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As the bin strike in Leeds entered its twelfth week, an agreement was reached between refuse collectors and Streetscene workers, and the council. At a mass meeting on 23 November, a 79% majority voted in favour of the council’s latest offer following a recommendation to accept from the GMB and Unison trade unions.
 
A Leeds Unison steward

The agreement ensures that the majority of the 600 workers do not lose out on pay, they had faced up to £5,000 a year pay cuts. And although approximately 20 will lose out, the council have agreed to negotiate a settlement by the end of the pay protection period in February 2011. However, the agreement is still tied to sickness and productivity targets.

This is a partial victory. But these workers would not have achieved these significant concessions had it not been for the solid industrial action over the last three months – the longest running public sector strike in Leeds for decades. Workers, united and victorious, marched back to work, at Cross Green and Yeadon depots on Wednesday morning.

After four weeks of refusing to talk to the unions, the council was forced to talk. Then they said there was no money but were forced to make an offer. When that was rejected by 92%, the council said it was a ‘final offer’ but has now been forced to concede an ‘improved’ offer.

The strike exposed the greed of private contractors who did a rubbish job while fleecing the council taxpayers of over £1 million. The council has also had to drop privatisation plans and will face further costs for failing to recycle.

The devil of the agreement may be in the detail, but if the management try to impose impossible productivity targets, then the bin workers have proved they will not accept them.

What is significant is the marvellous support the bin workers have had, not just from the people of Leeds, but throughout the trade union movement regionally and nationally.

Not only have they won a victory for themselves, but the Leeds strikers feel that their action helped secure a quick victory for the bin workers in Brighton who were faced with the same pay cuts.

The bin workers have suffered great financial hardship as a result of their heroic sacrifice and have been overwhelmed by the support they’ve received. For them, this dispute has brought them, as union members, closer together, and ensured that Unison and GMB members can stand shoulder to shoulder in the battles to come against the Leeds Tory/Lib Dem council.

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