Moreland Council workers strike against garbage wage offer
Moreland Council workers strike against garbage wage offer

Moreland Council librarians, home care workers, gardeners and waste collection workers—members of the Australian Services Union and the Municipal and Utilities Workers Union—are taking industrial action.

The action is in response to a pathetic 1.75 percent average annual pay rise offered over the next four years, which given rapidly rising inflation will result in a significant pay cut in real terms, as well as worse working conditions in the new industrial agreement the Council is trying to force through.

Moreland Council is in Melbourne’s inner north and like other inner city areas is rapidly gentrifying. It includes trendy Brunswick as well as more working-class areas with large migrant communities like Coburg and Fawkner. The Council area overlaps with the federal electorate of Wills, which Red Flag contributor Emma Black will be contesting as the Victorian Socialists candidate in the upcoming federal election.

The Greens are the largest force on the Council and hold the position of Mayor. When workers held a stop work rally outside the Brunswick Town Hall on 4 May, however, they were absent—having previously released a statement on the Moreland Greens Facebook page explaining that “The Victorian Labor Government has capped rate rises, making it harder for Councils to raise the necessary revenue to continue to deliver quality community services, facilities and infrastructure”.

While the statement highlights that Greens members “support people’s right to strike and take industrial action”, this hasn’t prevented the Council employing expensive non-union contractors to collect garbage piling up along Sydney Road and other areas due to the workers’ action.

It also didn’t stop the Greens ex-mayor of Moreland and current federal candidate for Calwell Natalie Abboud calling on residents, via the Facebook group “Brunswick Fairly Good Karma Network”, to scab on the strike by picking up rubbish themselves and declaring to those who had done so already: “I love you”.

More than 500 of the 850 workers employed by the Council are involved in some form of industrial action. This includes a hard picket line preventing access by scabs to the Council’s garbage depot in Hadfield.

The 4 May stop work rally, attended by around 200 people, marked the first time most of the Council’s library staff had been on strike. They were supported by other striking Council workers, community members and socialists. The most remarkable part of the rally was the blue-collar and white-collar workers who had never met one another standing side by side, hugging and joking to each other—clearly excited to be having a fight with the same boss and recognising their shared interests.

The library workers’ action has been building-up since before the COVID-19 pandemic. Up until a few years ago, union meetings took place only quarterly and usually involved only five core activists. Campaigns around health and safety leading up to and during the pandemic have helped workers build up their confidence to fight around wages and other issues. Union activism has grown consistently, and today union meetings involve a big portion of the workforce and take place every fortnight or whenever there’s a campaign to discuss.

“At the very start of negotiations”, one worker told Red Flag, “we were told that they [management] wouldn’t budge. Well our actions have made them budge ... It’s all about building confidence slowly—people know their shit, they know what needs to change, it’s about giving them the space to take that initiative”.

The waste collection workers displayed similar confidence. They knew they had worked every day through the pandemic and that they were owed far more than the Council bosses were offering them.

Whether the strikers win their demands is yet to be seen, but the worker who spoke to Red Flag advised that we should “watch this space”. Given their determination to organise and fight back against the garbage deal they’ve been offered, here’s hoping other workers will too! 

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