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Victory for Glasgow's Council Workers in the Fight for Protection
Glasgow's New Labour council have 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 City Council Social Work Services Shop Stewards (Personal Capacity)
Following a very good ballot for strike action and facing a three day strike this week 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 a successful strike ballot leading to a victory on the issue of single status.
They have agreed a protection arrangement for those who lose out in their job evaluation scheme which now ensures protection of earnings, beyond the original date of March 2009, until individual retraining and service redesign processes are complete.
An important part of the agreement was the regular monitoring by the trade union of the various protection processes.
The past few weeks have seen a campaign of attacks on the workforce by the employers and the media. This followed a campaign by Unison stewards that led to a 66% vote for strike action by Glasgow Unison members on a near 50% turnout.
What was a tremendous show of solidarity was illustrated by the fact that 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. The 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 their local application of the 1999 Single Status agreement.
For the last year they have been involved in negotiations with the unions over a workforce pay and benefits review as their application of equal pay. There are many issues which have and still do 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 with all the implications of having to sell family homes to cope was unacceptable. Members did not trust the promises of the New Labour led Glasgow City Council on training and redesign. The members 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. What this means in practice is that the low paid must take cuts to pay to the lower paid – hardly the position trade union negotiators could take up.
In the face of employer's intransigence the members took up the stewards' leadership and recommendation for strike action with enthusiasm. Never has such 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 around the Council was palpable. Workplace meeting after workplace meeting and stewards meeting after stewards meeting 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 spent their time strengthening members resolve by patient explanation.
The issue of exemptions for life and limb cover became a particular focus for the dispute. Despite scandalous attacks on the members, accusing them of playing 'Russian Roulette' with peoples lives, in one infamous attack, the members resolve to stand firm strengthened rather than weakened. In the final few days before the strike the employers got the message that the strike was going to be solid and their efforts to recruit a scab workforce were coming to nought.
After several days of intensive negotiations the agreement on the length of protection was reached. This is only the beginning of negotiations on many other elements of the Pay Review. But at least with the removal of the threat of massive cuts in living standards for a substantial number of members then the negotiations will take place in an atmosphere without the fear which had been instilled in the members by the initial proposals of the employers over protection or more accurately lack of it.
At the same time members have learned the lesson that often employer's intransigence is best met by members resolute solidarity strike action. Should there be a breakdown of negotiations around other aspects of the review, which have similar devastating consequences for the members, than that strategy can be revisited.
In The Socialist 26 March 2007:
War and terrorism
Violence against women
Workplace news and analysis
Socialist Party Marxist analysis
International socialist news and analysis
Socialist Party news and analysis
The Socialist Xmas quiz