An estimated 150,000 council workers throughout Scotland took strike action on Wednesday 24th September to reject their employers' 2.5% pay offer. Thousands of striking council workers marched through Edinburgh to a rally in Princes Street Gardens, and demonstrations were also held in Dumfries and Inverness, with other events scheduled for Aberdeen and Dundee.
The action affected council services across Scotland, disrupting schools, nurseries and community education, social care services, cleansing and environmental health, housing, planning, roads and transport – including closing ferry services in Argyll and the Highlands – registry services, parks, leisure and recreation, libraries and museums, halls and theatres and many more. The three unions involved in the action are UNISON, GMB and Unite. With inflation rising to nearly 5% the workers and unions involved insist the offer by COSLA is effectively a pay cut. Many workers are voicing the view that action needs to be stepped up to force the local authorities to budge. The Convention of Scottish Local Authorities has so far refused to increase its offer, despite the two one-day strikes to date.
A worker in Dumfries stated: "An early morning tour of council depots and offices around Dumfries showed no pickets in place......The most significant presence was outside main Council offices at 8.15am by which time the scabs were already working. Outside spirits were high but many displayed anger against those who despite all efforts of persuasion betrayed their workmates . The main demo. ended at 10.00 with a pavement march to the Queensbury Hotel. Speeches from Unison, Unite, Labour council and Trades council berated city spivs, fatcats, rising costs and the global downturn for the Workers' plight . No mention was made of lack of solidarity, poor effect of actions and how this will be viewed by employers . There was no demand for an end to a half-hearted approach to actions, no determination to close selected depots and to shame scabs." Some workers at the Edinburgh march considered the Union hierarchy had done too little to publicise and organise the demonstration. The independent revolutionary Union the IWW distributed a leaflet asking workers : "Are you tired of your union's leaders stiching up deals with bosses and government officials behind your back?" and urging that workers unite "across trades, industries and countries".
One IWW member said: "We handed out IWW leaflets about dual-carding (joining the IWW, while staying a member of your original Union) which was received quite well, but I did get into a few arguments, and it made me realise how right the IWW is to organise industrially rather than according to trade. There were 3 people who refused the leaflet on the grounds that they were already part of a union and proud of their particular union. I never realised how competitive unions can be and it’s completely pointless. I told them that their attitude was counter-productive and that they should look up the word ‘solidarity’ in the dictionary. Why become all superior about your union? As if it was your football team that you’ve supported... Unions were created to emancipate the workers, to create a united front to demand better working conditions, etc, but it’s all fractured. The rally was just the usual… speakers from the various unions saying the same thing with different words… "we will fight for a better wage….we’ve been betrayed... honest day work for an honest day pay ... we are all united….”, etc. But we weren’t united, because most strikers were enjoying a day off watching daytime TV, playing golf, getting pissed, and other workers were at work, because ‘their’ union didn’t strike... 'the dispute has nothing to do with us.' I was speaking to some teacher friends and they were all at school even though all the schools were closed. They just used the time to do admin work. Why weren’t they striking in solidarity with those people they share the workplace with, but who happen not to be teachers. How powerful could we be if there was ONE BIG UNION!! "
COUNCIL BOSSES ENDANGER KIDS
Many have criticised local authorities for endangering school students by opening schools despite essential staff being on strike. A head teacher told the BBC: "I am the head teacher of a large primary school in Central Scotland. Despite my request to my local authority to close my school on safety grounds, having no janitor or support staff, and on health grounds, down to the fact classrooms and toilets will not be cleaned and the bins not emptied, my request was declined. Local Authorities are not willing to support school staff and as a result are putting pupil safety at risk. I am unwilling to provide my contact details as I know that I will be targeted by the education authority as a result. I also know that I am one of many head teachers who are being forced to put pupils at risk today. "
Pickets in East Ayrshire told UNISON: "The good news - more pickets on picket lines than the last day of action - with lots of schools having picket lines on. At Kirkstyle Primary the pickets said that many parents turned up at the school with the children and, after reading the leaflet the Branch had produced about the Health & Safety issues, turned and took their children home. Many were disgusted that the Council had put their children at risk and had not given the parents full details when informing them the schools would be open."
CUTS, SOCIAL CONTROL AND FAT CATS
Social workers based in one of Edinburgh’s council schemes said: “It’s not just the wages, it’s the cuts. We’re getting cut to pieces. They’re wanting social workers on the cheap. They just want us to be agents of social control.” While low-paid Council workers are offered a below inflation rise, top bosses at the different Councils face no such hardship. A recent decision to review the salaries of Senior Managers at Renfrewshire Council has sparked a series of protests amongst local UNISON members. The proposal would see the salary of a Head of Service rise from £66,873.00 to £78,045.00 – a rise of approx 16%, whilst the salary of a Director would rise from £95,583.00 to £101,985.00 – a rise of approx 6%. (More details...)
The Herald reports today that : "Unions are planning a further round of council strikes for next month.... Plans are now being drawn up for a series of smaller strikes targeting specific local authority areas from October 6 and initially lasting a fortnight."
With many workers believing this strategy is woefully inadequate, relevant advice comes from the "irregular workers bulletin" Tea Break, in their special edition on the many current workers' pay disputes:
"What you can do...
- Vote for industrial action where possible and encourage others to do the same.
- Visit other workers' picket lines and discuss how you can help each other.
- Make links between workers. Invite all staff at your workplace to your pay dispute meetings whether temps, permanent, members of your union or not.
- Do not cross the picket lines of any group of workers.
- If you absolutely have to work, do not cover the work of any strikers and take on-the-job action like go-slows and work-to-rules. Don't forget to take regular breaks!
- Take control of the strike. Make decisions in open workplace meetings with as many people involved as possible rather than leaving it to union full-timers"
BAD NEWS FROM DOWN SOUTH
"Following a sham "consultation" exercise UNISON negotiators, backed by Unite and the GMB, have called in government arbitrators ACAS to make a binding agreement which members will be unable to vote on. Following one of the UK's biggest strikes in years, when half a million council workers walked out for two days against a sub inflationary 2.45% pay offer, unions have blocked further action. Blaming a poor vote for further action in a recent consultation exercise, which UNISON halfheartedly undertook while many workers were on summer holidays, officials decided there would be no further strikes, but instead to call in ACAS and hope for the best. Any decision made by ACAS is binding on both parties - unions and employer - regardless of the wishes of the unions' members.
One local government worker and UNISON member told us: "This latest blow to workers follows a series of attempts to sabotage the dispute by union officials. UNISON's leadership, while talking militant in public, sent out initial consultation documents on the pay offer giving the employers arguments. "When surprised by a significant vote in favour of strike action, they responded with almost no preparation for the national strike, very few and very poor publicity materials, and no future dates for strike action for workers to prepare for or to be used as leverage against the employers. "Instead, following the first strike workers were told to go back to work and wait for the professional negotiators, while their morale ebbed."
The demobilisation of local government workers could hardly come at a worse time for other public sector workers opposing their pay cuts. Despite UNISON claiming to be leading the fight for co-ordinated action across the sector, it has now called off further action before a proposed national cross-union demonstration, and before teachers and civil servants are due to begin new waves of strikes."
Despite its leadership talking tough and claiming it is coordinating action with other groups of workers UNISON blocked joint strike action with other unions at the TUC conference. UNISON has also divided its members from each other, encouraging health workers to take three years of pay cuts, and even divided its local government members from each other between Scotland and the rest of the UK. ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
"They tell us there is no money and that our just demand will lead to cuts. This frightens members and gives scabs an excuse to go on the offensive. They can always find the cash when they need it - to buy a new weapons system or bail out a financial institution. We shouldn't be fooled." Colin Turbett, chair North Ayrshire UNISON (quoted in Scottish Socialist Party Council Workers Voice)