Three weeks of indefinite strike action by 600 social care workers in the Unison union in Glasgow have won concessions over regrading from the New Labour-run council.
The dispute began last month after the council foisted a “single status” pay review onto its social care workers – leaving some of them up to £1,000 a year worse off.
The vibrant strike by overwhelmingly women workers won massive support from the public and other groups of workers. It was still gathering pace when it ended.
The strikes forced the council to come up with a new offer. Workers voted by three to one at a mass meeting on Friday of last week to accept the new grading offer.
All Glasgow social care workers, apart from 16 “new starts”, will go onto the entry point of the higher grade – PCS5 – that the workers were fighting for.
Unlike the previous offer, rejected at an earlier mass meeting, qualifications will not play a part in determining movement onto the higher grade.
One social work steward told Socialist Worker, “There are many lessons to come out of this dispute.
“One lesson is that Glasgow social care workers had the choice of either going down an endlessly drawn out appeal route, or taking industrial action.
“They chose the latter. By standing together and taking decisive strike action they have achieved more in three weeks of indefinite action than they could have through years of negotiation and appeals.”
Despite the gains, a significant minority of strikers at the mass meeting argued that the deal did not go far enough.
Many were uneasy that there were no guarantees that workers would progress from the lowest pay level of the new grade.
Some argued to reject the offer and to continue the strike until a firmer offer was made.
The union and council bosses will now negotiate on the unresolved issue of progression up the scale, with the matter to be decided by April 2008.
Many workers were rightly suspicious that council bosses will use the deal to promote a two-tier system with only some allowed to progress.
At the mass meeting, one striker said, “Many of us have gained by this deal.
“We need a strong commitment by the union to win at the negotiations. We will be out on strike again if the council doesn’t give us progression.”
The deal means that the social care workers get a wage of £24,200 without the need for any formal qualifications – higher than the rate on which some local authorities start qualified social workers.
For almost 400 workers, including the new starts, the deal means a wage increase of between £1,000 and £2,400 immediately.
Around 200 workers who were on protected wages as part of an overall pay and benefits review will now see their pay consolidated, removing the need for any “transitional pay protection payments”.
Around 1,000 other workers in the social work department were being balloted to join the action, with the result due to be announced this week.
A social worker who was being balloted told Socialist Worker, “I think that this is a victory, and that social workers have shown incredible strength throughout the campaign, which has been driven and controlled by the members.
“They have won what they wanted to achieve. The council has given in.
“There are still some things that will need to be ironed out. But this is far better than the offer that was rejected two weeks ago. That offer would have split the workforce.
“I think that this is a milestone for industrial action – I think even the union was taken aback.
“The action here will influence other negotiations going on between workers and councils over single status – people have been watching this dispute.
“The council was aware that there was a mood for a yes vote among the workers being balloted to join the strike action.
“A yes vote would have meant that the council’s negotiating power would have been much weaker.
“There have been ludicrous reports in the local press with the council saying that there was no need to strike to get this offer.
“The truth is that social workers began by wanting to work to rule – to work to the grade the council wanted to put them on. The council took them to court to stop this happening.”
Another social care worker said, “I feel very good about being back at work – when we went back we met up so that we could go back together. Our colleagues who had not been on strike came out to greet us clapping. They had whistles and horns. It was brilliant.
“We’ve won the deal, and now the council is going into talks with the union over the role and duties of social care workers. The strike has opened a door. For the first time in 30 years they have agreed to talk about our roles.
“It’s not a perfect deal, but most of us are really happy. I think that there will be ripples throughout Scotland where other people are in talks over single status. We’ve shown that you can fight and you can win.”
The strikers are clear that their strike action has been a tremendous success. The solidarity shown by other council workers and trade unionists across the country has been amazing.
Glasgow council now knows that workers will not be bullied into accepting attacks on their pay and conditions.
The social care workers’ battle will be an inspiration to all other workers currently fighting their bosses.
A ballot of Unison union members working for Edinburgh council against redundancies that are part of a £10 million package of cuts was to end on Wedensday of this week. A yes vote would see a strike next week.
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