Link to this page: http://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/548/6416
Scotland: Tactical questions for local government pay battle
On 20 August almost 200,000 Scottish local government workers across three trade unions took united strike action forcing the employers to move from a three-year offer to a one-year deal. However, a battle is still needed to win an inflation-busting deal. The following letter was sent to The Socialist following the strike report in issue 547. See www.socialistparty.org.uk/articles/6383 for the article.
Brian Smith's article on the Scottish council workers' struggle contains a couple of misrepresentations. Unison's Scottish Local Government Conference of 5 September did discuss the next step in the campaign. The Local Government Committee (LGC) put forward a strategy of continuing joint action with the GMB and Unite for a further one day strike on 24 September and selective action throughout October. This was agreed almost unanimously.
The Glasgow emergency motion was put to the conference to be accepted onto the agenda. This failed to get the two-thirds majority required. This was a reflection of branches' intentions to vote against the motion. It was later accepted onto the agenda following a recommendation from the committee to the conference chair. The motion was debated at length but with only Glasgow speaking in support (with four speakers) and only one other branch voting in favour.
Brian fails to reflect the mood of the conference and seems to suggest that the 'leaders' were somehow dragging their heels and reluctant to take action. This could not be further from the truth. As a member of the negotiating team and one of the Scottish Socialist Party (SSP) members speaking in opposition to the Glasgow motion (on behalf of my branch, not the SSP) I regret that the comrades in the International Socialists (IS) are out of touch with the vast majority of union activists and members in Scotland. I regret even more that neither Brian nor other IS comrades attempted to have any discussion with those of us in the 'leadership' who are attempting to maintain unity in action, bringing the weakest branches with us at the same time as putting forward a bold strategy for action to win the dispute.
No credit is given to the 'leadership' for the action in August or for maintaining a joint campaign with the two other unions. Brian seems to fail to understand that the 'leadership' in this dispute are branch activists like himself who have worked very hard to build a campaign at local and national levels. While the local government unions in England have collapsed into talks and the health three-year deal was accepted, the Scottish council unions have built a successful campaign with successful action delivered, concessions made by the employers, and further action planned.
Surely it is time for the IS to come in from the ultra-left fringes and actually get serious about building campaigns alongside other trade union activists. Sometimes it is not good enough to lecture fellow workers, you have to listen to them, debate with them and try to work with them for the benefit of the union and the members.
South Lanarkshire Unison branch secretary
Response from Brian Smith:
Stephen makes three basic accusations; the International Socialists (IS) won't work with others, are out of touch with ordinary union members and are ultra left.
I hoped that Stephen would have explicitly supported the idea of having the debate on the Glasgow motion. The Glasgow motion was with the Local Government Committee (LGC) and all the Scottish branches almost two weeks before the meeting on 5 September, unlike the LGC emergency motion which was handed out after the meeting had already begun. I don't think it is unreasonable that, five months into a dispute where there has been little movement from the employers, there should be a discussion on tactics.
The Unison members in Glasgow who have been involved in discussions in the workplaces and the Glasgow branch committee are overwhelmingly in favour of escalating the action beyond a series of monthly one-day strikes and selective action. Glasgow consulted with its members. Glasgow has listened to its members. Glasgow has put forward its members' views. Stephen cannot casually dismiss the views of the largest branch in Scotland as the views of the 'ultra-left fringes' who are out of touch with ordinary members. Unlike Stephen's assertion, on the contrary, we in the IS have listened to fellow workers, debated with them and worked with them to advance the dispute.
Stephen suggests that I or other members in the IS should have contacted the LGC. Two members of the LGC (around 18 people) come from Glasgow. One was supportive of the motion during discussions within the branch and the other made no attempt to alter the motion. The members of the Glasgow branch committee who are also in the SSP expressed their support for the motion. One even argued for no 'life and limb' cover. I am not aware of any request from the LGC to the Glasgow branch to discuss the motion in the weeks before the 5 September meeting. I am not sure who else we were supposed to consult with.
If Stephen is suggesting that the LGC cannot be challenged because they are lay members of the union then I am afraid I must disagree with him. We are all accountable to who elects us. The LGC are the 'leadership' in this dispute. The fact that the pay disputes in local government in the rest of the UK or in the NHS have been poorly led is hardly the point.
Finally, Stephen calls for the IS to get serious about building campaigns alongside other trade union activists. This call either reveals Stephen's lack of knowledge of the work of IS activists within the labour and trade union movement or is an attempt at mischief. The several episodes of industrial action in Glasgow over the last few years have arisen directly from cooperative activity between activists of various shades of political opinion, including the IS. We are heavily involved in the Scottish Shop Stewards' Network. Any blocks to work cooperatively with other activists who seek to maintain unity in action, will not come from the International Socialists.
Brian Smith (personal capacity),
Social work stewards secretary, Glasgow Unison
In The Socialist 17 September 2008:
Socialist Party editorial
Socialist Party campaigns
Labour Party conference protest
Privatisation and closure
Socialist Party feature
Socialist Party workplace news
International socialist news and analysis
Socialist Party review