Scottish cities turned into rubbish tip by striking workers

By Latika Bourke
Updated September 1, 2022 -- 2.23pmNormal text sizeLarger text sizeVery large text size

Edinburgh: Decay. There is no other word for it. And it seems prescient for the tougher, almost frightening times that lie ahead.

Over the best part of a fortnight, the litter piled up leaving the Scottish capital, Edinburgh, and the country's most populous city, Glasgow, looking like a rubbish dump. It was the odour that hit first. The smell that, even before you look up, tells you a garbage truck is driving by.

That was the smell down Edinburgh's main streets. A scent to befit an even more garish spectacle: bins crammed to bursting, then crowned with empty cups, bottles and bowls, and festooned at the bottom with piles of bags, scraps, chicken bags and bags of dog poop. Loose rubbish fluttered in the breeze up and down the gutters, chicken bones laid out on the street.

People finishing their drinks carefully added their empty coffee cups to the piles as if trying to put some order into the sheer chaos.

A person stands outside a closed Victoria underground station in central London on August 19. Tube, rail and bus services are set to be severely disrupted in the capital as members of Unite and the Rail, Maritime and Transport (RMT) union strike in a continuing row over pay, jobs and conditions.

A person stands outside a closed Victoria underground station in central London on August 19. Tube, rail and bus services are set to be severely disrupted in the capital as members of Unite and the Rail, Maritime and Transport (RMT) union strike in a continuing row over pay, jobs and conditions. Credit:AP

In Glasgow, it was worse.

The piles were higher, the rubbish appeared to have been there longer. Choosing a spot by the window in the restaurant to eat was a mistake only obvious the moment you sat down and the pong permeated through the window. The rubbish heaps became attractions for snap-happy tourists, in a rubbernecking-car-crash kind of way.

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It has been a summer of industrial action across the UK.

First, it was the rail workers, then the Tube workers, then more than 115,000 Royal Mail postal staff began four days of strike action on Friday and in Scotland, since August 18, the garbos. The rail strikes, although certainly inconvenient, have not been as potent as they might have been pre-pandemic because of the shift to working from home. Parcels and post arriving a few days later can also be worked around, with rival parcel delivery firms operating.

Journalists demonstrate outside the offices of Reach, in London, as they begin strike action on August 31 after talks to resolve a pay dispute broke down.

Journalists demonstrate outside the offices of Reach, in London, as they begin strike action on August 31 after talks to resolve a pay dispute broke down.Credit:AP

But bins?

No one can make do when the rubbish isn't collected. And in the case of Edinburgh, over the course of 12 days when millions crammed into the historic city for its annual international arts festival and accompanying fringe program, the strike was felt by all. "Thousands of tourists visiting the city for the ... fringe festival getting the wrong impression of this great city," Twitter user Doug Kerr said.

In Edinburgh, the clean-up started after a first industrial action deadline ended on Tuesday but workers were starting strikes in 13 other councils on Wednesday. The Unite trade union said last week that a local government body had made clear no additional funds would be allocated for an improved rubbish workers' pay deal following a rejected 5 per cent offer, so further action would follow. Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has come under criticism from opposition politicians who accuse her government of apathy in the dispute and shifting blame onto local city councils.

But the strikes only add to the impending sense that grim times are ahead. After a long, hot northern summer, Britons are heading into winter fearing not being able to afford to turn on their heaters. Costs everywhere are rising; wages are not.

Unions are pointing to the terrifying rocketing energy prices resulting from Russia's war in Ukraine and are demanding wages keep pace with inflation. The central bank, for its part, is trying to tame inflation by raising interest rates to historic levels. Add to this a change in the country's leadership, most likely to a leader who has not been endorsed by the public, is preferred by fewer than half of her own colleagues, and probably only by a majority of party members who prefer her predecessor, it's an open question whether the British people will share Liz Truss' confidence that Britain's best days truly lie ahead.

- with Reuters

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