The Labour Party was founded by an alliance of trade unions and socialist societies in order to give a political voice to working class people. Our trade unions – when they work well – can give us a voice in our workplaces and even up the odds a bit between employees and employers, but to transform this society founded upon exploitation we need a political party.
Our Labour Party and our trade unions are stronger when we bring together the political and industrial wings of our movement – and in the face of the consequences of a decade of politically motivated austerity we need our unity more than ever. Labour administrations in local government face significant challenges but must navigate these without creating conflict with the unions.
That’s why it is so disturbing that the GMB are being forced to progress a ballot for industrial action in Cityclean. The dispute clearly arises from highly questionable conduct from managers who were keeping dossiers on union activists and then denying that there was a problem.
The Chief Executive (whom we pay more than £150,000 a year to lead and manage the Council workforce) should be pulling out all the stops to avert industrial action which would stop the bins being emptied – but the GMB plausibly allege that he has been slow even to agree dates to meet with ACAS to try to resolve the dispute.
It appears that many years of “no overall control” of Brighton and Hove Council has seen the development of a culture of managerial impunity and limited accountability to politicians. That will need to change if we are going to deliver what will be required to achieve the objective of a carbon neutral City by 2030 (a goal shared now by both the administration and the official opposition on the Council).
In the immediate term though, citizens in Brighton and Hove can reasonably expect that, for a hundred and fifty grand, the Head of the Council’s Paid Service will get his managers round a table with ACAS and develop a positive and progressive employee relations climate in Cityclean, where managers don’t keep dossiers on union representatives.
If the GMB are forced to take action, Labour Party members must - and I am sure will - show our support - but if the Council is getting its money's worth from its most senior manager then surely it won't come to that.