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Homeless caseworkers and Socialist Party Scotland members on the North East picket line

Homeless caseworkers strike: Pressure by union forces council management to the table

By Matt Dobson

In the ninth week of all-out strike action and Glasgow’s Labour Council still refuse to resolve a dispute with seventy homeless caseworkers. At a meeting with the union on Wednesday 20th May, which the council was represented at by two Labour councillors and two senior official’s, management initially refused to commit to an offer until the end of June.

The union put a press statement out immediately condemning the attitude of the council. Ian Leech, UNISON Social Work Convenor and Socialist Party Scotland member, said:

Glasgow City Council today once again demonstrated their contempt for these workers by failing to table anything to resolve a nine week strike. At today’s meeting UNISON questioned who was running the council – unelected senior officers or the elected politicians? We believe that the conduct of this dispute from the council side exposes a dysfunctionality at the heart of the council, with one senior officer openly hostile to the trade union and its members.

The UNISON Glasgow branch will be writing to our national office asking that all political fund payments from UNISON to the Glasgow Labour Party are halted due to the way in which our members are being treated.”

The council were forced to then change their approach under this political pressure and against the back drop of the crisis in the Scottish Labour party.  Management’s ‘change of heart’ regarding the submission of a written proposal came at the meeting on the 20th shortly after the union’s threat to call for money to be withdrawn from Labour. This led to management leaving the room for a recess. Upon their return they stated they would have a written proposal within a week

Illegal strike breaking tactics used by council

The union claims evidence has come to light that demonstrates that the council is using non-council workers to help assess people’s needs. This evidence indicates that support workers from charities and voluntary organisations are being asked to provide written information to help managers cover the work of the striking staff. This breaches the current legal rules on strike breaking and may also breach data protection rules. Glasgow City Unison has pointed out the Labour council is effectively fast-tracking the new anti-trade union laws being proposed by the new Tory Government

Further evidence of homeless service collapsing

Local media are exposing how the council’s homeless service is collapsing with the strike having a severe impact as well as years of austerity cuts.

An undercover reporters from the local Evening Times newspaper has detailed in articles how he was first turned away for a night from the homeless service and then advised to get legal help in suing the council to provide their legal obligation to give temporary accommodation. The media coverage exposes how Glasgow council, while not willing to pay their homeless caseworkers fairly, are paying £90 a night for rooms in hotels and bed and breakfasts to put people in temporary accommodation. The number of homeless is rising every year. Figures from the Evening Times show as many as 800 people regularly sleep rough.  

Strike still solid and determined

As well as political pressure it’s the high level of organisation of the strike by the strike committee and the enthusiastic participation of all strikers, with weekly mass meetings, daily picket lines and lively rallies outside the council that is maintaining the morale and solidity of the action. As well as causing an aggressive management, who obviously thought they could force a return to work by refusing to engage and let the homeless service collapse, to think again.

This highly organised visible spirit will need to continue in this critical time of the strike to force management to regrade all homeless caseworkers, the fundamental aim of the indefinite strike. Forcing the council to concede fair pay, when from the start of the dispute they denied there was a case for regrading, would be a significant achievement against a anti union management.

Solidarity from other council staff continues with money pouring into the strike fund. Mass meetings of other social work Unison members where strikers relate updates on the strike are also taking place.