Polmadie this morning and day 2 of the a Glasgow cleansing workers strike.

Polmadie this morning and day 2 of the a Glasgow cleansing workers strike.   (Click to enlarge: opens in new window)

Socialist Party Scotland reporters

COP26 in Glasgow has begun with a show of working-class power.

Over 800 members of the GMB trade union have shut down Glasgow cleansing services on day one of a planned week-long strike. Socialist Party Scotland brought our support and solidarity to the picket.

Bin and refuse workers are incensed at a pay offer from the employers that goes nowhere near to covering cost of living increases.

Years of cuts to Glasgow’s cleansing services have created a waste crisis and workers are livid at the Scottish National Party (SNP)-led council’s refusal to invest.

John, GMB branch secretary, at the Polmadie picket line, told us: “We had a long stewards’ [union reps] meeting yesterday and it was decided to take action. Obviously it’s the pay, but also the lack of infrastructure in the depots, the lack of proper facilities and cuts over many years.

“We’re getting great support from the people of Glasgow and trade unions across Scotland and the UK,” he added.

The council had gone to court last week, using the Tory anti-trade union legislation, alleging ‘ballot irregularities’ by the GMB in an effort to stop the strike.

The action is all the more significant as it comes just days after the Scottish leadership of the councils’ trade unions – GMB, Unite and Unison – agreed to call off planned selective strikes during COP26 following a revised pay offer from Cosla, the Scottish employers.

However, the anger among members in Glasgow cleansing was so intense that the GMB leadership was forced to reinstate the action within 48 hours of calling it off!

All three unions had planned selective action among key groups of workers from 8 to 12 November in up to 16 council areas of Scotland.

The original offer was for an annual rise of just £850 for those earning under £25,000 a year; 2% for those earning over £25,000; and 1% for those on £40,000-plus.

After one or more unions returned majorities for strike action in 16 of the 32 Scottish councils, the employers made a ‘new offer’ on 29 October.

In reality, the only change was to back date the £850 increase to January rather than April. But it would still only be £850 going forward. The unions had tabled a £2,000 claim.

Despite this paltry offer, all three union Scottish leaderships agreed to suspend the strikes to consult members. Socialist Party Scotland members in the council trade unions opposed calling off the action.

The only vote against suspension of the action at the Scottish local government committee of Unison was a member of the Glasgow City Unison branch. In contrast, a member of the Socialist Workers Party and a supporter of the Time for Change group in Unison voted to call off the strikes.

Glasgow City Unison, a branch in which Socialist Party Scotland members play a leading role, immediately released a statement disagreeing with the decision of the Unison local government committee.

With inflation at 4%, the Cosla offer still represents a pay cut for ‘key workers’.

Union leaders should not be calling off strikes for offers that are real-terms pay cuts for members who have been at the frontline of delivering essential services during the pandemic.

Strike action should be reinstated for next week in local government, followed by a plan of escalation involving bringing more groups of workers out on strike.

In addition to the cleansing strikes in Glasgow, strike action at Dundee University is continuing over attacks on pensions by management. Unison, Unite and UCU members are involved.

RMT members working for the Serco-run Caledonian Sleeper service have also begun the first of a series of 48-hour strikes on pay.

A planned 12-day strike by RMT members on ScotRail during COP26 was called off after bosses and the Scottish government offered a series of concessions to the union.

What these events underline is the need to build a fighting leadership of the trade unions at all levels, allied to the launching of a new mass workers’ party to fight for a socialist recovery for the working class.