The mass public sector strikes called for the 30th are likely to have an even greater impact in Scotland. One third of Scots work in the public sector and two thirds of those workers belong to a union. UNISON alone has 160,000 Scottish members who will be out on strike on November 30th, including the vast majority of Scottish universities, four different teaching unions (closing ‘99%’) of schools and even workers on Glasgow’s subways. A substantial proportion of Scotland’s working population will be out on strike come November 30th
So why are they striking? For much the same reasons as their British comrades, the massive attacks on public sector pensions are being carried out north of the border as well, with the current SNP government arguing that they are left no choice but to carry over the changes dictated by the British government. Although this argument has some mileage in it, the SNP have £600 million left from the efficiency savings of last year – enough to pay for Scottish public sector pensions to remain as they are for the next seven years. The SNP have instead elected to pass the on changes to UK pensions to Scotland, saving that money for more politically advantageous or media-friendly projects, perhaps even with an eye on channelling the anger felt by many Scots at government policies like this into anti-union sentiment.
In contrast to the national party, Scottish Labour has been united in its support for workers taking strike action: every candidate for the leadership and deputy leadership has declared their support for ‘N30’, the party has emailed members urging them to join the protests and rallies on the day, and the Labour Group in the Scottish Parliament – along with Greens – has proposed that that parliamentary work should cease for a day on the 30th in solidarity with the strikes. Although this was rejected by the SNP, Scottish Labour MSPs’ will boycott proceedings, instead attending the picket lines, protests and rallies planned across Scotland.
This support for the strikes extends to Labour’s youth movement – the recent Scottish youth and student conference featured a well-attended workshop on N30, and a statement supporting the strikes has been signed by nearly fifty young members in just a few days, including the chairs of both Scottish Young Labour and Labour Students.
These expressions of solidarity will hopefully go some way to healing the deep divisions that developed in the labour movement during the drive to the right of the last government – a vital part of Labour’s return to power in Scotland, where it is often forgotten that we lost far more votes in the 2003 election – the height of Blairism – than in either 2007 or 2010. Furthermore, Labours’ central-belt core vote, whose desertion in 2011 triggered our massive losses in constituency seats there, is disproportionately employed in the public sector: supporting them in their struggle may well help rebuild our support in said areas.
The solidarity extended by the Scottish Party to our trade union brothers and sisters should stand as an example to our leadership in Westminster; and as a rebuke to those that argue that Labour should cave into the agenda of the government and condemn the strikes.
In order to win again, Labour has to work with the trade union movement to defeat the government’s programme of cuts and win the political argument about what kind of society Britain should be, not compromise and fudge our way into electoral and ideological oblivion.
See you on the picket lines.
Written by Aidan Turner/@aidanturner93, Glasgow North-East CLP and Glasgow University Labour Club.
- For details of Glasgow Uni Labour Students joining in November 30th action, and other young Labour activists elsewhere, see here.