Socialist Worker

Chance to kick the councils over pay

Some 80,000 workers in councils across Scotland are due to strike on Tuesday.

Issue No. 1711

They are fighting against scandalously low pay. The mostly women council workers, members of the UNISON union, do jobs ranging from admin to social work, cleaning to catering. One council worker explained, 'For years we have seen our pay fall when compared to other workers. People have suffered massive cuts. It's just a feeling that enough is enough.'

A worker helping children with special needs in Edinburgh schools can get £1.20 an hour less than someone working in McDonald's in the same city. The union claim is modest. A £5 an hour minimum rate for all council workers. They also want a 5 percent or £500 a year increase, whichever is greater. Their bosses are offering these low paid workers just 2.5 percent.

The government sets a £200 a week minimum family income target under the Working Family Tax Credit Scheme. Yet a full time worker on the local government minimum rate gets £30 a week less than that.

'For five of the last six years we have had pay cuts, with settlements falling below inflation,' says Edinburgh UNISON vice-chair John Stevenson. 'Scottish council staff are being paid on average £17.50 a week less than their English counterparts.'

Workers aren't just angry over pay. They are furious at New Labour's attitude to public services. New Labour dominates the COSLA Scottish councils employers' body, made up of representatives of Scotland's 32 mostly Labour-run councils.

'People see the strike as a way of giving these councils a kick in the teeth,' said one council worker. Many workers feel bitter that the Scottish Parliament, led by New Labour and the Liberals, has made no difference.

'People's expectations were raised that with the Scottish Parliament it would mean they would start looking at the public sector and its workers in a good light,' commented one council worker. 'But that has not happened. We have just seen cut after cut after cut.'

Joining union to strike

UNISON members voted to kick out their employers' pay offer and then backed strike action in a ballot earlier this month. The employers have claimed the relatively low turnout, around a third of those who could vote, and the 56 percent majority for action show little support for a fight.

The turnout was higher than in many of the elections which put the councillors in office. 'A majority of one is enough,' insisted Joe di Paola, UNISON's organiser in Scotland.

Unfortunately the union leaders have not mounted an enthusiastic campaign around the strike. 'Lacklustre' was how one worker described it.

Many fear that the union leaders will look for even the slightest improvement in the pay offer to call off the fight.

In Glasgow such mistrust is widespread after UNISON union leaders recently refused to call action to win back the jobs of two sacked shop steward council workers. This is despite a clear majority in a ballot for strikes. But many workers are excited at the prospect of a fight over pay.

'People are up for it,' said one Glasgow worker. 'We've had people joining the union in order to be able to join the strike.' Tuesday's action would be the first national strike in Scottish councils for 11 years, with further strikes planned.

It shows a mood amongst council workers to take on their bosses over pay.

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Article information

Sat 26 Aug 2000, 00:00 BST
Issue No. 1711
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