Anger at Leeds’ Labour council as workers lobby to defend jobs and conditions

Not one, but two groups of workers held lobbies of Leeds City Council at its March meeting on 23rd March.

Iain Dalton, Leeds Socialist Party

Unite and GMB members gathered to lobby councillors and hand in a petition against the energy-to-waste facility being constructed by Hitachi Zosen Inova outside the National Agreement for the Engineering Construction Industry (NAECI) terms, which the council had previously pledged to insist on as a condition of approving planning for such projects.

Unite and GMB members protest undermining of engineering construction agreement – photo Tanis Belsham-Wray

But the larger gathering of some 500 or so private hire drivers, as part of the Leeds Private Hire Driver Organisation (LPHDO), following strikes and go slow drives in several parts of West Yorkshire on Friday, was a result of several ongoing issues. In particular, the council’s Suitability and Convictions Policy, adopted in February 2020 with the promise of a review a year after adopting, but which the council had used the Covid pandemic to drop, outrageously telling representatives of the GMB union that they had taken legal advice that they didn’t need to carry out such a review.

This policy was adopted on the basis of improving passenger safety, but carries severe penalties for drivers who allegations are made against or pick up points on their license, which can see drivers suspended for months where, unable to drive their taxis, would have no income.

Moreover, as many drivers pointed out, whilst the council talks a lot about passenger safety, little is said about driver safety. One perverse consequence of the policy could be that a driver who was racially abused by a passenger, who challenged such abuse, could be suspended if a complaint was made against them.

Placards from LPHDO calling on drivers not to vote Labour – photo Iain Dalton

A seething anger towards the Labour leadership of the council was present, with placards stating “Don’t Vote Labour”, and several speeches to the same affect. Many of the drivers, particularly those from a Pakistani or Kashmiri background, feel that their votes are taken for granted by Labour. Such is the level of distrust that has built up as a result of the council’s actions, that although the GMB pulled out of jointly calling the demo, stating that the council had agreed to their demands, many of the drivers attending the protest want to see a review actually materialise first.

But the call to not vote Labour also poses the question of what to do instead come the elections this May. Whilst from the platform some speeches talked about voting any party except Labour and the Tories, Socialist Party members on the demonstration leafletted with the appeal for trade unionists to stand themselves in elections.

TUSC supporters at the lobby – photo John Vasey

We made the point to drivers that if they wanted a council that will listen to them and other workers, then we need ordinary working class people elected in the council chamber, rather than the domination by those out for a career at present. We also explained how the TUSC banner was available to workers to stand on a common socialist and anti-austerity basis rather than simply appearing as independents.

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