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Striking homelessness workers beat callous Glasgow council
Matt Dobson, Socialist Party Scotland
After 17 weeks of all-out strike, homelessness caseworkers in Glasgow have won their central demand against the city's council. Strikers voted on 21 July to accept a pay rise to 'grade 6', in line with other social workers.
The dispute exposed the rotten role of a strike-breaking Labour council. It also shows the importance of militant, democratic workplace organising.
The Glasgow branch of public service union Unison said: "The offer was recommended to a mass meeting by the union branch and the striking shop stewards, and secures the central demand of the dispute - parity on grade 6 with other frontline social care staff.
"The offer creates 68 new grade 6 posts, with the council describing that number as a floor. The three temporary caseworkers whose substantive posts are grade 4 will be given permanent grade 5 posts elsewhere in the homeless service."
"The council has insisted an assessment process takes place for these posts, but the union will have a consultative role in this process. Caseworkers will also receive a transition cash payment of £350 while this assessment takes place.
"The strike has been successful in winning a £1,000 increase following the assessment process, rising to £5,000 by 2018. In addition, the council has been forced to concede an acceptable number of grade 6 posts."
At the strike's onset in March, social work management and Labour councillors publicly stated caseworkers did not deserve a regrade. Strikers' determination - staying out for 17 weeks, with high levels of energy and organisation - secured this reversal.
The success also shows the crucial role of political action. Unison Scotland threatened to withdraw funding for Glasgow Labour. This led, ten weeks into the strike, to the council conceding the principle that homelessness caseworkers should be on pay grade 6.
The council then tried to minimise the numbers it would have to regrade in an effort to divide the workforce. But strikers stood firm.
Management was determined not to concede a regrade for the majority. And, most of all, to weaken the socialist-led Unison branch. The workers had been in dispute over fair pay since 2013, when they staged a wildcat strike over victimisation of a colleague for union activities.
Bosses refused to negotiate until over a month into the latest stoppage. They also used illegal strike-breaking tactics, engaging charities to cover strikers' caseloads.
The council consciously prepared for the stoppage, including stockpiling accommodation, hoping to starve strikers back to work. They turned homeless people away - breaking statutory obligations - when the service began to collapse. Managers and the Labour council were prepared to let vulnerable homeless people suffer for months to break the union.
This action came after disputes involving residential care workers and pupil support assistants in the last couple of years. In all these struggles, Glasgow Unison put a brake on the council's cost-cutting agenda.
As part of its commitment to Tory austerity, the Labour council wants to cut posts in the homelessness service over the next year. Again it will seek to inflict defeats on the union, its most consistent and powerful opposition over cuts.
However, the strikers' tenacity shows that council workers are willing to fight. The level of public support in the city and beyond shows the wider community is too. Glasgow Unison will be prepared to confront the offensive.
The strike united all workplaces, and cut across historical divisions played on by a bullying management. Crucially, the branch leadership, workplace reps and the strike committee encouraged maximum involvement from all members. They organised picketing, demonstrations, and democratic discussion on the way forward. This has developed new activists that will strengthen the union for the battles to come.
All council workforces face a tsunami of cuts, huge increases in workload and attacks on terms and conditions. Unison nationally, alongside other unions with right-wing leaders, failed to mobilise the national action needed to defeat this onslaught. This strike has inspired support from across the country as an example of what can be won when workers are given a chance to fight.
Fantastic support came in from workers across the country. Tens of thousands poured into to the strike fund as strikers were invited on speaking tours.
They also made important links with strikers elsewhere, particularly the victorious Dundee hospital porters. The porters were on all-out strike for fair pay for 13 weeks. The Glasgow homelessness workers held joint rallies and demonstrations with them.
Both victories underline that strike action works. What if the national leadership of the various unions were prepared to call coordinated strikes? Then the fightback against Tory austerity, and the Labour and SNP politicians implementing it, could really begin.
In The Socialist 29 July 2015:
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