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John Swinney has described the council funding package as "challenging but fair.

Battle heats up against council cuts in Scotland

Matt Dobson reports   

£1 billion in council cuts over the next two years are the consequences of the latest funding deal from the SNP government, which will mean the loss of 15,000 jobs and the decimation of services if implemented.

Both the SNP and Labour in words oppose Tory austerity but their councils have all signed up to this deal and look likely to be setting budgets to implement these cuts over the next few weeks. However, a fightback from workers and the trade unions is developing with Socialist Party Scotland activists playing a crucial role. In Glasgow and Dundee the local authority trade unions representing 26,000 workers are jointly campaigning for no-cuts budgets.

Glasgow

The Labour administration is seeking to implement £133 million of cuts over the next two years, however they have already been checked by the resistance of the trade unions into stepping back from immediately implementing a tranche of attacks on terms and conditions worth £3.5 million.

Reports of the attacks have immediately fuelled large attendances at workplace union meetings and the local press reported on the likelihood of industrial confrontation on a wide scale.

The council felt under such pressure they allowed the joint trade unions to make the case against the attacks at the council executive. Glasow Unison’s Brian Smith addressed the council executive on behalf of the joint trade unions outlining how the proposed changes would impact on the take-home pay of around 2500 workers.

Many at the bottom of the pay scale are involved in residential care and cleansing and stand to lose as much as £600-a-year. Changes to flexible hours would affect 4000 staff, many with care responsibilities .These cuts will come out of the pockets of the lowest paid in the council. We think this will fire the gun to start this process. We will react to that.”

Under pressure, the administration agreed to opposition amendments calling for a delay on the attacks and more consultation with the unions.  

Unison organised school janitors are entering their fourth week of an industrial action boycott of duties in a “dirty, smelly, heavy, outdoor” payment, dispute. Glasgow Labour council are paying out £3,000 per day to hire non-union workers in an attempt to cover the work of the janitors and undermine official industrial action. The #justice4jannies is getting wide support, despite the worsening mess in schools, and the Jannies are still determined to fight on.

A recent 100 strong “public hearing into the council cuts”, organised by the joint trade unions and the Glasgow Trades Council saw all the cities community campaigns and groups who gave evidence, backing the no-cuts budget alternative put forward by the unions. There was considerable anger in the room as the Labour administration and the SNP opposition councillors did not back this position.

The resolute fighting mood and an understanding of the serious battle that is developing among was shown by the impressive 350 strong turnout to the Glasgow City Unison AGM, the largest turnout for some years.

The branch with its fighting record, its successful leadership of recent all out strikes like the Homeless Caseworkers and being the key reference point for anti-austerity struggle in the city, shows what can be achieved in terms of a fighting socialist leadership.

Motions passed at the AGM included a strategy to take industrial action against attacks on terms and conditions and jobs, alongside a political campaign for an alternative no cuts budget. The AGM also passed a motion in favour of a democratic socialist society.

Dundee

In Dundee there is growing anger at the supposedly “anti-austerity” SNP implementing £23 million of Tory austerity. All the local authority unions are campaigning for a no-cuts budget and are showing a lead in organising a fightback. Several hundred braved a snow blizzard on 30th January, to march through the city demanding a no-cuts budget.

Jim McFarlane, Dundee City Unison Branch Secretary and Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition candidate for Dundee West said in a recent statement to the press.  “Despite (the SNP administration) claiming to be in detailed discussions with the trade unions, yet again the council trade unions first found out about the detail in the local press. Savage cuts are planned for garden maintenance services, waste recycling, roads and street lighting as well as child and family services. Hundreds of jobs will be lost. The council also plan an open assault on workers terms and conditions, including slashing maternity pay and all shift payments. SNP council Finance spokesperson, Willie Sawers had the temerity to claim that: “there will be a minimal impact upon front line services and most people will not notice the difference”.

This arrogant statement is an insult to council workers across many services who provide vital services to the people and communities of Dundee every single hour of every single day of the year. Dundee has seen its budget cut by 5.5%, this is on top of the £50 million of cuts made since 2010. The council workforce has already been reduced by around 1300 jobs. This city cannot afford to continue to lose jobs like this. We need politicians prepared to actually put the programme of anti-austerity into action rather than mealy-mouth empty words. If the council are determined to progress the Tories cuts agenda then the workers will have little option but to organise industrial action to defend jobs and services. Enough is enough. The council should refuse to make the cuts and implement a no-cuts budget.”

West Dunbartonshire teachers strike

EIS teachers took strike action on 12th January against “faculty reorganisation” of secondary school managements which effectively represents cuts by the Labour administration. The strike was solid with hundreds attending a rally. Since the one-day strike, teachers have organised a work to rule and are balloting over an offer from the council. The EIS are campaigning to reject with another one-day strike set for February 18th. Both the Labour administration and SNP opposition have taken a hostile approach to the union’s industrial action, attempting to mobilise parent opposition to the teacher’s action. Send solidarity to westdunbartonshire@eis.org.uk 

Socialist Party Scotland members are to the fore of all these battles. We have pioneered a principled no cuts strategy and consistently advocated a no cuts budget policy. We campaign for the trade union movement to organise determined industrial action against these cuts.

We are also organising a political electoral challenge as part of the Trade Union and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) Scottish Parliament election challenge in May.

Protests at council budget setting meetings called by local authority trade unions

Dundee

25th February 2:30pm City Square

Glasgow

10th March 12:30pm City Chambers George Square