Workers at Scottish Power in Scotland, Merseyside and north Manchester are set to take strike action on Tuesday and Wednesday. Scottish Power is one of the world's top ten utility multinationals. It also owns Southern Water and Pacificore in the US. The workers do essential jobs, maintaining and repairing breakdowns in the electricity network.
The firm wants to transfer a number of workers to a new joint venture company. It is part of its attempt to make it easier to sack people. But workers roundly rejected the firm's latest attempt to settle the dispute. AEEU union members, who make up the majority of the workforce, voted to reject the deal by 572 to 362.
There was an even higher vote for action by workers in the TGWU union, who voted by 72 to 30 to strike, and the GMB union, where workers voted by 287 to 68 to strike. 'This is a great result,' said one steward. 'There was cheering in many depots as the result was reported. The deal was rejected despite a recommendation to accept from the unions, and management running 'roadshows' in every depot to sell the new deal. The vote is a result of the campaigning done by the stewards who for the first time in years went against the full time officials.'
Scottish Power wants to transfer a number of workers in the 'wire business' to a new joint venture company, set up with builder McAlpine. This breaches an agreement that was signed in May 2000, which guaranteed workers' terms and conditions, and stated that workers would remain employees of Scottish Power.
'The dispute is about trust,' said one worker. 'How can we trust the company to keep its word about our terms and conditions in the joint venture when they can't stick to an agreement they signed less than two years ago?'
Another worker said, 'This used to be a good job, but all we get now is more and more pressure to work harder and faster-safety has gone out the window. 'If we don't do something now, it's only going to get worse.' Workers now also plan two-day strikes on 11 and 12 December, and again on 18 and 19 December.
The action will affect Scotland's central belt, which is covered by Scottish Power, and North Wales and Merseyside, which are covered by Manweb (owned by Scottish Power). Workers have organised picket rotas and elected strike committees. They also plan to picket a number of sites where work is due to take place. 'We're in a strong position. The network is overloaded and in need of constant repair', said a steward.
'While we're on strike we are only going to do 'life and limb' emergency cover-making wires safe, reconnecting essential services-other businesses won't get repaired.'
The workers at Scottish Power have traditionally been amongst the best organised in the industry, and have often set the benchmark for the rest of the industry. As one steward said, 'If we stop them transferring us it will be hard for any other power company to do it.' That is why workers need to keep up the pressure on their union leaders to follow the action through and throw their union's resources into backing and building solidarity for the strikes.