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Strike threat forces victory
GLASGOW'S NEW Labour council has been forced to retreat in the face of a massive strike over their plans to cut the pay of 4,500 council workers.
Ronnie Stevenson, UNISON convenor, Glasgow council Social Work Services Shop Stewards (personal capacity)
Following a very successful ballot for strike action and facing a three-day strike involving 11,000 UNISON members that would have brought council services to a halt, Glasgow City UNISON and Glasgow city council have now agreed protection arrangements arising from their Workforce Pay and Benefits Review.
This is a victory for determined trade union action and is the first example in Britain of success through the threat of strike action over the 'single status' job evaluation and regarding scheme.
A protection arrangement has been agreed for those who lose out in their job evaluation scheme. This now ensures protection of earnings, beyond the original date of March 2009, until individual retraining and service redesign processes are complete. The agreement includes regular monitoring by the union of various protection processes.
THE EMPLOYERS and the media started attacking the council's workforce after a campaign by UNISON stewards led to a 66% vote for strike action by Glasgow UNISON members on a near 50% turnout.
It was a tremendous show of solidarity. About 84% of members stood to gain or stand still and 16% of members stood to lose. Members were appalled by the prospect of their workmates facing such big cuts in living standards, ranging from 5% to 35%.
The members had voted for all-out strike action without 'life and limb' cover to pressurise the council to agree protection arrangements rather than unilaterally force their package on staff.
New Labour-led Glasgow city council drew back from the brink when faced with the solidity of the action and their inability to recruit a scab workforce, despite strenuous efforts.
For seven years Glasgow city council has dithered over how to apply the 1999 Single Status agreement. For a year they have held negotiations with the unions over a workforce pay and benefits review.
There are many issues which still cause concern but the overriding issue for most members was the proposal that staff who lose out in the application of the pay review would only be afforded their protection package for three years until March 2009.
The protection package afforded a package of core pay (their new pay), which attracted cost of living increases, and a transitional payment to make up the balance to the old pay which would not. Individual retraining and service redesign was also on offer with the promise that no-one would actually lose in March 2009 if these additional elements were accepted.
For members the prospect that in three years even 16% of their workmates would suffer severe pay cuts - and possibly having to sell family homes to cope - was unacceptable. Members did not trust the council's promises on training and redesign and demanded full protection of earnings.
Unfortunately lawyers entered the arena. The council said they couldn't go any further for fear of being taken to court for applying a pay review which is not equality-proofed. The so-called Equal Opportunities Commission demands that there be limited protection for loss or else unequal pay will be maintained.
That sounds like equal opportunity for poverty. UNISON's lawyers take the same position. In practice it means that the low-waged must take cuts to pay to aid the lower paid - hardly the position union negotiators could take up.
FACED WITH the employer's intransigence, members took up the stewards' leadership and recommendation for strike action with enthusiasm. Never has commitment to strike action in areas such as homes for the Elderly or Children's Homes been so strongly demonstrated.
People might be surprised to learn that in these worksites 70% and 85% of members stood to gain. The feeling of solidarity was palpable. Workplace meetings and stewards meetings showed a mood to remain solid when the issues were explained to them. The leaders of the Social Work Services Shop Stewards, whose members were amongst the worst-hit, strengthened members' resolve by patient explanation.
The issue of exemptions for life and limb cover became a particular focus. Despite scandalous attacks on the members, accusing them of playing 'Russian Roulette' with peoples lives, the members' resolve to stand firm strengthened. Just before the strike the employers saw it was going to be solid and that their efforts to recruit a scab workforce were coming to nought.
After several days of intensive negotiations agreement was reached on the length of protection. This is only the beginning of negotiations but at least with the removal of the threat of massive cuts in living standards for a substantial number of members, the negotiations will take place without the fear instilled in members by the employer's initial proposals over protection - or more accurately lack of it.
Members have also learned that employer's intransigence is best met by their resolute solidarity strike action. Should negotiations break down on other aspects of the review, then that strategy can be revisited.
In The Socialist 7 December 2006:
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