On the Picket Line

UK refuse workers strike for equal pay for agency workers

By Jonathan Silberman
October 16, 2023

LONDON — Over 200 refuse workers and street cleaners who work for the London Borough of Tower Hamlets voted to return to work Sept. 27. The members of the Unite union had struck Sept. 18 for higher pay.

The settlement includes a one-time payment of 750 pounds ($915) to each worker. All 50 agency workers will be offered employment directly with the Council in December, according to the union.

Days before the strike ended, Terry Pate, the union branch secretary, told the Militant, “The company is refusing to extend the offer they’ve made to the workers on council contracts to the agency workers.

“This is a working-class struggle against divide and conquer,” he said. At the picket line, some 70 strikers had blocked the road into the plant in Poplar, east London, to prevent the movement of vehicles into and out of the site.

Ibrahim Kwaonte has worked at the plant for 16 years. “During that time, we’ve been employed by different contract companies — Cleanaway, Onyx, Veolia — and now the council,” he said. “Whichever employer, we have to rely on our union.”

A group of the strikers joined a protest of health workers called by Unite and the British Medical Association outside the Royal London Hospital Sept. 20. They extended solidarity to junior doctors and ancillary staff striking over wages and conditions.