Scotland: 22,000 schools and early years workers take strike action

UNISON strikers came in large numbers to protest at the Scottish parliament. Photo Philip Stott

Last week’s historic 3-day strike by over 22,000 members of the trade union, UNISON, in Scotland, working in schools and early years, was an expression of the pent up class anger felt by council workers across the country.

I’ve had good days and bad days as a trade union activist but this was my best ever experience.

These were low paid workers: pupil support assistants, admin/clerical staff, school technicians, additional support needs assistants, cleaners, janitors and early years workers.

The public support was overwhelming despite media and some Scottish National Party (SNP) politicians trying to demonise workers who were ‘depriving’ children of their education. More than 2,000 schools were impacted, many of them closed entirely for the duration of the action.

The huge turnout on picket lines and at local rallies across Scotland clearly show that when a lead is given then workers will respond.

The enthusiasm, determination, creativity and noise created by these predominantly women workers was reflected in the home made banners and the songs on the picket lines, which should be an inspiration for all looking to get organised and wanting a fight back after years of real terms pay cuts. These workers have felt undervalued and underpaid for far too long.

As striker Glenda Watt from Dundee commented in her speech to the strike rally: “We do this job because we care. We bring so much to this job, our life skills, our education from college or university. Yet that is not reflected in the pay we get. We deserve more. I have to rely on universal credit because the wage I get would not cover my rent, council tax and bills. I know two person working families who rely on foodbanks just to survive.”

The participation was enormous. Thousands took part in picket lines and local rallies. Up to 1,000 strikers engulfed the Scottish parliament on Wednesday 27 September in one of the biggest protests Holyrood has seen in years.

Thousands have been recruited to UNISON and hundreds have stepped forward to become union workplace reps across Scotland.

These workers smashed through the Tory ballot threshold in two-thirds of Scotland’s 32 councils, which pushed trade union leaders to refuse to call off strike action when a last minute offer came from the employers.

The strike also mobilised a new generation for their first taste of taking part in mass strike action, blowing out the water the argument of those who had written off the trade union movement.

The schools and early years staff include many young workers joining a union for the first time. It should be the first step in building further action to defend pays, jobs and services.

UNISON members are now being asked to accept or reject the latest below inflation offer from the employer COSLA. A massive rejection is essential, which must be followed by the UNISON leadership calling further strike action that at least repeats the 3-day strike of last week.

While it is possible that Unite and the GMB, who called off their action in response to the new pay offer, may accept the deal, UNISON members represent the overwhelming majority of schools and early years staff. Further action would apply huge pressure on the SNP-Green Scottish government and local authorities to up the offer.

The UNISON demand is for 12% or £4,000 for 2023/24. These workers deserve not a penny less.

  • Socialist Party Scotland (CWI) members in UNISON branches in Scotland played an important role in this strike movement. Our members also took part in picket lines and strike rallies in many areas, including Glasgow, Edinburgh, Dundee, West Dunbartonshire and South Lanarkshire. 2,000 copies of our special strike bulletin were distributed to strikers. Dozens of copies of the Socialist newspaper were also sold.

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October 2023