The Guardian • Issue #2054


Five months of industrial action

Strikes in Scotland.

While the nightly news broadcasts cover the strikes and violent clashes in France, the five months of continuing union industrial actions across Scotland have gone largely unreported. There have been strike actions in universities, hospitals, schools, civil services, fire services, airports, railways, petroleum installations, postal services, and lighthouses. Union solidarity continues in support of better pay, redundancy reduction, and to stop the slide into increased poverty.

On 1st April UK-wide strikes involved 40,000 workers from Network Rail and 14 other train operators over ongoing pay and working conditions disputes. The Network Rail, representing 20,000 signallers and maintenance workers, and the Rail Delivery Group (RDG) representing 20,000 workers at 14 train companies, ensure safety on the railways.

The Associated Society of Locomotive Engineers and Firemen (ASLEF), and the Rail, Maritime and Transport union (RMT), announced continuing strike action into June. RMT general secretary, Mick Lynch, said that another six months of strikes is “a possibility.” The industrial action is for a 9 per cent pay rise over two years. As inflation is above 10 percent, it means the offer represents a pay cut in real terms.

On 25th April unions took industrial action against government “failure” at the Northern Lighthouse Board, in a pay dispute and growing concerns over safety at sea. The workers operate Scotland’s lighthouses, beacons and buoys ensuring vessels and ships safety. Over 90 per cent of Unite members (able seamen, base assistants, cooks, and technicians) supported the strike action.

Also in April, Scotland’s teachers in the Educational Institute Scotland (EIS) union held rolling strikes over pay disputes. The general secretary, Andrea Bradley, said that “the offer of a 9 per cent is a real-terms pay cut” will “never be acceptable,” while the cost of living continues to soar.” The University and College Union’s (UCU) held strikes across fifteen Scottish universities, over pay, working conditions and pensions. Jo Grady, the UCU general secretary, said, “The university sector in the UK has over £40 billon sitting in reserves.”

On 15th March the Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS) held a 24-hour strike, the same day that the Chancellor, Jeremy Hunt, unveiled his Spring Budget. It continued on from the 1st February strike of 21 Scottish departments. PCS represents the Education Scotland, Transport Scotland and the National Galleries of Scotland. The PCS demands improved job security, pensions, improved redundancy terms, and a 10 per cent pay rise.

On 3rd March, Petrofac workers on BP offshore installations in the North Sea held a 48-hour strike for increased pay and improved conditions. The dispute comes after shift rotation negotiations failed. BP announced that its profits had doubled to £23 billion in 2022.

In February, Unite workers including security staff, baggage handlers, ground crew at all eleven Highlands and Islands Airport Ltd (HIAL) airports went on strike for better pay and conditions. Unite general secretary, Sharon Graham, said “this is entirely the fault of airport management and the Scottish government.”

The Royal College of Nursing (RCN), Royal College of Midwifery (RCM), and General Trade Union (GMB) unions have been negotiating a pay rise. Pat Cullen, the RCN general secretary, said, “the First Minister is in no doubt that we will take strike action if the proposals being outlined do not deliver a significant improvement by the end of February.”

NHS strikes in Scotland were averted after the unions’ members voted to accept the Scottish government’s pay offer. The unions called for the Scottish government to “live up” to its promise to reform the Agenda for Change and make nursing a career of choice once again.

In February, thousands of workers joined the UK’s biggest day of industrial action in a decade. The industrial disputes were sparked by pay failing to keep up with soaring inflation rates and the cost-of-living crisis. Trade unions are angry at the UK government’s plans to limit the right to strike of workers in certain key sectors.

The strike by postal workers, the Communication Workers Union (CWU), was called off after the Royal Mail raised a legal challenge. The CWU attacked laws that are “heavily weighted against working people.” The union will return to negotiations with Royal Mail, but if talks fail, “we will significantly step up the programme of strike action.”

A strike by the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) was postponed after Scottish Fire and Rescue Service employers increased their pay offer to 7 per cent, backdated to 1st July 2022, and a further 5 per cent increase from 1st July 2023. The general secretary, Matt Wrack, said this still amounts to an effective “pay cut.”

Scotland’s economy is larger than that of Italy, New Zealand, or South Korea. Yet despite this wealth, according to the Poverty and Income Inequality in Scotland 2017-20 report, there are 650,000 working-age adults in poverty after housing costs; 400,000 working-age adults in relative poverty; and 150,000 pensioners also living in relative poverty.

Income and wealth inequalities are fundamental causes of health inequalities, with mortality rates being twice as high in poor areas compared to wealthier ones. In Scotland the capitalist system has failed the most vulnerable – the poor it has created.

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