Glasgow Labour council leader Frank McAveety acts like a man on a kamikaze mission.
It will be nothing short of a miracle if the veteran Blairite and his councillors avoid a rout in the Scottish council elections in May next year. The Scottish National Party (SNP) is widely predicted to sweep the board.
Years of betrayals have seen support for Labour in the city disintegrate but McAveety has put the foot on the accelerator. Some suspect it’s about leaving the biggest mess possible for the SNP.
In 1997-99, he attacked workers with anti-union laws, and their conditions with a sign or be sacked ultimatum. It was similar to the attack unleashed by Labour today on teaching assistants in County Durham.
Last week McAveety condemned trade unions. He said they “are prepared to make the public suffer by calling for strikes when their members are getting wage increases”.
The bit missing was that the wage rise was the result of CSG workers fighting for it, after years of low pay. They still don’t have parity with council employees—so their action continues every weekend.
Labour’s “arm’s length” companies were created to drive through cuts and hammer conditions. But years of being squeezed for more work and no extra money has seen workers fight back.
At Cordia, bosses upped the ante against janitors who have been taking action since January to receive the same extra payments available to council employees.
In a shock “janitorial review” a new pilot scheme was announced that could cut 25 percent of jobs in the city. But janitors escalated action with a two-week walkout on Monday, mounting mass pickets at the schools in the pilot the day it was due to start.
Not content with two disputes Labour provoked another, bigger group of workers by voting to privatise council IT services. It even allowed the multinational it hopes will run the service to try and bribe workers with shares in the company. IT workers were set to strike on Thursday.
All three disputes look set to continue into next year as Labour chiefs bunker down for the winter. The Unison union, which represents most of the workers involved, has written to the leaders of both the Scottish and British Labour parties calling on them to publicly back the workers’ fight.
As Socialist Worker went to press neither Scottish Labour leader Kezia Dugdale, her deputy Alex Rowley, Jeremy Corbyn or John McDonnell had responded.
It’s time they spoke out and backed council staff facing Labour cuts.
McAveety’s days are numbered after decades of cuts
If any Glasgow council worker was unfortunate enough to hear Frank McAveety’s speech at the Labour Party conference in September it would, undoubtedly, have made their blood boil.
Labour’s £1 billion transfer of Glasgow’s council housing out of public hands was apparently cause to celebrate.
McAveety added, “We were the first council in Scotland to introduce the Living Wage,” ignoring how Labour’s outsourcing consistently drove workers’ pay and conditions down.
“We were the first council in Scotland to say the Trade Union Bill was unacceptable,” he continued. But Glasgow council has used existing anti-union laws against its workers. When the SNP bids to take over the council in May, McAveety insisted that “we must remind people what difference having a Labour council can make to everyone’s life”.
In the last two years in Glasgow that’s meant attempts to scrap public holidays for council workers and free school buses for the poorest children. Funding cuts have also gutted mental health services.
Labour’s time is coming to an end. Through most of the 1950s, 60s and 70s—and since 1980 its councillors have run Glasgow. But for more than a decade now the political map of Scotland has been turning yellow as the SNP cements its dominance.
Since the 2014 independence referendum that process has accelerated.
At the last Scottish council elections in 2012 Glasgow Labour was in turmoil as a result of an internal power struggle between rival cliques—coincidentally as McAveety returned to the council fold.
Despite the internal warfare Labour held Glasgow. But the SNP also made gains and has comfortably won six by-elections on the trot since, further evidence of the party’s growing support in the city.
Despite its “anti-austerity” image the SNP Scottish government has presided over massive cuts and at council level in Glasgow has offered nothing but a re-ordering of Labour budget cuts.
The only thing capable of saving Glasgow Labour councillors—fighting to defend the working class—is the opposite of what they are doing.
Resisting the Blairite council
In 1997 Tony Blair was elected prime minister. In the same year Frank McAveety became leader of Glasgow City Council.
His administration rapidly found itself facing two major industrial disputes against New Labour’s “modernising” agenda—involving social workers and library workers.
Groups of workers often viewed as unlikely to take action fought back and challenged New Labour’s cuts head on.
Those and subsequent fights had a strong bearing on disputes in the years after.
The lessons have helped groups of workers beat back the Labour councillors and the arm’s length bosses.
Homelessness caseworkers went on indefinite strike last year for almost four months—they were as tough as the current groups that have moved into battle.
Politicising their dispute, putting pressure on Labour and maximising the solidarity of other trade unionists were key to the victory they won.