“Regrade, not degrade!” was the defiant chant of hundreds of social care workers in Glasgow on Friday of last week as they voted overwhelmingly to continue their indefinite strike into a third week.
Their vote to reject Glasgow council’s latest offer came at a mass meeting – and was followed by a lively demonstration through the city centre.
The care workers’ dispute started last month after Glasgow’s Labour-run council foisted a “single status” pay review on its social care workers – leaving some them up to £1,000 a year worse off.
The council’s new offer would have allowed around half the workers – those with specific qualifications – to be moved to a higher grade, with promises that the others could get those qualifications by November 2010.
Over 500 Unison union members crowded into the mass meeting. Several strikers urged people to reject the council’s offer. The strike was a fight for all social care workers to be recognised and properly valued, they argued – it was not for just some of the workforce to win more money.
Strikers were also skeptical of the council’s promises to give those without the relevant qualifications a chance to get them.
“The council are trying to divide us, but we’ll not stand for it,” one striking worker told the mass meeting. “It’s all 600 of us or nothing. The only reason there’s any progress with negotiations at all is because we are striking and standing firm.”
Other union members from the social work department also attended the mass meeting. Some 1,000 of them are involved in a second ballot for indefinite action, with the result due next week.
The strikers and other Unison members have been busy campaigning for a yes vote in the second ballot and building wider support for the dispute.
Unison branch officials say over £2,000 a day is being raised through collections at workplaces, shopping centres and football matches, along with donations from other union branches.
This means the branch has been able to match the national strike pay, doubling the amount the striking workers receive to £30 a day.
Messages of support from several other Unison branches were read out at the mass meeting. Local government workers from Edinburgh pointed out that similar action is on the cards in many more Unison branches in response to single status regrading.
The social care strikers have been building links with other workers. A group of care workers went along to the CWU union mass meeting last week to talk to striking postal workers.
A group of care workers also joined the NUJ journalists’ union picket line outside the Glasgow Evening Times and Herald offices to offer support. Members of the NUJ reciprocated by bringing their banner on the care workers’ demonstration.
Robert, a care worker from Pollok, was one of those who went to the journalists’ picket line. “We came to support our brothers and sisters and to make links,” he told Socialist Worker. “We’re all in the same struggle.”
Rita, another striking care worker, added that the journalists’ and care workers’ disputes have certain features in common. “I think it’s terrible that fat cat managers are keeping money to themselves and not paying people for the hard work they’re doing,” she said.
Rita added that she has been working as a social care worker for five years. “I love the job,” she said. “It’s brilliant when you work with people and you see them begin to believe in themselves. But we are not appreciated for the job we do.”
The Glasgow strike is extremely solid – fuelled by anger at the council’s dismissive attitude to care workers. Many new young workers are among the strikers, alongside a layer of social care workers who have been in the job for many years. They all agree that the importance of the work they do is not recognised by the council.
Bridget is a social care worker in a community and mental health team. “I’m glad my colleagues voted to reject the council’s offer – it’s good that we are staying united,” she said.
“The job that we do is very complex and demanding. I work in mental health with people who have severe and enduring problems. I’m involved in care planning, assessments, liasing with other mental health professionals, intergration work.
“We’ve had a lot of support from our service users – people come and speak to us on picket lines and want to give donations to our strike.”
Another striker added, “Our service users value us. The public values us. But the council does not seem to value the work we do.”
Join the demonstration this Saturday 11 August, 11.30am, George Square
Send donations payable to Glasgow City Unison and messages of support to Unison, 4th floor, 18 Albion Street, Glasgow G2 4PF