Scottish Power workers struck for two days last week, and planned another two days action this week. The strike, involving 1,500 workers in North Wales, Merseyside and Scotland, has been totally solid. There have been big picket lines of up to 100 at a time in Liverpool, Glasgow and Edinburgh.
Strikers 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. Scottish Power bosses want to put around 200 workers into a joint venture with construction firm McAlpine.
This will lead to worse conditions and clear the way for job cuts. 'There's a brilliant mood of resistance,' says a Liverpool GMB union member. 'You can feel that everyone is up for a battle, especially as it is about protecting jobs in the middle of a recession.' But strikers are now facing key decisions.
Either they escalate their action or risk handing victory to the bosses. Picketing is one important issue. Strikers have to picket sites where the network has broken down in order to make their action effective. 'When we picket like that then the vast majority of contractors will show solidarity and not do the work,' says an Edinburgh AEEU union member. 'Workers from the biggest contractor, Balfour Kilpatrick, have not crossed our lines. This sort of action stops Scottish Power patching together the network temporarily.'
The company went on the offensive by getting legal injunctions to stop such picketing. They said workers had to limit themselves to their bases or depots. This would not be at all effective.
Disgracefully, leaders of the AEEU (the biggest union in the dispute) have responded by ordering its members not to picket except at the bases and depots. GMB leaders at first made noises about defiance. But now they seem to be going down the same road of limiting pickets.
The strike has to be made more effective, and quickly. The company has announced that on 4 January it will end consultation on the new joint venture. At any day after that it could start transferring workers over to the new company on whatever conditions it can legally get away with. Another two days strike are planned for 8 and 9 January. But keeping the strikes at two days a week is not enough.
The key argument is to escalate to all-out. When Scottish Power stewards from across Britain meet on 5 January they must immediately start pushing towards an all-out strike. This would mean holding two mass meetings and then, if workers agree, naming the date for all-out. Scottish Power could not ignore extended action or find enough scabs with the right skills to stop power cuts.
In the meantime, all those who want to picket beyond the depots and bases should begin to organise for a way to achieve it. If the numbers and confidence are sufficient then they should go ahead and try to win other strikers to back them.
Above all, there must be a strong campaign to up the action to all-out as soon as possible. The battle should also be widened to win financial and physical backing from other unions. This could begin with collection sheets but develop to joint protests and support on the picket lines. Scottish Power strikers have shown great determination, energy and commitment. They must now step up another gear.