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The Same Old Story…

Nicola Biggerstaff – 10 February 2023

Last week saw a National Day of Action, a coordinated day of strike action spearheaded by the TUC. On the 1st of February, thousands of striking workers marched across London, while here in Scotland, STUC solidarity rallies took place in Glasgow, Edinburgh and Dundee while 50,000 of our workers went on strike. Rail workers, teachers and higher education staff, healthcare staff and civil servants, among others, picketed for fair pay and conditions while inviting the public to join them in a solidarity protest to protect the right to strike in the wake of the Tories latest stunt, introducing legislation which will further impede on our freedoms.  

At Common Weal, we have been discussing the strikes, and have made certain our stance in solidarity with striking workers, since June, then again when strike action resumed following the passing of the Queen, and again in the festive period, and again, and again, and again…

Yet here we are, months later, and what have we seen in terms of progress? Governments blaming strikes for the crises in healthcare and education (rather than over a decade of mismanagement and cuts), meagre pay offers hardly worth the paper they’re written on, and even more workers deciding they’ve had enough. In short: there’s been no progress. How on Earth are we still here?

This week saw the last of the EIS’s rolling strike action take place in Shetland and Inverclyde on Monday. After rejecting previous offers of 5% across the board and an average of 5.07% on a sliding scale, teachers across the regions walked out on various days over a three week period. The dispute will continue into the examination period of late April to early June if a significant new offer is not tabled soon, in a move which the Education Secretary, Lesley-Ann Sommerville, has simply urged unions to reconsider. If a government is not the one moved to negotiate at the thought of the slipping of their precious arbitrary exam targets, then who would be?

Our governments have recently became so embroiled in fighting with each other that they seem to have forgotten about the plights of the majority of workers in this country. Not that the issues currently dominating the headlines aren’t important, but these conversations can coexist. Any competent government can handle social or constitutional issues and fair wages without one or more of them ending up in the Supreme Court. Their interference in Scottish legislation is legal, as they were previously warned, but that, in no uncertain terms, does not make it morally right or just. It is merely the latest in a long line of freedom infringements being pursued by Westminster.

The Home Secretary in her latest diatribe against the fanciful ‘woke agenda’, has said we should pull out of the European Convention of Human Rights in order to ‘take back control’ of UK borders. Clearly using the classic Brexit dog-whistle to mask her desire to see through the morally repugnant Rwanda plan, not only would this threaten the Good Friday Agreement, it would also allow their recent policing and anti-strike bills to be enacted without outside any jurisdictional challenge. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has echoed this sentiment, saying on live television that human rights law was ‘stopping [the government] from achieving our objectives’. Welcome to post-Brexit Britain.

What could possibly motivate such a move? The Westminster government were clearly rattled by the Day of Action. Not quite up to the levels of the General Strikes we saw almost one hundred years ago, mainly because strike action of such a scale were progressively outlawed by successive Tory governments. No union can strike in support of another, no union can strike for any reason outwith a list of grievances laid out in legislation, unions can be taken to court and fined if the nature of the strike is not compliant with the law. Now, they want to force workers to break their own disputes and cross their own picket lines or face disciplinary action, in what RMT leader Mick Lynch has described as conscription. Now they want to outlaw protest, now they want to force workers who are at breaking point to sit down and comply. Do you see now why this slippery slope should have you concerned?

So I asked earlier, how on Earth are we still here? Turns out the answer is simple: because the Tories don’t care. They really don’t care the millions that are now struggling to live. Now that the radical wing of the party is in charge, they will do everything in their power to keep us silent while they implement their damaging agenda. This has got to stop.

The radical, hostile takeover of what was once a legitimate political party (even if their policies were highly disagreeable) can be traced back to Brexit. They picked up the reigns in the fallout of the negotiations and no one noticed until it was too late. The public were led into it, convinced that the funny blonde man off Have I Got News For You would make a great leader because the army of PR people and strategists around him were telling you so.

We are lucky, here in Scotland, in that at least we can voice our dissatisfaction in the form of protest, without running the risk of a public order offence, but we are not out of the woods yet. While most of the policing bill doesn’t apply up here, the anti-strike bill does. Our right to express dissatisfaction is still under threat, and we cannot allow ourselves to keep walking into these crises caused by poor governance. We need change, and we need it now.

1 thought on “The Same Old Story…”

  1. Most strikes have a negative impact on employers in that strikes usually lead to a loss of production, a loss of sales and…the point that counts…a loss of the profit that would otherwise be earned. This pressures the employers into trying to reach a settlement. Unfortunately for the teaching unions, the reality is that teachers going on strike merely saves the employers money. Of course, teacher strikes negatively impact on pupils and seriously inconvenience parents, but neither of those things factor into Council accounts. Sadly, I think it unlikely that Scotland’s Councils will offer teachers a better pay deal to settle the dispute when the Councils are actually benefitting from the strikes.

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