The latest front in the war against Gordon Brown’s public sector pay curbs was opened last week after 150,000 council workers in Scotland voted to strike. They are set to take action on 20 August.
Unison union members voted by 70 percent in favour of strikes, Unite union members by 68 percent and GMB union members by 74 percent.
The vote came after the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (Cosla) refused to improve a pay offer of 2.5 percent a year for the next three years.
Although the offer was slightly better than the 2.4 percent offered to council workers in England, where strike action by Unison and Unite members took place on 16 and 17 July, this is still well below inflation.
Many workers are angry that this is a three-year pay deal.
The action could be co-ordinated with PCS civil service workers’ union members in Scotland who struck last week (see » Scottish civil service workers strike against low pay).
According to Jimmy Farrelly, Unite’s senior Scottish regional industrial organiser, “There will be joint action between the unions, commencing with an all-out strike on Wednesday 20 August.
“This is due to the employer’s failure to properly address the issue of low pay within Scottish local government.
“There is a bigger issue here. Some of our members get only 8p more than the minimum wage and this needs to be dealt with.”
Dougie Black, Unison’s Scottish negotiator for council workers, said, “This result is a clear rejection of an inadequate offer. Our members are clear that they cannot afford another series of below-inflation pay increases.
“Inflation is at 4.6 percent and key items on household bills like bread and milk are increasing even faster by as much as 14 percent. Just this week gas prices went up 35 percent.”
Stephanie Herd, of Unison’s local government service group, said, “Our members are not the cause of inflation, they are the victims of it.
“They have the worst pay, holidays, parental rights and sick pay in the public sector and without them vital services will fall apart.
“The offer is a pay cut, increases the differential between higher and low paid and locks us into likely pay cuts for three years.”
The strike date opens up the prospect of closing schools as well as libraries, social work and housing offices.
Community centres, care homes, home help services and crematoriums could all be affected.
A strike by public safety officers could halt the Edinburgh military tattoo.
Carly MacKenzie, a teaching assistant in Inverness, said, “We need to have a pay award that goes somewhere towards giving us a living wage.
“Most of us have another job, and some of us two other jobs, just to support our families.”
Rory Malone, the Dundee Unison branch secretary, said, “What we are trying to do is put a clear message to Cosla and the Scottish employers that a below-inflation pay rise is unacceptable – effectively it is a pay cut.
“Over three years it is a miserly increase of just 45p per hour.
“We had a high turn-out in the ballot in Dundee. There was quite a large response from our membership through the special general meeting and the departmental meetings we held.”
Workers in other unions can help build solidarity with the council workers – and momentum for their own struggles – by joining workers on the picket lines and bringing delegations to the protests planned on the day.
The strikes are part of the growing resistance to the government’s determination to hold down wages.
For instance, on the same day as the Scottish local government strike Tube Lines maintenance workers on London Underground are set to strike, potentially shutting down the city’s tube network (see » London rail workers on track for action).
Building support for all those fighting for decent pay has to be a priority for union activists.
In particular local government workers, north and south of the border, should be arguing for coordinated strike action in October across England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.
Local government workers in places not striking could hold open meetings outside town halls on the day of the Scottish strike to show solidarity and to build momentum for their own fight against the attack on pay.