It’s time to trash government-run garbage collection & the legal privileges of workers unions

Due to strike action by our local garbage men we have not had our garbage collected for nearly 4 weeks. No one in our town has. According to our local government it will be at least 5 weeks before any garbage may be collected again. For goodness sake can we please just ditch our unthinking faith in government-run public services and let free markets, which work wonders all around us every day of our lives in every aspect of our lives, do the same for refuse collection – and end this madness.

As you can probably imagine our neighbourhood is starting to look and smell bad. Everyone’s got two or three garbage bags sitting on top of bins already full with three of four. Bags are being ripped open and their contents strewn across the street by cats, dogs and who knows what else. We don’t have rats (yet) but we do now have a bunch of ants that have decided to take up residence in our kitchen. Okay, ants aren’t a big deal but they’re obstinate little fellows and hard to get rid of. For all I know, ants attract other creatures of a more troublesome nature. Nature’s a bitch like that sometimes.

Next door’s garden is strewn with waste and litter – I think a cat’s been at their garbage – some of which is soiled nappies (diapers). Whenever I venture out into the garden at the moment there’s a vague smell of baby poo every time the wind blows. Delightful. It’s not that our neighbours are slobs, they’re perfectly civilised, it’s just that they’ve got two young children and I imagine that the last thing on their minds is the garbage bags that they’ve had no choice but to put out back. We’re just two people and yet we’ve got a lot of garbage bags by now. They must have even more.

Every bin we have, two of which are meant only for recyclable waste, is full of garbage bags of household waste. We’re fast reaching the point where we are going to have to take time out to do what government refuse collectors should be doing, but which are currently refusing to do, and transport our garbage to the local tip and away from our houses. I don’t have a car and so I’m going to have to ask someone I know if I can put lots of bags of stinky garbage into their car and drive me to the local rubbish tip. I’m sure they’ll be delighted.

We are literally paying to wallow in our own filth and there’s no chance of us being given a rebate for services not rendered because we pay for refuse collection through a statutory tax (Council Tax) and it is illegal for residents to withhold payment. That’s it right there. That’s the difference between our relationship with the government and our relationship with every other provider of services in society. We can be thrown in prison for withholding payment for a government service that we are not receiving.

My broadband supplier doesn’t have the legal right to kidnap me and lock me up if I withhold payment for a service that I’ve not been receiving from them, and for good reason. Such disputes are usually settled through negotiation or in a small claims court, and according to the contract binding both parties. That’s another thing that’s missing from our relationship with government services. A contract.

I have an agreement with my broadband supplier that is enforceable by law. I requested their services, they explicitly stated the terms on which they would supply their services and what they wanted in exchange for them, and I agreed. That’s how we reached our contractual arrangement. We don’t have an agreement with government. They first take money from us and then supply services that usually we have no choice but to use because there’s no alternative suppliers – because the government doesn’t allow them.

My broadband supplier didn’t start taking money from my account, then install its equipment in my house, and then prevent any other providers from doing business with me. Such behaviour is not allowed in society, and rightly so. In society agreement comes first, money-taking comes afterwards. Any other way would be violent, unjust and uncivilised.

When it comes to government, however, money-taking comes first and then we get what we are given. My local government makes all kinds of promises about service quality and quantity, but unless there are negative consequences for failing to keep them then making promises is just an affirmation of good intentions.

Refuse workers here, believe it or not, have three different unions, all of which called strike action recently. We’ll get to the reason they are striking in a moment. What matters and what is the root cause of our increasingly large pile of garbage is that it is illegal for the council or indeed any employer of unionised workers to hire temporary staff to do the work of the striking staff. In our case, then, it is illegal for the council to employ anyone to empty our bins whilst refuse collectors are on strike.

This legal privilege afforded to unions is a classic example of how the law can be leveraged to benefit one group of people at the direct expense of everyone else; it’s living proof of how The Law, as created and enforced by a single agency, can be (and so often is) used to directly manifest unjust outcomes and not just ones.

Every person has the right to refuse to work (to go on strike), because that’s an action that restricts no one else’s freedom to act in peaceful pursuit of their own goals. But no one can have the right to prevent their employer from employing temporary workers in their stead because the only way to do that is to use threats of violence (i.e. if you break this law you’ll be fined or go to prison), which clearly violates our society’s widely held moral principles – codified as common laws prohibiting threatening people with violence in order to control them.

So, what terrible injustice has the council done to its garbage men which has prompted these oppressed workers to rise up in solidarity and refuse to labour for their cruel masters? They proposed to reduce their statutory overtime. Yes. That’s it.

According to our local MP, two unions have ‘agreed’ a one-off goodwill payment of £500 per driver and 15 minutes statutory overtime, but the remaining union is demanding a £5,000 payment per driver and 20 minutes overtime.

Is this a worker’s union making a stand for the ‘rights’ of workers everywhere? No. It almost never is these days, but I’m damn sure that’s what they would claim it is if I asked them. The ugly truth is that this is a group of unionised workers fully exploiting the unjust legal powers granted to them by the State in order to extort a little more money out of the council, and therefore everyone else in the community.

It’s time to trash the unjust legal privileges afforded to workers unions and it’s time for refuse collection to be privatised. The latter is perhaps more likely and will have benefits that will enable the harm caused by the first to be mitigated. Firstly, we’ll have a contractual agreement with our provider of refuse collection, which means we will have the freedom to withhold payment for services not rendered and the opportunity to enforce our providers contractual obligations in a court. Secondly, we’ll most likely have at least one alternative service provider to contract with should our current one’s workers go on strike, which should mean we don’t ever again end up living amongst own filth.

In a society as wealthy and as technologically advanced as ours we should never be subjected to this. It’s ridiculous and embarrassing. If the government hadn’t monopolised refuse collection for so long and thus prevented innovation and competition in this market, then refuse collection would probably by now be effortlessly and seamlessly achieved by robotic devices that just turned up regular as clockwork, and we’d never even give it a second thought. Perhaps my bin would empty itself. Who knows what neat, time and labour saving solutions we’ve missed out on. Or maybe at the very least our garbage men would be timely and neat – as opposed to late and messy. And sometimes entirely absent.

As it is I’ve got to keep paying refuse collectors to not collect my garbage, figure out how many garbage bags I can fit into my greenhouse and how to get rid of the ants that are currently invading my kitchen. Thanks socialism. Thanks a bunch.

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