Pickets were out in force in Scotland on Wednesday of last week in a strike over the renegotiation of a below-inflation 2.5 percent pay offer.
The strike involved 150,000 local government workers from the Unite, Unison and GMB unions. It marks the second walkout in five weeks and brought many areas of the country to a standstill.
Schools, offices and local government facilities were closed. Ferries stopped running and rubbish lay uncollected.
Rory Malone, branch secretary of Dundee Unison, told Socialist Worker, “The strike has been very good and stronger than the last day of action. More people are coming out on strike and more services are being affected.
“There’s a lot of anger at the employers’ derisory offer. It doesn’t take a mathematician to work it out – our lowest paid workers would have to work a day and a half for this pay rise to cover the price of a loaf of bread.
“We are sending a clear message to all the politicians in Scotland – whether they’re local or MPs – that they need to stand up and listen to trade unionists, or 500,000 public service workers will bring them down.”
Luke Henderson is the assistant branch secretary of Edinburgh Unison and he spoke to Socialist Worker in a personal capacity.
“The strike was even more solid than last time at Chesser House – one of the two main council workplaces in the city,” he said.
“There was a bigger turn out on the picket line with 16 people there from Unison and Unite.”
It seems that the soaring cost of living has added to the anger of the strikers. For the pickets the 2.5 percent pay deal, although negotiated last year, belongs to a different era.
Tommy Asken is convenor of the GMB union in Glasgow.
He told Socialist Worker, “The 2.5 percent is shocking. It only means £400 a year to us. We want 5 percent or £1,000 across the board.”
He explained that a flat £1,000 is important because it means a higher rise for those on low pay.
At the South Bank Child Centre in the Gorbals, Glasgow, social workers and other local government workers gathered outside the entrances.
Workers were inspired by the joint union action.
Marie said, “For the first time in a decade three unions have stood together in this dispute.”
Ian Leech, a Unison union steward agreed. “This strike is important because it is Scotland-wide involving three unions,” he said.
But there is a serious debate over the way forward for the dispute.
“The next step must be escalation,” Ian said.
“One day strikes are not enough. We need two days at least. The union is talking about selective action but we want effective action.”
Unison convenor Billy Stewart gathered with other strikers outside the city chambers in Glasgow city centre.
He told Socialist Worker that the strike was solid.
“The global financial meltdown has galvanised the struggle.”
“The rich should pay for the credit crunch. We have nationalised the risk, we should nationalise their yachts. The public are with us on this.”
Semi-privatised sections – the so-called third sector – are also under the cosh. Bectu union members working for Culture and Sport Glasgow were also on the cobbles, although their strike was not officially part of the day of action.
Unison said that up to 5,000 marched through Edinburgh in the afternoon.
At the joint unions’ rally, crowds booed any reference to Cosla, the employers’ negotiating body.
Angela Nichol, a nursery nurse, told the rally, “We demand a living wage.”
Later the unions announced a series of selective actions. Strikers want these actions to be as successful as possible.
But for at least one of the pickets in the Gorbals this was not enough.
“We need united action across the unions, and across the border,” she said.