SCOTTISH Power workers are voting on strikes against attempts to cut jobs and worsen conditions. Scottish Power is a multinational which operates in North Wales and north west England as well as Scotland.
The 1,700 workers involved are key to the firm's profits. They include those who connect new customers, do vital repairs and build substations. The ballot result is scheduled for 10 October. Members of the AEEU, GMB and TGWU unions met in Glasgow and Chester last weekend to discuss their response to the company's plans to force a section of workers into a new company.
This would be a joint venture with building firm McAlpine. Scottish Power has already hived off other sections of workers in metering, retail and technology. In every case the result has been a disaster, with pay cuts and worse conditions.
The latest joint venture would enable Scottish Power to wriggle out of a deal signed in May 2000 after workers threatened strikes. This states that whenever a worker leaves the workforce another must take their place.
The company wants to clear away this obstacle to redundancies. Dougie Rooney, AEEU national officer for the power industry, was the main speaker at a mass meeting of around 250 Scottish Power workers in Glasgow last Saturday.
He said the company's plans were 'a recipe for redundancies and changes to conditions. The workforce will be thrown to the wolves. 'Management's agenda seems to be to squeeze as much out of the business as possible to keep the shareholders happy.' The workers in the meeting were bitter at the company and determined to watch their officials very carefully.
The first speaker from the floor, a steward from Glasgow, said, 'It's time we kicked the company's arses. They've been pushing us around for too long. Let's tell them they are getting industrial action. The buggers are going to pay for what they've done.'
A steward from Edinburgh won the biggest applause of the day when he called for a big push to win the ballot with meetings in every depot, and total cooperation between different unions and different geographical areas of the workforce. Another worker said, 'We know what this joint venture would mean. We have a 35-hour week. The people they want us to go into a company with are working those hours in three days!
'If the joint venture gets up and running we'll be on a 48 hour week and on rubbish money.' Workers left the officials in no doubt that the fightback has to include everyone, not just the workers who are being transferred.
'We don't want to be taking them on in wee divisions. We want the whole army,' said one speaker. Scottish Power bosses want to make the workforce pay for the company's failed gamble in the international energy casino. Scottish Power owns Pacific Corp, a big US power firm.
Pacific Corp signed contracts at the start of this year to buy electricity from other suppliers at $200-300 per megawatt hour. The company hoped to sell this on at a profit. But, just as the contracts came into force, the electricity market slumped so prices fell to $30 a megawatt hour.
The company admitted last week that the result was a loss of $500 million. Why should Scottish Power workers now pay the price? Every activist must push to get an overwhelming vote for strikes. They must also demand their the union leaders do not adopt a strategy of making huge concessions in order to stop the joint venture.
As firms cuts thousands of jobs, the Scottish Power fight can be a focus for a wider fightback.