Monday, 4 December 2006

A victory for militant trade union strike action

A statement on the outcome of Glasgow city council dispute by Richie Venton, SSP national trade union organiser

The planned 3-day strike by UNISON members in Glasgow city council has today been cancelled, after the city council caved in on the very eve of the biggest conflict they faced from trade unionists in several years.The outcome is a substantial victory.The strike was provoked by several factors, but primary amongst these was the cliff-edge pay cuts facing nearly 5,000 workers in March 2009, when the temporary protection of current salaries would have ended. Up to £10,000 a year losses in salary loomed at that point.By balloting for strike action, and
refusing to be morally blackmailed by the council and their kept media over the issue of 'life and limb' emergency cover, the union has won a settlement that amounts to indefinite/lifetime protection of current salaries. Either people will be re-trained or their jobs re-designed to guarantee them their current pay by March 2009, or that deadline will be extended indefinitely until such time as these devices kick in. Many workers will be thousands of pounds better off each year as a result of this victory.The only area of some doubt applies to those staff in Culture and Leisure Services, who are threatened by a council plan to hive them off to a charitable Trust, which would only mean the one-year TUPE protection of their current wages - not indefinite protection.In addition to stopping cuts to wages from March 2009 onwards, the threatened strike has also dragged the panic-stricken Labour council back to the negotiating table on all other issues, and there will be trade union representation on a Steering Group to monitor implementation of the deal. No doubt workers will lodge appeals against the grades they have been allocated through the flawed Job Evaluation exercise, and battles will be required to fight off attempts to use new definitions of the working day as a means of dodging overtime rates of pay.But these and other issues - central amongst them in my opinion being resistance to plans to offload Culture and Leisure - can now be taken up by a vastly strengthened trade union, confident after a very substantial victory.Another key lesson in this battle is that the looming May 2007 elections will have concentrated the minds of Labour councillors wonderfully - like hanging does!! They were panic-stricken. Their opening line to union negotiators on Saturday was, "What do you need to avoid this strike?". A stark, simple truth that needs to be re-learnt: strike action works!The Scottish Socialist Party - both within the workforce and outwith it - has played a very positive, substantial part in this workers' struggle against Labour's wage-snatchers. As well as our council worker members helping to lead the UNISON resistance, thousands of SSP Council Workers Voice bulletins have been distributed around virtually every council workplace - first during the ballot, more recently to consolidate the decision to strike - calling for funding off the Scottish Executive to win equal pay without a single penny off the pay of a single worker.Our MSPs and councillors have also taken up the workers' cause, opposing pay cuts as a means of funding so-called equal pay.Some of the details have yet to emerge, but we will also need to be vigilant if the council tries to pay for these concessions through any other forms of cuts to jobs or services - as opposed to demanding extra funds off the Scottish Executive. But a victory is a victory and needs to be recognised, as part of the recovery of workers' confidence.The attention of council workers, the SSP and other trade unionists should now turn to building the UNISON demo in Falkirk on 16 December, against brutal pay cuts from the SNP council, to give a booster to these workers' confidence on the backs of the Glasgow victory.

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