Raymond Christie discusses the recent dismissal of a Herefordshire sanitation worker and its implication for worker’s rights in Britain.
Authorities in Herefordshire have been heavily criticised across the UK after a remarkable and shameful story of a council worker being made redundant because he kicked the head off a snowman while at work.
Dad-to-be Callum Woodhouse, 19, from Hereford was doing a shift collecting bins on the 26th January where he was recorded on CCTV kicking both the head and torso off a snowman. The footage soon went viral online and the incident was witnessed by a member of a household. The family in question reported Callum to both Hereford Council and Callum’s private contractor. As a result, the worker had lost his livelihood and the only means to support his soon-to-be family.
The incident can be viewed as part of a wider culture of individualism and denunciations plaguing the society. Capitalist neoliberalism has maintained its own dog-eat-dog culture wherein personal survival and success come before any communal considerations. Human nature adapts to whatever setting it happens to be in. In the desperate world that has transpired in the last year, the inclinations towards strictly personal considerations are not surprising. We have always seen this in capitalist societies, but it has arguably been laid bare during the pandemic, for instance, with little thought being given by the general public towards the safety of service industry workers.
We have also seen the ruthlessness which big business employers have demonstrated towards their workforce during the pandemic. For example, the number of redundancies of retail workers has been at an all-time high in a pursuit to expand business and cut costs. Manufacturing and Hospitality workers have been the most severely affected with mass redundancies, with the number the unemployed going up by more than 50,000 on the previous year.
Although a lot of talk has been about the initial fall in revenue for businesses, the monopoly capitalists have nonetheless profited immensely during this period and the working class have been the ones made to pay most for it. As a result, people aged 25-34 are currently at the highest risk of losing their jobs.
Workers across all sectors on the front-line have had to deal with working in poorer conditions than before, all while having no access to adequate PPE. While profits for monopoly businesses such as Amazon have continued to rise, workers have been forced to run the gauntlet at the risk of their physical and mental health.
Through these hard months, people have either experienced this themselves or have encountered many others in such hardship. Since the story about Callum Woodhouse and Herefordshire Council has gained traction across social media, many have shown solidarity with the worker and have attacked the callousness of his employers for their decision to pull the plug on one of their front-line workers. A petition on Change.org titled “Give the binman his job back!” has been created to support Callum in light of his employer’s decision.
The demands of the petition clearly state:
“A binman from Hereford kicked a snowman that was already melting anyway and after a video of it went viral he got sacked. Really!? The guy worked throughout the whole pandemic, risking his own wellbeing and that’s what he gets?! And for what, a pile of snow.. grow up and give the man his job back! Might be you next, if you step in a puddle that might be that snowman’s passed cousin and you’re sacked! No income in times like this, shame on you!”
The petition itself has gained massive support online. At this current moment it has amassed over 9000 signatures and has far surpassed its original target. Most of the anger has been directed at both the private contractor and the employer.
The sentiment is entirely understandable. Whether it is a pandemic or not, workers must unite together and look out for one another. What happened to Callum Woodhouse could happen to any of us, and we must acknowledge that not just for the purposes of class consciousness, but from a human standpoint as well.
Strong trade unions are needed to fight back against injustices in the workplace and to empower workers, and this need must be emphasised at times like this more than ever. Understanding the insidious powers of the employers and organising a movement to shift the power dynamic to benefit both the working class and their communities is the only way to move towards a better society beyond capitalism’s COVID-economy and the contradictions the crisis has laid bare.
Raymond Christie, is a member of the YCL’s Glasgow branch