officers, not just Kitcat and his supporters.

    But politics is unforgiving, in terms of reputational damage, failure by the Green Party and Nayalie Bennett to control Kitcat will bear the same cost as supporting him

  6. Andy Newman: GMB are not Unison, not only will GMB never walk away, but the City Clean workers will have total unflinching support from their stewards, the branch, their organisers, region, national officers, right up to Paul Kenny ; but they won’t just face a strike, but also political campaigning at every level to prosecute the interests of our members.

    Andy, this is a dangerous line of argument. I am an admirer of the turn the GMB has taken but it would be very brave to suggest that it could not return to its old, deeply corrupt, ways with unaccoutable regional barons able to establish dynastic succession and shoehorn a collection of disreputable right wing Labour candidates into safe seats. This produced sinecures not only the sorry collection of SDP defectors in the North East but one Tony Blair and a clutch of New Labour types and went with his went with a long history of cosy deals with employers.

    The direction unions take is always the product of struggle within and this process is always uneven. Unison suffers from a leadership so loyal to the Labour Party that its efforts to square this with a membership that is markedly unenthusiastic about the connection produce a weird impasse in which rehetorial militancy is matched by a studied indifference to united action.

    GMB makes different noises but Brother Kenny’s occasional outbursts against Labour’s rightwing leadership and class collaborationist policies woud have more credibility if they were matched by a more active approach to change things with the party. I don’t doubt for a moment that Brighton GMB members will have unflinching support. I rather doubt they would have it if Brighton Council was Labour.

  7. Vanya on said:

    #8 Andy’s comment read to like something written by someone who’s just got back from a rousing union conference.

  8. Nick Wright: I don’t doubt for a moment that Brighton GMB members will have unflinching support

    In the context of the current dispute with Brighton and Hove’s Cityclean dept, that is all we need to consider. We will deliver the mother of all fights, and given my own position in Southern Region of the GMB, who will be prosecuting the dispute I am not going to qualify myself.

    It is simply true, in this specific conjuncture, that GMB has a better capacity to deliver a fight in Brighton than UNISON would have; and we do not need to hypothetise – in the context of this dispute – about how things might be different if Brighton had a Labour council (frankly, Brighton and Hove Labour are some distance from the values of the trade unions, so that is not a far fetched scenario).

    Of course, there are no guarantees in union politics, and the sucessful shift to a more combative organising agenda in GMB is more pronounced in some regions than in others

  9. Manzil on said:

    Vanya:
    #8 Andy’s comment read to like something written by someone who’s just got back from a rousing union conference.

    John Grimshaw:
    Or a Trotskyist rally?

    But you repeat yourselves.

    (Ithangyew.)

  10. Andy Newman: and the sucessful shift to a more combative organising agenda in GMB is more pronounced in some regions than in others

    This is a positive development and something similar is happening in Unison with some regions beginning to challenge the passivity of the leadership.
    This has implications for the succession and if the most positive trends in all parts of the union were to find a way of working more constructively we could see a new configuration emerging.
    Rather than trying to score points of each other it might be a good idea to begin to develop a more united cross union approach at local and regional level with an emphasis on action.

  11. Karl Stewart on said:

    “GMB are not Unison, GMB never walk away,”.

    Well said Andy – the only union to win a national strike against Thatcher.

  12. Nick Wright: Unison suffers from a leadership so loyal to the Labour Party that its efforts to square this with a membership that is markedly unenthusiastic about the connection produce a weird impasse in which rehetorial militancy is matched by a studied indifference to united action.

    You see, I don’t really agree that this is very relevent. UNISON is in a particular time and place where its business model, and the process driven conventions of traditional public sector trade unionism are coming under increasing strain; and it has convinced itself – rightly or wrongly – that the majority of its members want a servicing model. In particular UNISON has really struggled with the new culture of private sector management that outsourcing has brought in.

    From my observation that has led to a rather passive-aggressive industrial strategy, prepared to take quite militant action, but almost pitch perfect calibration to fail to overturn management.

    Nick Wright: Rather than trying to score points of each other it might be a good idea to begin to develop a more united cross union approach at local and regional level with an emphasis on action.

    I am not going to discuss that in a public forum. As you may well know two regions of GMB both declined to support a recent regional Morning Star conference, for not unrelated reasons.

  13. Andy Newman: As you may well know two regions of GMB both declined to support a recent regional Morning Star conference, for not unrelated reasons.

    I cannot imagine any circumstances in which a union would want to decline to attend a Morning Star regional conference.

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