Scotland’s council workers set to strike

Pickets in Dundee, last year

Scotland’s council workers are heading towards another autumn of strike action over this year’s annual pay rise. All three trade unions’ members overwhelmingly rejected an offer of 5.25% – 5.5%. Unite has returned strike majorities in 10 council areas and the GMB also in 10.

The Unison results will be known later in August. With inflation nearly doubling, and the offer and food prices skyrocketing even more, another dispute between the 32 Scottish council employers and their workforce was inevitable.

UNISON, GMB and Unite members in schools across Scotland are to be balloted for strike action over the summer in a joint trade union plan to win an acceptable pay offer.

The trade unions have once again decided on a selective strike approach in the hope of breaking through the Tories’ anti-trade union ballot thresholds in as many councils as possible by focusing on a specific group of workers, along with disaggregated ballots in the 32 council areas.

In 2022, this tactic secured improvements to the pre-strike offer – and although still less than inflation – the agreed offer secured a 7% increase on the total pay bill with a higher weighing to the lowest paid.

That dispute saw waste workers in Edinburgh, Glasgow, and several other councils take strike action, backed up by the threat of action in schools and nurseries in nine councils including Glasgow, Inverclyde, South Lanarkshire, and North Lanarkshire.

As discussed previously in The Socialist (paper of the Socialist Party Scotland-CWI Scotland) there are positives in this selective / disaggregated action approach, as demonstrated above, but also downsides. Going back to the same “impact” workers, often in the same councils, year after year to fight all workers, national pay disputes – albeit on union strike pay – must be considered and assessed. The fact that most workers are not asked to take action lessens the opportunities to build our trade unions in poorer organised areas during all member strike ballots.

With bolder leadership, a more consistent trade union organising approach across the country, and further efforts to engage members then we can secure strike mandates in the future in all member ballots.

Nevertheless, thousands of school workers will be balloted in the coming weeks as part of this year’s selective action approach. We can win good results across the three trade unions – and any joint strike action would close all schools in the affected areas.

Union stewards in all three trade unions have been working hard to secure successful ballots and lay the basis for winning a better, acceptable pay rise for all council workers in Scotland.

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August 2023