An eight-week long strike by workers in Glasgow’s daycare centres came to an abrupt end on Thursday of last week – just as the action was on the verge of gaining significant momentum.
The decision to end the strike came at a regular weekly mass meeting of strikers, when the Unison union branch leadership produced a proposal from the council – the first since the strike had started.
The branch leadership recommended the deal. After a heated discussion, strikers voted to accept by a narrow margin of 80 to 71.
But many expressed anger that they were not given sufficient chance to discuss the offer’s details. They felt the council was in a weak position and the strike could have won much more.
“Many strikers did not know that a deal would be presented at the meeting, and we didn’t know that a vote would be taken right away,” one striker told Socialist Worker. “We did not have anywhere near enough time to digest what was happening.”
The branch leadership also never mentioned the fact that the rest of Glasgow’s social work department had indicated that they were prepared to hold a strike ballot in support of the day centre workers.
On Monday and Tuesday of last week, strikers addressed a series of 24 workplace meetings across Glasgow’s social work department, explaining their dispute and the need to escalate the action to win.
These council workers had voted 325 to 40 in favour of balloting for strike action across the department in support of the day centre workers – a ballot that would have covered some 4,000 workers in the city’s social work department.
This vote provided a real boost and sense of purpose for many strikers as the union went into Wednesday’s scheduled negotiations with the council – and it certainly should have strengthened the hand of Unison’s negotiating team.
“The branch leadership say that they have won a victory, but I can’t see it,” another striker told Socialist Worker. “It’s the same deal we were offered just before the strike, but with a bit more detail added.
“The union definitely wanted us to go back, but looking at the deal, I don’t think that was the best advice. I’m very angry. I feel sick about the whole thing.”
Activists who had been building solidarity and driving the strike forward voted against the deal, and were visibly upset at the result.
“We have been out for almost eight weeks and we put so much into it,” said one striker.The deal moves the majority of existing workers onto the higher grades they had been seeking. But in return, the union must accept the council’s full “modernisation” programme.
This involves closing at least half the day centres, and enough “voluntary severances” to change the balance of the workforce so that lower grade support workers will form the majority of the day centre staff, as opposed to the less than 20 percent they currently comprise.
Workers will move onto the higher grades on 1 April 2008 or earlier if extra duties are agreed. The deal also provided some details of the voluntary severance package.
The local Unison branch leadership has sold its members a poor deal. The strike saw the emergence of a magnificent new rank and file network within the workforce, but this was not able to win a no vote against the pressure from the branch leadership.
The strikers who took on an active role during the strike were confident that they could pressure the council by using the social work department’s decision to ballot for action. These activists were determined to hold out for a better deal – and voted no.
But many strikers were not yet aware of the support growing among their colleagues in the rest of the social work department.
Many were worried that Unison would pull its support for the strike if they went against its recommendation.
Nevertheless, the council’s closure programme is likely to meet with further resistance from carers.
Despite the fact that the deal accepts “modernisation”, many workers have been radicalised by the strike and are now committed to fighting for the best daycare service.
They also want to return the support that service users and their families showed to the strikers throughout the dispute.
Such unity can lay the basis for a united fight against cuts and closures that brings together workers and the wider community.
A glimpse of the fighting spirit of the Glasgow daycare workers could be seen on Monday of this week when the council threatened one of the strikers with suspension on her return to work.
Her colleagues responded by picking up their coats and getting ready to walk out.
The council rapidly backed down and withdrew its threat to suspend the worker.