Scottish workers on the march?
AFTER TEN YEARS of waiting for a settlement of the Glasgow city council (GCC) equal pay dispute, the patience of GCC workers has run out. On 30th and 31st October a large section of the workforce walked out on strike after an overwhelming ballot vote.
The action was taken despite the defeat of the council in the Court of Session in a case brought by the unions, and the promise of a settlement. The action was led in particular by the home care workers in Cordia - the arms length organisation set up by a previous Labour administration of GCC to outsource home care and catering, and which was subsequently brought back in-house - and was supported by the GMB and also Unison. Unite did not support the strike.
The issue of equal pay in Glasgow has been dragged out by the creation by the Labour council of the time of the infamous WBPR (Workforce Pay and Benefits Review) pay scheme to cover up the pay differential between male and female workers. This scheme was widely hated and further exposed by the court case as a means of swindling women workers out of the money they were due. After ten years of the dispute this means the council now owes the majority of its workforce a sum in excess of £0.5bn.
There has been no effort by the current minority Scottish National Party (SNP) administration to seek help from the Scottish government. It appears the council intends both to substantially increase the council debt and force through even further cuts. The strike had knock-on effects. The striking workers picketed the bin depots which were not part of the action. The workers in the depots expressed solidarity and refused to cross the picket lines - stopping all bin collections for the two days of the strike.
Despite the pro-union verbiage of the SNP leadership and the substantial number of trade unionists in Scotland who are SNP members, SNP councils have a long record of anti-union actions. The SNP-controlled GCC went further and wrote to the GMB threatening to use the 1992 anti-union act against the GMB for supporting secondary action.
The effect of this substantial action by angry and frustrated council workers is to underline the rotten nature of the political forces on offer at the moment - both the right wing dominated Labour councillors and the SNP have been exposed as profoundly anti-working class.
Three days after the strike over 20,000 school teachers and their supporters demonstrated through Glasgow in support of their 10% pay claim. This is a substantial proportion of the entire Scottish teacher workforce. The march is another expression of the anger of workers after years of real terms pay cuts. On top of pay being eroded there is the stripping of resources from schools - forcing ever more work onto teachers - plus the dreadful mismanagement of curriculum changes and the efforts to impose testing by the Scottish government.
The working class is moving into action. The question is - will this find any kind of adequate political expression?