Socialist Worker

Council workers’ strike vote crashes into new anti-union law

by Raymie Kiernan
Issue No. 2557

Local government workers rallying in Glasgow last year

Local government workers rallying in Glasgow last year (Pic: Duncan Brown)

Local government workers in Scotland have voted by a clear majority to strike to force council chiefs to improve their latest pay offer but there are no plans for action.

Unison union members voted 63 percent for a national walkout. It’s not a surprising result as council workers’ pay has suffered from years of below-inflation pay ‘rises’.

What does the Tory Trade Union Act mean for trade unionism?
What does the Tory Trade Union Act mean for trade unionism?
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As Arthur, a council worker in Dundee, said, “Our pay is down around 20 percent—we can’t expect things to get better unless we fight for it.

“No one likes austerity yet there’s maybe not enough confidence to take action. But we only need to look at the college lecturers’ strike to see that collective action works.”

But the 23 percent ballot turnout did not achieve the 50 percent turnout required by the Tories’ new Trade Union Act. If employers want to block strikes they could take legal action.

That would be a politically sensitive issue so close to a general election but unfortunately it seems that Unison Scotland is prepared to do the employers’ job for them.

This falls into the trap that anti-union laws were designed for—to get union leaders to police their own membership. It’s the bosses’ law, let them implement it.


Unison rep Jim said, “If this was before the new Act we’d be organising for a strike now. The union shouldn’t police itself—we should be bolder and test these things.

“The only thing that’s changed is the law imposed by the Tories but it shows why we need to build the strength of our organisation.”

At the 2016 Scottish TUC conference Kezia Dugdale, Scottish Labour leader, pledged that Labour councils would not comply with the Tory law.

Scottish National Party (SNP) leader Nicola Sturgeon told this year’s STUC conference that where the SNP “has the power or the discretion, as an employer, we will not invoke the provisions of the Act against unions”.

Why is the union not putting these fine words from the politicians to the test?

There may well be a Tory-controlled council willing to try and outlaw a strike by public sector workers battling against the austerity and pay cap imposed by their party.

It would provide a timely reminder of how the Tories have attacked our living standards ahead of the 8 June election. It’s possible they may not want to do that.

But nonetheless Unison members could call on the promised support from the STUC General Council last year when the Tory law restricts workers’ right to strike.

It pledged to “continue to support, and co-ordinate support for, affiliates who choose to defy undemocratic attempts to curb these rights, including ballot thresholds”.

STUC general secretary Grahame Smith has said that the trade union movement only exists because people had “resisted and broke bad laws” in the past.

One of Scotland’s biggest unions, Unite, has called for “the maximum possible political, financial and industrial support to trade unionists who find themselves outside the law”.

Instead of accepting there is no action they can take to fight for better pay, workers could remind union leaders and politicians of their pledges to resist the Tories’ laws and push back against them.

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