The Green Party needs to talk about the mess in Brighton

2:03 pm - June 13th 2013

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by Josiah Mortimer

This Friday, Green Party members across the country will face an immense dilemma – the choice between supporting our own minority Green council or hundreds of workers going on strike for a week against proposed pay reductions.

Some of the workrs could lose up to £4000 a year. That’s a choice most Greens would a few years ago have never thought they’d face. In the midst of massive local authority cuts, the Greens are in office but seemingly not in power.

Many local parties and individuals – including the local Brighton & Hove Green Party, Caroline Lucas (who has pledged to join the picket lines), and university branches such as my own – have spoken out against the bin worker pay cuts.

It has thus-far been a shambolic dispute where a noble attempt to equalise pay between male and female staff has turned into idiotic comparisons to the winter of discontent, accusations of potential strike breaking, and outsourcing the pay proposal decision altogether in order for Greens to claim ‘it wasn’t our decision’. Yet the council leader, Jason Kitcat, seems determined not to budge.

Serious internal discussion about this sorry state of affairs has sadly been minimal at best, stifled at worst. The party is coming under attack over this from all other sections of the left, and Labour will exploit this to its fullest unless the Green group in Brighton change tack and handle the situation properly. If Greens don’t tackle the issue head on, other parties will do so.

Neither is it good enough to say, as some have, that since the Greens are a federal party ‘it’s up to Brighton’. Brighton Greens – both the local branch and our only MP – have spoken clearly on this issue. It’s now up to the rest of the party nationally to back them up in this. Brighton is, bar a sizeable number of honourable exceptions in the likes of Alex Phillips and others, a rogue council, refusing to cede to the wishes of its local party, its constituents, and (from what I gather) the rest of the party nationally.

Disappointingly, the Green Party Executive (GPEX) and leader Natalie Bennett have appeared quiet on the issue.

Worthy though bringing in a Living Wage, leading the ‘no evictions’ fight over the bedroom tax, and attempting to equalise pay between male and female workers is, a Green council should never cut the pay of some of the least well off. That should be a given, particularly after enshrining social justice into the party’s Core Values last conference. As a party which has the strongest record on workers’ rights in terms of policy, strike busting should never have even been rumoured, let alone a potential possibility.

There are some hopeful signs however. Leading figures in Brighton & Hove Greens have at last made public statements about the strike action, though still seemingly refusing to back down over the pay proposals. The GMB has agreed to re-enter negotiations. And the candidate for the Hanover & Elm Grove by-election, David Gibson, is a solid trade unionist who opposes the measures to equalise pay down instead of up.

There needs to be a serious discussion about the possibility of setting ‘needs budgets’, and if not, discussing whether we should be in office at all if we are forced to act as a mere smoke-screen for Tory-Lib Dem cuts.

At what point does the party start to consider that to stay in office and continue to implement cuts would be to breach fundamental principles? As the Green Party conference in Brighton approaches, it’s time to get backtracking on the proposed pay cuts, and time to start talking.

Josiah Mortimer is a Green Party activist and student based in York.

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Reader comments

The difference between activism and public office is huge. You may decide all the policies you like at conference, if they don’t comply with the law as applied, in this case, to councils then they are merely foolish gestures.

The OP fails to consider the other reality of public office, having to deal with the opposition. The mess was created by the other parties and they are only too happy to make life difficult for the Greens when it comes to sorting it out.

The Greens are showing that they may be able to field the odd charismatic character they do not have the discipline or maturity to stand together over difficult problems that cannot be solved without hurting someone. They have made this situation much worse with their public infighting. It’s a disappointment and a great pity.

2. Inside same as Outside

Tribunal findings regarding equal pay at Birmingham City Council 2010.
See article: ‘On equal pay, sisters with solicitors must do it for themselves’ by Zoe Williams at Comment is Free, The Guardian on 28 April 2010.
School canteen work is the same as collecting rubbish apparently.

“Some” could lose “up to” £4000.

Is there a link to more detailed data?

It’s pretty basic: pay cuts are never morally acceptable. If you’re underpaying people, raise pay.

More generally, the concept that a cleaner deserves the same cash as a bin person is fucking insane.

Anyone can be a cleaner; it is a skilledless job with no physical requirements, anyone (who isn’t suffering from disabilities that prevent them from working) could be one tomorrow.

Being a bin person is something that a large proportion of the people reading this, certainly myself included, could not. You have to lift heavy things for hours at a time.

Obviously, banning strong women from being bin people would be vile and any sign that that were taking place would deserve severe sanction. But suggesting that a job which is harder than another job is not harder than that other job is just silly.

John b, I reckon you’ve got some issues in comparing types of manual labour. And you need to catch up, the bin lorries do the lifting these days.

You might as well have used expressions such as, “women’s work.”

Contrary to John b, I’d argue that, apart from the strength factor, being a cleaner is a more skilled job that working on the bins. It’s certainly not something that just anyone can do well. It’s pretty clear that any pay regime that rewards physical strength is going to discriminate against the majority of women.

i think it might be for the best if people wished for a negotiated outcome to this dispute and moved on to talk about some of the wider issues in a neutral setting. i would like to see on liberal conspiracy a, articles about the equal pay act covering a wide range of cases the problems it has caused the benifits that it has also achieved.
i also would like more thought from people about what councillors should do about the cuts. in reality we only got two ideas on the real left a, attempt to use council tax to soften the blow while also looking at other revenue measures such as projects that the council can make a profit on or b, refusing to set a budger or c, setting a needs budget (this is in fact the same as b, it just sounds better) I wonder if as seems certain some councils start going bankrupt or unable to meet there legal obligations in next five years maybe the left could agree as a whole to refusing to set a budget in those cases as unlike now it could be argued council really wont be able to achieve much good in those cases.

8. Charlieman

@4. john b: “Anyone can be a cleaner; it is a skilledless job…”

This must be an embarrassing comment for a man as smart as you, John. I won’t comment about mechanisation of the bins round because the point has been raised here (but much better by me elsewhere).

Office cleaning is a manual job but it cannot be defined by Taylorist/Fordist processes. The office cleaner has to determine what needs to be done and how it is to be done, because office cleaning is not a production line process.

9. Robin Levett

@john b:

More generally, the concept that a cleaner deserves the same cash as a bin person is fucking insane.

Talk to the unions; they entered into the single status agreement.

10. Baton Rouge

I’m no fan of the Green Party as I think they are Lib Dems with a bit of environmentalism added and that appears especially true given what their councillors are doing in Brighton but the New Labour bureaucrats, opportunist to the core, would appear to have selected a genuinely unsavoury character to fight the Brighton seat in the hope of gaining the votes of Tories, UKIP and even the BNP to defeat Caroline Lucas in the next election. Dangerous, dangerous territory which will seriously backfire on the working class in Brighton. If Labour want to defeat Caroline they should have selected a socialist with an excellent record on environmental and social issues.

11. Warren Morgan

Baton Rouge – hold on a second, the Labour candidate in Brighton Pavilion hasn’t been chosen yet, so I don’t know who you are referring to or why you are saying he/she is an “unsavoury character”. Candidates were chosen by members for the city’s other two ory-held parliamentary seats at the weekend.

The Green Group on the city council were split long before the pay and allowances issue came up – last year and this year Jason Kitcat survived the annual leadership vote by a margin of one or two over “re-open nominations”. The rebel Green councillors asked me – the Leader of the Labour Group – to nominate one of their cllrs to be council leader in place of Green leader Jason Kitcat. It’s an absurd way to function as a political party.

Again and again the Greens have either backed away from difficult decisions, handed them to officers or voted them through only to protest against them afterwards. Anything they dislike is the fault of Labour, even three years on from a Labour government and six years on from a Labour council locally. Opposition is easy – governing is tough.

12. Robin Levett

@Warren Morgan #11:

We are told that this is the second (and more difficult) half of implementation of equal pay within the Council workforce. The Labour administration did the first half; why didn’t it finish off the job while it was in power?

And since Brighton Labour voted against the Green proposals; what alternative proposals does it have, given the financial constraints?

13. Pro Green

Storm in a tea-cup! If you read into the details, there is not much to get excited about here. Read Jason Kitcat’s side of the story here;

It sounds like a difficult decision that has been delayed for a long time has been made fairly. Now clean up that city!

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