Editorial from the November/December edition of the Socialist - the paper of Socialist Party Scotland
“We will not be made to feel guilty for striking by this council. They have robbed us. It’s our money that we worked and sacrificed for. Women have died in this city waiting on equal pay. It’s beyond a disgrace. We are fighting for young people, for future council workers. What do we want ? Equal Pay! When do we want it ? Now!”.
These words, told to the Socialist by home care workers Denise, Norah and Isabelle, express brilliantly the raw working-class anger that exploded onto the streets of Glasgow on the 23-24 October.
The mass strike for Equal Pay, denied to the low paid women workers for more than a decade by a right wing Labour council and the new SNP one, was historic. Hundreds of picket lines were thrown up across the city. Council services were shut down. The streets from Glasgow Green to George Square belonged to trade unions and the working class.
This was primarily a working women’s strike but it had huge support among the working class as a whole. Inspiring action by GMB members saw 600 cleansing workers, overwhelmingly men, refuse to cross the women’s picket lines and bin collections halted for 48 hours. The power of the working class was clear to see.
Schools, nurseries and council services ground to a halt. The leaders of the SNP-led council, who had dragged their heels for so long, have been forced to begin to seriously deal with the demands of the women for pay justice.
If 8,000 council workers and their unions can have this impact, just imagine what the trade unions as a whole could achieve if they organised mass, coordinated strike action over pay, workload and cuts.
Glasgow City Unison and the GMB, who organised the Equal Pay strikes, are a shining example for the rest of the trade union movement to follow. If Glasgow City Council does not come up with an acceptable deal then further strike action will be completely justified.
Just four days after the historic Glasgow Equal Pay action, an incredible 30,000 Scottish teachers marched to demand a 10% rise after years of pay austerity.
EIS members are now balloting to reject the insulting 3% they have been offered. A ballot for strike action must follow.
The Equal Pay strike and the EIS demonstration are a turning point. The lid has been lifted after a decade of austerity and the working class is going to have its say!
No more unending cuts to public services. No more working longer and harder for less and less. No more falling wages which never keep pace with rising costs.
But it is crucial that the leaders of the trade union movement use these examples to forge ahead with coordinated strike action in the weeks and months ahead.
The Glasgow strikes and the looming teachers’ action have also revealed, to a previously unknown level, a rabid anti-union stance by SNP leaders
Open attacks by SNP politicians on Unison and the GMB were commonplace in the run-up to the October strikes. The leader of the SNP-led Glasgow council, Susan Aitken, goaded the Equal Pay strikers for “not knowing the reasons why they were striking”.
John Swinney and the Scottish government have attempted to by-pass the EIS and have written directly to teachers in an attempt to convince them to accept a 3% pay deal.
This is a common anti-union tactic used by employers against workers. EIS general secretary Larry Flanagan was correct to say “Teachers will see this as a gross interference in the democratic processes of the trade unions.”
A recent opinion poll by Survation found a 10% drop in SNP support for the Holyrood elections. Increasingly it is becoming clearer, including to working class SNP supporters, that the anti-austerity image of the nationalist leaders is fraudulent.
The reality is a vicious and reactionary attitude to workers when they try to defend themselves through the use of industrial action. As always, any party that bases itself on capitalism ends up attacking the rights of the working class majority.
Consequently, a big vacuum to the left of the SNP now exists. Socialist Party Scotland is campaigning to help build a fighting working class and socialist alternative to all the cuts politicians, including the SNP.
The potential gains that a left-wing Labour leadership could make in this situation are being squandered. Richard Leonard has thus far been incapable of carving out a distinct left alternative.
Labour’s record in local government is abysmal. Not least in Glasgow where they presided over and defended the equal pay scandal. Labour councillors, like their SNP counterparts, have voted through savage cuts in the councils they control.
Worse, cuts-making Labour councillors are defended by the Labour leadership. Moreover, the closer a general election looms, the more the concessions that Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnall seem prepared to make to capitalist interests, inside and outside the Labour Party.
Including refusing to pledge to fully reverse the cuts to local government under a Corbyn government. The Blairite enemies of Corbyn remain in situ, preparing to sabotage a potential left-wing Labour government.
This has to end. Labour party members must have the democratic right of mandatory reselection of MPs and councillors in order to build a real anti-austerity party.
However, in Scotland there has not even been the Corbyn surge of new members into Labour that was evident in England.
Labour’s crass opposition to the right of self-determination in Scotland – opposing any and all rights to a second independence referendum – is still a huge obstacle to a significant Labour recovery in Scotland. And it could also be a major barrier to the possibility of a majority Labour government at Westminster.
Leonard’s policy on the national question must change if Labour wants to recover lost working class support in Scotland. Despite the claims by Theresa May and Philip Hammond, austerity is not over, not near to being over.
As this issue of the Socialist underlines, cuts to the NHS, the Universal Credit fiasco and attacks on workers will continue for years. Unless, that is, a mass movement is build to sweep aside the Tories and their rigged big-business system.
The economic prognosis for British capitalism is pitiful. Hammond in his budget downgraded the already dire growth projections for 2018 to 1.3%. With similar figures announced for the next five years.
Under capitalism, attacks on the working class will continue while the billionaire elite see their wealth grow and grow. Socialism and democratic public ownership and planning of the economy is essential to break with this cycle of capitalist destruction.
The tide is turning. The inspiring working women of Glasgow have written a new chapter in the struggle against cuts and for equality.
They have underlined that it is working class people that have the power to fight back against austerity, and ultimately to change society through the struggle for socialism.
To end permanently all forms of inequality, poverty and oppression. And that working class women and men, united for this common purpose, will prevail.