“This is our one and only chance to stand firm for ourselves,” said striker Euana Campbell, addressing a crowd of about 150 strikers and supporters gathered in Glasgow’s St Enoch Square. “If we don’t stand up now, we will have to accept whatever the council throws at us. Cuts like this are happening across councils, the public service, and the NHS. We need to show people what can be done if we stand together. We need to show that we can win! We are fighting for our future, and we shall not be moved!”
Euana is a rank and file member of the Unison union, and one of the day centre workers who are now entering their seventh week of an indefinite strike against the Glasgow Council. Unlike most of the strikers, she is not losing any pay, but she is on strike in solidarity with those that have, and out of concern for the future of the service.
The strike has been widely supported by the carers and people who use the day centres. Jean is one of a group of carers who attended the demonstration, explaining, “We are here to show our support for the workers, and to say that we are against the closures. We are here for our sons and daughters.” Mary added, “My lassie is getting depressed, I can see the life draining out of her. All we get from the council are lies and broken promises. The union are the only people giving us any information.”
Sheryl, a young woman who uses the Accord day centre, also addressed the crowd. “I want to go back to the centre and see my all friends again. I have never been so sad,” she said. Unison is now holding regular meetings for carers in its offices, an important step in building community support for the strike, and defending the service.
At the demonstration, Duncan Smith, the branch chair of Edinburgh City Unison, described how a united campaign by Unison and community members forced the Edinburgh council to back down on cuts to schools in August.
Iain Ferguson from the University and College Union (UCU) spoke to the crowd saying, “You are fighting to defend an important service. New Labour and the SNP say they want to increase service user involvement – but cutting wages and closing centres is a very strange way to go about doing that.”
Peter Murray of the National Union of Journalists gave his support, and spoke about upcoming cuts at the BBC. Stephen Smellie, the branch secretary of South Lanarkshire Unison announced their £1,000 donation, and a member of West Dumbartonshire Unison talked about cuts that their council has recently announced. Unison regional officer Mandy McDowell, and John Devine, branch secretary of Glasgow City Unison also spoke to the crowd.
Speakers at the demonstration were harshly critical of the council’s consultation on “modernisation” plans for services for people with disabilities, which began last week. Running a consultation during a strike means carers are not able to participate properly because they are not receiving their normal support services, and the staff who are most familiar with the service are also excluded.
Carers have been sent two huge consultation documents which they have been given very little time to respond to. One consultation document even boasts of the day centres’ skilled workforce, and the fact that they are certified to SVQ level 3 – the very qualification that the council is now refusing to acknowledge!
The motion to the Scottish Parliament from SNP MSP Bob Doris which “sympathises” with strikers received the support of 13 SNP, Green, and Liberal Democrat MSPs, but he has decided not to submit the motion to parliament for debate. When strikers visited the parliament 2 weeks ago, they were told that funding equal pay properly was Westminister’s responsibility. Yet Westminister recently gave local authorities £500 million for equal pay settlements, increasing the pressure for Holyrood to do the same.
The demonstration was an excellent step in building solidarity with the strike. But we need a proper national demonstration, and we need to consider widening the action to other members of the branch. We cannot leave small groups of workers to battle the council’s “service redesigns” on their own, what is necessary now is to bring all the fights against Glasgow Council together and step up the pressure on the council to win.
Please send donations to Unison, 4th floor, 18 Albion Street, Glasgow G2 4PF and send messages of support to: [email protected]