Headline of the Glasgow Evening Times reads "Pay hike joy for striking council staff."
"Pay hike joy for striking council staff" was the headline of the Glasgow Evening Times. Jamie a Striking Social Care Worker from the Gorbals area team summed up the mood of many; "there’s no doubt this is a major victory."
20 days of all out indefinite strike action
After 20 days of all out indefinite strike action, over 600 Glasgow social care workers have won a clear victory in their dispute with the City Council. More than 600 workers go into the entry level of Role Profile 5 on return to work with a handful of recently recruited workers gaining this wage within the next year or so. That is a wage of £24,200 without the need for any formal qualifications – higher than the rate on which some local authorities start qualified social workers. For almost 400 workers, including the new starts, the deal means a wage increase of between £1,000 and £2,400 immediately. The 200 workers who were on protected wages as part of the overall Pay and Benefits Review will now see their pay consolidated, removing the need for any "transitional pay protection payments". The deal creates a combined grade of Role Profile 4/5 starting at £19,800 with a top wage of £28,300. The number who will progress to the top, possible qualification requirements and the differences in duties between the bottom and top pay levels in Role Profile 5, will be negotiated with the trade union over the next few months.
The mass meeting on 10 August, after three weeks of incredibly solid strike action, voted more than 3 to 1 in favour of accepting what was the Council’s third offer of the dispute. The first offer had been a "non-offer" - to offer a small minority Role Profile 5 leaving all the rest on Role Profile 4. The second offer was beneficial for those 260 workers with some qualifications, moving them to Role Profile 5 with the rest being offered Role Profile 5 if and when they gained qualifications. The second offer had been more beneficial to those with a qualification than the third offer. However, the desire to stick together and gain the same rate for the same duties by securing at least the entry level of Role Profile 5 for all, were the driving forces of the dispute. Several members at the meeting stated, to loud applause, that they had confidence that the negotiating team and stewards committee would do all they could to ensure that as many workers as possible would be able to secure the top pay of £28,300.
A major victory
The deal represents a clear victory against a hard nosed employer. The Council’s original position was that Role Profile 4 was a fair reflection of the duties which these workers undertake. The employer rejected the workers case at a Review Hearing and threatened to use the anti-trade union laws against the workers original strategy of "working to role profile." This made nonsense of the statement from the Council spokesperson at the end of the dispute that all this "could have been done through negotiation without a strike". The trade union’s threat of pull out a further 1,000 workers the week after next also played a role in moving the Council. The Council forced the strike but completely misjudged the mood of these workers and the support they would receive from the rest of the workforce. The fact that some workers voted to continue the action demonstrated the confidence of a layer of the members. However, an assessment of what had been achieved and what else could be gained in the circumstances meant that the decision of the vast majority of the members to accept the third offer was the correct one. Members stood and applauded together after the vote. There was a real sense of unity at the end of the meeting. Mick, from the Maryhill team, commented "this is a great accomplishment. We got what we demanded". Caroline, from the Parkhead team, and one of the members who was guaranteed more from the second offer stated " the third offer was better as it meant all existing workers gained role profile 5 now. That is a good success."
In December 2006, 12,000 Glasgow Unison members threatened to strike without providing any emergency cover to stop pay cuts for over 3,000 council workers. This extended pay protection deal for all so-called "losers" under the Pay and Benefits Review and this week’s success show that industrial action does deliver improvements for workers and their families.
Lessons from this dispute
There are many lessons from this dispute that the branch and the wider Glasgow Unison membership will discuss in the next few weeks. Firstly, the justice of the members’ case was clearly articulated throughout the dispute. The members used the strength of their case to good effect in motivating themselves. Members will only endure the hardship and worries of significant strike action if they are clear about what they want. Secondly, the branch and the stewards committee communicated well with members before and during the dispute. E-mails, postal mailings, the Branch’s website and the setting up of a "strike organising committee" that met every day at 11am were used effectively. Thirdly, planned activities were important in keeping members active. The 11am meetings allowed those members who wished to do more to come together and organise street collections, lobbies of the Council, assist at workplaces that needed help with picket lines, plan publicity work, etc. Lastly, and most crucial, were the mass meetings. Six meetings took place (every Tuesday and Friday). These ensured that the members came together on a regular basis to consider the Council’s offers, re-energise themselves and of course determine in a democratic fashion how the dispute developed. Many members commented on how important these meetings were in sustaining the strike.
The strike will also stimulate discussions within Unison throughout Britain. The strike will have given confidence to workers across the country in the battles they face over the implementation of the Single Status Agreement. The dispute has also pushed up the agenda of other social work departments and policy makers the issue of what is the role of staff who do not possess the full social work degree (often referred to as "para-professionals") and what they should be paid. This has been a source of conflict and tension for nearly three decades.
Members of the International Socialists (CWI in Scotland) who also make up an active part of Solidarity – Scotland’s Socialist Movement – played a key role in the strike. Two CWI members were part of the four person negotiating team and played central roles in the mass meetings. Another chaired the daily 11am meetings. Several other members of Solidarity were key in the organisation of the street collections which raised almost £20,000. Ruth Black, Solidarity Councillor, was the first elected politician to speak at any of the mass meetings and was given a warm reception. The SNP also sent a councillor and two local MSP’s to subsequent mass meetings. Their support was welcomed by the strikers. However, the SNP-led Scottish Executive made no public comment on the dispute. It will be interesting to see whether they now honour their previously made public statements that the Scottish Executive should fund the Equal Pay/Single Status agreements.
The strike was a success on many fronts. The stewards committee and the wider branch must use the gains made to build for future actions, strengthen the union at its base by recruiting new stewards and encourage even more members to play a role in the democratic running of their trade union.