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Spirited social care workers' strike rocks Glasgow

by Esme Choonara

Strikers out for their “lunch” in George Square in Glasgow on Monday of this week (Pic: Duncan Brown)

Strikers out for their “lunch” in George Square in Glasgow on Monday of this week (Pic: Duncan Brown)


Around 600 social care workers in Glasgow have entered their second week of indefinite strike against being downgraded in the council’s single status review.

The regrading leaves many of the workers £1,000 worse off.

Glasgow’s Labour-controlled city council attempted to use anti-union laws to stop an earlier threat of work to rule by the social care workers.

This backfired on them and they now face a growing call for action across the council.

Some 1,000 social workers, practice team leaders and other social work staff are currently balloting for indefinite strike action.

On Monday of this week Glasgow city Unison branch executive agreed to request an additional ballot for 170 learning disability and physical disability day care workers. This is also over single status grading, and for indefinite strike action.

Up to 500 social care strikers and supporters held an unofficial lunchtime rally outside the council city chambers in George Square on Monday.

The council had refused permission for the strikers to hold a demonstration, so the care workers decided at a mass meeting on Friday of last week to call on union members to “meet for lunch” in the square.

Strikers poured into the square bringing placards and whistles from their picket lines. Spirits were high as strikers held an impromptu march around the square.

Support

At the mass meeting strikers rejected an offer from the council that would have given around 140 of the 600 workers the chance to be regraded on a higher grade.

Several strikers reiterated that the dispute is over recognition of the job they do, not just about the chance for more money for some staff.

The meeting discussed building wider support for the strike and heard reports from the picket lines.

A CWU post workers’ union rep addressed the meeting and apologised that the post had been delivered at one office. He said it wouldn’t happen again.

Claire, a Unison steward in social work, told Socialist Worker, “The strike is extremely solid and the strikers are getting a lot of support from the public.

“Many delivery workers, post workers and bin workers are refusing to cross the picket lines.

“Messages of support have come in from Dave Prentis, Unison general secretary, and from Unison branches across the country. Branches of Unite, the FBU, the PCS and the CWU have sent messages of support.

“There is a lot of support among other workers in the council.

“Unison members and stewards in the social work department are working hard to win a yes vote in the second ballot. United we can win.”

Strikers and other council workers have been out collecting donations in shopping centres, football matches, and at other workplaces.

In the first week of the strike over £4,000 was collected in support of the strikers – an obvious sign of the level of support.

The strikers receive only £15 a day strike pay so the collections are crucial to sustaining the action.

Alan, a Unison steward at the Centenary House council building, told Socialist Worker that Unison members have been holding a collection at his office every day since the strike began.

He said, “We decided at a workplace meeting to organise collections for the strikers. We have raised over £500 at my building in a week.

“The collections are helping to build up the mood of solidarity which is crucial as some in my building are currently being balloted for strike action.

“Other council workers have been joining the picket lines to offer support. The battle over single status, pay and services affects us all.

“Lots of people are saying that the care workers should not have to fight alone.

“Many workers are saying they hope to be out on strike alongside the care workers as soon as possible.”

Send donations, payable to Glasgow City Unison, and messages of support to Unison Branch Office, 4th Floor, 18 Albion Street, Glasgow, G2 4PF


‘We’re being paid less money to do more work’

by Raymie Kiernan

There have been large lively pickets every day at social work offices across Glasgow.

Over 30 strikers joined the picket line in Gorbals, south of the city centre, on Thursday of last week.

Mary, a workplace Unison rep, told Socialist Worker, “We want to be graded appropriately for the job we do.

“The review has increased the gap between the lowest and highest paid workers.”

Another striker added, “The council is pretending to not understand why we are on strike.

“But they are the ones who have imposed the new contracts, downgraded us and threatened us with disciplinary action if we didn’t accept their terms.

“The council has reneged on their promise of £1,000 for the new pay scale but demanded we work to our old job descriptions. In other words we get less money for more work.”

Many strikers feel that the dispute is not just about winning decent pay for the job they do, but also about recognition of what their job involves and defending the service they provide.

Sandra said, “This isn’t about pay but recognition for the jobs and responsibilities we take on.

Sandra said that she’s retiring soon and feels sorry for the workers who will have to put up with the management for longer than her.

Margaret, another striker, said, “The management are arguing that we’re putting the service users at risk, yet they are proved wrong by the support we’re getting from the service users.

“We do a difficult job. It is hard motivating folk who are so impoverished in society.

“The managers and consultants are creaming off the top while we’re the ones who do all the work.

“I’d like to see them sitting in someone’s living room and trying to provide the service we do.

“We should bring the fat cats down and show them what we actually do.”

Rita, another worker, added, “If we don’t do our jobs properly, making a difference to peoples’ lives, then folk will just become another statistic. We provide a vital service.

“We’re meant to be empowering people but they’re taking our power away.”

Many strikers felt that the strike needs to spread, and other council workers visiting the picket lines agreed.

“We should all be out together,” said one housing worker.

There was much discussion about the current ballot of another 1,000 members of the social work department.

Sandra said, “The way to win this is for the whole of social work to come out with us – if the qualified staff votes yes, then the council is threatened with the whole workforce going all out.”

Another striker added, “The social care workers have forced the union to take this action and are pushing for the other sections to come out.”


Fighting for equal pay

The care workers in Glasgow are at the forefront of the fight against the chaos that came from the single status pay agreement.

Single status deals were supposed to deliver a common pay scale for all jobs and the harmonisation of conditions.

But Gordon Brown’s government has refused to give local authorities the extra funds to pay those who gain from the deal.

So local authorities are treating job evaluation as a cost cutting exercise.

A system that claims to deliver equal pay for women is in reality delivering cuts in the pay of already low paid women.

The lack of a coordinated fight from the unions has led many workers to look to lawyers in order to win equal pay.

Nonetheless, in dozens of councils trade unionists are fighting to get women workers what they are due and to halt wage cuts.

There are 8,000 council workers in Unison balloting on action against cuts in jobs and services.

Care workers are often seen by council bosses as the easiest group to attack.

If there is a successful fight in Glasgow it can galvanise opposition elsewhere and pressure the union leaders into a fight for equal and fair pay for all.


Article information

News
Tue 31 Jul 2007, 18:49 BST
Issue No. 2062
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