Today, in the latest challenge to Gordon Brown’s curbs on wages, over 150,000 council workers in Scotland are striking against a below-inflation three year deal.
In an impressive and determined show of unity, workers from Unison, Unite and GMB unions are taking 24-hour strike action.
Members of the PCS civil service workers’ union at the Scottish government and the Registers of Scotland are also striking against their below-inflation pay deal.
The strike was solid across Scotland this morning. The bins weren’t collected, the day care centres and council tax offices were shut, and the dead will wait another day to be cremated. In Aberdeen, even the public toilets were closed.
The Caledonian MacBrayne ferries at Rothesay and Dunoon piers did not sail as Argyll & Bute council workers struck. The six council-run ferry services in Shetland were cancelled.
At least a thousand schools were closed, including all 169 primary schools in Glasgow. There was lively picketing at Kings Park secondary school, which caused a big traffic jam.
The picket line was made up of two janitors, all the school’s cleaners and two technicians. Some teachers refused to cross the picket. Twenty teachers at Hyndland School refused to cross the picket line there.
Pickets shut down Glasgow. At the Polmadie refuse depot Unite and GMB union members had been on the picket line from 5am. The line of empty refuse trucks showed how successful the strike was. The workers are angry that the council is taking them for granted.
Frustration at management attacks over terms and conditions fuelled the workers anger over pay. John, a Unite rep, told Socialist Worker, “We work in the public service but that doesn’t mean they can treat us like servants rather than workers. There comes a point when you have to say enough.
“They are constantly looking for ways to attack our conditions by the back door, which is bad enough. But to expect people to take a pay cut as well is just too much.”
The site’s GMB convenor said, “I saw the other week that they have cut the City bonuses because of the credit crunch. But bankers on hundreds of thousands can afford cuts. We can’t afford to lose money.”
At the City Chambers the rain kept the streets empty except for the groups of picketers who encircled the buildings.
Iain, a worker in the planning department, told Socialist Worker, “The strike has more public sympathy than usual, because everybody is under the same pressure. The government says it can’t do anything about recession, but it can. It decides where to spend money and it has decided to get workers to make sacrifices.”
Another striker added, “I think some in the union leaderships have been a bit too close to Labour, which is all well and good, but it should about representing us not keeping in with Gordon Brown.”
One striking housing worker said, “We’re not on strike for a pay rise. Inflation means we are on strike to stop them cutting our wages. Today should be enough to get a decent offer but if its not then we all need to come out again.”
Workers were assembling for a lunchtime rally in the city.
Strikers shut down Edinburgh. Ian Hood is a Unison member who works in a children’s home in Edinburgh. He told Socialist Worker, “The strike has had a massive impact across the city. Many offices are shut down completely and others are running on an emergency staffing operation.
“The picket lines have gone well – at the council headquarters 50 joined the picket line. For many it’s their first picket line as well, people have been joining the union in the run-up to the strike and have come on the picket lines today. The mood is very militant.”
Marylin Tweedie, a social care worker in Unison, agreed. “People on the picket lines have put a lot of work in and were really glad to be out. Across the city the strike has been overwhelmingly solid.”
Despite miserable weather conditions, Edinburgh's striking council workers kept in good spirits on the picket lines, reports Jonathan Shafi.
Duncan Smith, Branch Chair of Edinburgh City Unison (pc) said, 'The strike has been successful with lively pickets despite the rain. Dave Prentis came down to Waverley Court council offices to address the picket, underlining the importance of the strike.
'Our members are angry that the pay offer of 2.5 percent is only about half the official rate of inflation. People are finding it harder and harder to pay their bills coupled with food prices shooting up.
'It's really significant that all three local government unions are working together, workers unity is the way we can win this and the employers are not able to play one union off against the other.'
Unison member Ros Pettigrew was encouraged by the picket lines. 'The strike has been solid at my picket and the atmosphere despite the weather has been up-beat,' she said.
'Low paid workers should not be forced to pay for the economic crisis. The current inflation is not caused by wage rises. United action, the feeling that we're all together, helps build the movement against low pay.'
Council worker Paul Clarke agreed. 'United action is the way forward,' he said. 'We need solidarity between the unions if we are to win disputes.
'Today has been very successful. Even many non-union members have stayed at home in solidarity with our strike. They can find money for wars but not low paid workers, the priorities are all wrong.'
Calum Sutherland, a Unite member at the Russell Road Cleansing Depot also took up the issue of bringing unions together for coordinated action. 'What we need is united action. They were out in England and Wales a while back. We all need to strike together and stay out. We can't afford it, but we can't afford a cut in pay either.'
The strike also had a massive impact in Ayrshire. Arthur West, secretary of the East Ayrshire Unison branch, told Socialist Worker, “The pickets have done a really good job of turning people away from work. The strike has been solid across all three authorities in Ayrshire.”
“The strike was pretty good and solid here,” reports Neil Buchanan, a Unison union member. “Hardly anyone went into work and there were pickets at most council workplaces.
“People are angry about the derisory pay offer we have had and the fact that it’s for three years. This will mean that everything is uncertain for people as we don’t know what inflation will be next year.
“GMB, Unison and Unite members have congregated outside St Nicholas House, the council’s headquarters, to have a bigger picket.”
“There has been good action and a lively atmosphere in Dundee, with a lot of anger,” says Ben Wray. “No councillors crossed the picket line at the City Chambers. There was a march of some 80 to 90 people to a lunchtime rally of around 200 strikers.”
Over 100 strikers attended a rally outside Motherwell Civic Centre. Union officials began by stressing the dispute was “a Scottish problem” adding that “the solution lay in Scotland not at Westminster”. In other words focusing on the SNP run Scottish Executive and ignoring the pay limits imposed by Gordon Brown.
The third speaker was Scottish Labour’s deputy leader, Cathy Jamieson, who is a contender in the current election for a new leader. She was heckled and the hecklers were themselves heckled.
This created a major argument between those who were angry over the lack of any criticism of the New Labour government at Westminster and those who wanted to criticise Alex Salmond’s government in Edinburgh.
Some pointed out that while we cannot ignore Brown’s pay limits neither can we simply absolve the Scottish Executive for any responsibility for this dispute.