Last week saw the latest challenge to Gordon Brown’s curbs on wages as over 150,000 council workers in Scotland struck against a below-inflation three-year deal.
In an impressive and determined show of unity, workers from the Unison, Unite and GMB unions took 24 hours of strike action.
Some 5,000 members of the PCS civil service workers’ union at the Scottish government and the Registers of Scotland were also striking on the same day against their 2 percent pay offer.
The strike was solid across Scotland. At least a thousand schools were closed, including all 169 primary schools in Glasgow.
There was lively picketing at King’s Park secondary school in the city, which caused a big traffic jam. The picket line was made up of two janitors, all the school’s cleaners and two technicians.
In a fine show of solidarity 20 teachers at Hyndland School refused to cross the picket line.
At the Polmadie refuse depot in Glasgow, 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. Frustration at management attacks on terms and conditions fuelled workers’ anger over pay.
John, a Unite union 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.’
At Glasgow City Chambers the rain kept the streets empty except for groups of picketers encircling the council 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.’
Ian Hood, a Unison member who works in a children’s home in Edinburgh, told Socialist Worker, ‘The strike had a massive impact across the city.
Many offices shut down completely and others are running on an emergency staffing operation.At the council headquarters 50 joined the picket line.
‘For many it’s their first picket line. 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, 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.’
Duncan Smith, branch chair of Edinburgh City Unison, said in a personal capacity, ‘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 – the employers won’t be able to play one union off against the other.’
Ros Pettigrew 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.’
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.’
While there is some discussion of selective action in Scotland, there is also a growing feeling after last week’s strikes that the dispute needs to escalate to be as hard-hitting as possible.
by Jimmy Ross
There were a series of lunchtime rallies on the day of the strike. Over 100 strikers attended a rally in Motherwell.
Union officials there began by stressing that the dispute was ‘a Scottish problem’, adding that ‘the solution lies in Scotland not at Westminster’.
In other words, they were focusing on the Scottish Executive, run by the Scottish National Party (SNP) and ignoring the pay limits imposed by Gordon Brown.
Scottish Labour’s deputy leader Cathy Jamieson was another speaker at the Motherwell rally.
She is a contender in the current election for a new leader. Jamieson was heckled and the hecklers were themselves heckled back.
This sparked an 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 the Scottish Executive.
Some pointed out that while we cannot ignore Brown’s pay limits, neither can we simply absolve the Scottish Executive of any responsibility for this dispute.
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