Trade unions may call one-day strike across Scotland

Paul Hutcheon Herald Scotland

5 Dec 2010

Concerted nationwide industrial action has moved a step closer after one of the country’s biggest trade unions backed calls to consider a one-day strike in Scotland.

Our Scottish council today passed a resolution to the effect that…we should be considering industrial action in opposition to the cuts.”

Spokesman, Unison

Unison’s Scottish council yesterday passed a resolution that could lead to several trade unions striking on the same day next month.

The call came as the UK Government pushes ahead with plans to make the deepest cuts to public spending in decades. As a result, the Scottish Government will next year suffer a £1.3billion cut to its budget.

More than 50% of the £3.3bn cuts forecast over the next four years are expected to bite in 2011-2012.

The cuts are expected to affect front-line services and provoke a response from public sector trade unions.

The first stirrings of a fightback came yesterday when Unison Scotland’s top officials met. The union, which represents tens of thousands of public sector staff, backed consideration of industrial action next month.

It is understood that Unison will now meet with other unions, including the GMB and Unite, about the possibility of a consolidated one-day strike.

Such a strike could result in tens of thousands of council and NHS staff striking simultaneously.

However, it is believed that tight labour laws make any co-ordinated approach difficult.

A spokesman for Unison said:

Our Scottish council today passed a resolution to the effect that, with other public sector trade unions, we should be considering industrial action in opposition to the cuts. That would also include considering a one-day Scottish public sector strike, early in 2011.”

He added: “Unison will now be taking that into early meetings of the public sector trade unions in January. The debate reflected the growing anger amongst our members at the impact of the austerity measures.”

The spokesman said the focus of the action would be the impact on public services of the cuts implemented by the Scottish Government.

Meanwhile, at the same meeting in Glasgow, Unison general secretary Dave Prentis called for the protection of so-called ‘Cinderella services’.

Prentis said his union had to fight to protect all services, not just those that are popular.

He said:

Not everything that is valuable is popular. Not everything that transforms lives wins applause. Will those working with young offenders be as popular as those who work in childcare? Will people supporting drug users be as voter friendly as paramedics?

Who will champion what is right, not just what is popular? I’ll tell you who. We will.”

Prentis also paid tribute to Matt Smith, who is stepping down as Unison’s Scottish Secretary – a post he has held since the trade union was set up in 1993.

Responding to the strike threat, Tory MSP Derek Brownlee said: “If the unions are angry they should target that anger at Labour who landed this country with a mountain of debt and who they bankrolled in the election.

Iain Gray [Labour leader] needs to speak out and distance himself and Labour from this irresponsible and damaging industrial action.”

A spokesperson for Finance Secretary John Swinney said: “The Scottish Government is having to deal with the ConDem UK Government cutting Scotland’s budget by £1.3bn in cash terms next year.

Two-thirds of these cuts were set in train by the previous Labour Government at Westminster, who wrecked UK public finances. The SNP Government is having to deal with firstly Labour’s and now the ConDem’s financial mistakes at Westminster.

The SNP Government is doing everything we can for public service workers in Scotland.

We are determined to continue our policy of no compulsory redundancy, are increasing wages for those on under £21,000, and are introducing a Living Wage at a minimum hourly rate of £7.15.”

A spokesman for Scottish Labour declined to comment.

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