Over 1,500 power workers in Scotland, Merseyside and North Wales struck for two days this week. They are fighting for job security and decent conditions against their Scottish Power bosses.
They are against their jobs being handed over to be butchered by another firm. And they are against being made to pay for their managers' failed financial speculation. Around 60 union stewards met in Penrith last weekend and resolved to keep up the battle. There will be another two-day strike next week and a further two days on 8 and 9 January.
The meeting also reaffirmed a total ban on overtime and standby work. There is a strong mood to escalate to an all-out strike in the next phase. The strike last week was solid throughout all the different Scottish Power areas. It caused localised power failures, and these will grow as the strikes develop.
One activist estimates that around 90 percent of the workforce were involved in picketing at some stage last week. Pickets included over 200 in total at various depots in North and Mid Wales, 100 in Liverpool, 140 at St Vincent Crescent in Glasgow, 100 in Motherwell and 100 at Portobello in Edinburgh.
Dave, a Liverpool GMB member, told Socialist Worker, 'We signed an agreement in May last year to protect jobs and conditions. Now Scottish Power wants to transfer around 150 workers into a joint venture with McAlpine, the construction firm. 'Every time they have set up one of these joint ventures it has been disastrous for workers. We are not going to see our rights thrown away so that Scottish Power can get back the £200 million it lost on its US subsidiary.'
A picket in Motherwell said, 'Last week Enron went bust. Privatisation has turned the energy market into a jungle, and we have to get our claws out or we will get eaten!'
The pickets last week were not only big, but also extremely active. On several occasions workers went out to places where the network had broken down in order to stop contractors or other firms doing their work. Union officials in the AEEU have called for such picketing to stop on the grounds that it is not at the strikers' 'place of work' under the anti-union laws.
But an Edinburgh AEEU member told Socialist Worker, 'Normally if we go to a hole in the road and put up our barriers then that becomes a Scottish Power site under the health and safety regulations. So we should picket everywhere and anywhere that our work is being carried out.'
The depth of support for the strike was shown when several groups of clerical workers and engineers, who have not been called out, visited picket lines to pledge solidarity. A win for Scottish Power workers would be a sign that job cuts can be fought. Activists in the Scottish Power unions on strike-the AEEU, GMB and TGWU-must push to make the strikes as effective as possible, and also organise to win backing for all out.
One of the stewards at the meeting last weekend told Socialist Worker, 'If we were all in one factory I think we would already have a date for all out. Because the workforce is split between many depots the union leaders play on people's hesitations about escalation. But everyone knows the stakes are very high here. We feel strong after these strikes. We want every trade unionist to support us, and we want to get a real head of steam around this dispute.'