Scottish council workers’ strike

Action builds the union

THE STRIKE by UNISON members in Scotland’s local councils on 29 August was absolutely solid. All services apart from emergency cover were severely disrupted and over 90% of members took part in the action.

Jim McFarlane, Senior UNISON steward (personal capacity), Dundee

This was the first national strike in Scotland’s local authorities since 1989. For many workers it was their first experience of industrial action and picketing. It was their first chance to express their anger over the derisory first and final pay offer of 2.5% and to protest over the chronic underfunding of public services first by the Tories and now by New Labour.

In Dundee, as across Scotland, members of general unions TGWU and GMB, who had originally balloted not to strike, and the EIS, teachers’ union showed their solidarity by refusing to cross picket lines. This meant that the strike was even more effective in preventing refuse collection, closing leisure facilities and closing schools.

Members of other unions were asking UNISON members to make sure they had a picket at their workplace as they wanted to support the action. Picketing was very effective in closing workplaces that management had hoped would be working normally. There were well-attended rallies and demonstrations in many towns and cities across the country.

At a social work office in Dundee, the few scabs who had dared to cross the picket lines went hungry. Not having the bottle to cross the picket at lunch time, they thought they would be smart and phone for a delivery of rolls and sandwiches from a local shop.

The van turned up and was faced by a picket. After discussion with the pickets the delivery driver showed his support for the strikers by handing over the food to them.

The strength and success of the action not only surprised management, it has also shocked most of the union leadership. They showed little confidence in the members being able to deliver on the action. This success shows that local government workers can fight and win, not only on the issue of pay but also over the wider issue of local government funding and against cuts in services.

UNISON has also recruited hundreds, if not thousands, of new members. This shows that by taking action trade unions can attract members prepared to fight for their pay and conditions as well as campaigning for better public services.

Pressure must be stepped up to ensure the full pay claim of 5% is won. Further action will be necessary.

The UNISON leadership should not see this as members just ‘letting off steam’. The members are determined to win this, it remains to be seen whether the leadership has the same courage and confidence.