Seeing Red story header image

Seeing Red: Water, waste collection and the right to strike demand

Seeing Red is my regular column in The Isle of Thanet News. This opinion piece was first published on 22 May 2023.

Huge congratulations to all my Labour brothers and sisters who re-gained or won seats on Thanet District Council. I believe they will make a real, positive difference to the lives of people across the Isle in the coming years. But, as with many other things in life I can tell you from first hand experience, ‘It ain’t easy!’

To those people who think being a councillor is a doddle – think again. It’s often complex and demanding work, especially at a time when far too many people are struggling with poor housing, the cost of living crisis, battling to see their GP, or to access other NHS services, striving to sort out education or social care, or who are just floundering under the weight of a complex and costly life.

As the Conservative government continue to be tin eared, cutting budgets and hobbling vital services, our local councillors are brave for putting themselves on the line. For choosing to walk the walk as well as talking the talk. Moaning and criticising on social media is easy! Those that think otherwise can always try putting in the hard yards to get themselves elected and have a go themselves.

So well done to those recently elected, thanks to those that voted, to all those that also stood for public office, and commiserations to those who lost.

Talking of voters – isn’t it crazy that you now have to show up at a polling station with an acceptable form of photo ID? Even more maddening to hear out of touch MP and Tory grandee Jacob Rees Mogg, former Business Secretary lamenting their policy had backfired on the them, dampening their own vote. Mogg said, “We found the people who didn’t have ID were elderly and they, by and large, voted Conservative, so we made it hard for our own voters and we upset a system that worked perfectly well.” Oh dear! You couldn’t make it up, could you? The Tories have been caught out gerrymandering. It just makes me more determined to see a decent Labour Government elected as soon as possible.

Apart from blatant voter suppression, just look at the truly appalling record of the Conservatives, who after 13 long years have dragged our Country down. 13 years of miss-truths, half-baked pledges, victim blaming, and outright lies and mismanagement. The only growth we experience is poverty, food banks, and ever increasing food and energy bills!

Now, to detract from their failures and to confer unprecedented powers on Government ministers, the Tories have launched a full scale attack on workers rights. This Government wants to axe the right to strike! Via the Strikes (Minimum Service Levels) Bill. It’s worth noting unlike other workers around the world, we don’t actually enjoy a ‘right to strike,’ rather we have a right not to be dismissed for strike action. Thatcherite wannabe Kemi Badenoch MP the current Secretary for Business and Trade will have the authority to set the “minimum service levels” (MSLs). Professor Keith Ewing and Lord John Hendy employment law experts have said, “It is obvious that by reserving the sole authority to ministers to set the MSLs, they can be set at such a high level that any strike will be rendered largely ineffectual.” This is also known as having your legs cut from underneath you! Labour leader Keir Starmer has given an unqualified pledge to repeal an eventual Act in the first 100 days of a Labour government.

Meanwhile water companies across the Country are gas lighting us all into to paying more of our hard earned cash to bail them out. They want us to contribute an additional £50bn on top of our existing bills to update neglected Victorian water infrastructure. The truth is we’ve already paid for these improvements, but instead of the water companies acting in the interests of us all and investing in vital and obvious upgrades, cutting sewerage spills, upgrading treatment plants and building new storage facilities, our cash has instead, been funnelled into the bank accounts of shareholders. In last decade alone £14.7bn worth of dividends has been skimmed off our bills into bank accounts of ‘shareholders.’

Over at Kent County Council plans are afoot to cut household waste and refuse centres – the tips we all use. This means a significant cut in opening hours and far less access. I strongly suspect this will lead to more fly tipping and foreshadow’s yet more cuts and closure. This is a prime example of financial mismanagement by the Kent Tories. There was no hint of a crisis in waste in April’s budget. Instead of looking to the future and investing in the recycling, repairs cafes and swop shops that are proving popular in other parts of the Country KCC is again axing services. It’s cut after cut after cut!

Meanwhile at TDC our bin men are planning industrial action. Apparently the new (ish) boss CEO Ian Carmichael has tried to impose a unsuitable and wholly non-negotiationed pay deal on GMB refuse workers. Full time officer for my own union the GMB, Frank Macklin has, I know, tried hard to get TDC to the negotiating table for talks with no success. Let’s hope the new administration grip and resolve this issue swiftly. It’s high time the tail stopped wagging the dog.

From water to waste removal, to the right to strike, we are all being shaken down, degraded, ripped off. Our Country is breaking – wherever you look – we can do better than this. We must. I sense enormous change at the next General Election. Bring it on!

Of course there’s poverty, but is there destitution?” – Karen Constantine, Labour