Free Our Unions sends our solidarity to refuse workers in Glasgow, who struck on 8 September in defiance of draconian balloting restrictions.
The action was sparked by an attempt by council bosses to unilaterally increase workers’ hours. Like many workers across the country, Glasgow bin workers have been working reduced hours during the pandemic to maximise distancing in the workplace. Workers, who are members of the GMB, felt the unilateral increase would compromise distancing and was therefore a safety risk.
Following official procedures would have meant waiting weeks before any action could be taken, due to the required notice periods and the time necessary to conduct an individual postal ballot. Instead, the workers voted with their feet. To its credit, GMB did not disavow the unofficial action. The union reached an agreement with the council for a phased return to full hours over the next six weeks, which saw workers return to work on 9 September.
The council provoked a backlash by describing the strike as “illegal”, in a tweet it later deleted. Critics rightly pointed out that the strike being unofficial did not make it “illegal” as such; it simply meant that workers participating in it did not have the same legal protections from disciplinary action that they would if the strike had been official.
Anti-strike laws exist precisely to prevent action of this type: strikes that respond immediately and effectively to issues arising in the workplace. By forcing us to jump over endless bureaucratic hurdles, the UK’s legislative regime aims to render strikes after-the-fact protests rather than actions which leverage workers’ power to wrest concessions from employers. But the Glasgow workers’ action shows that it is possible to defy such laws.
There may yet be recriminations from the council, who said in their initial statement that: “Anyone involved in this illegal industrial strike leaves themselves open to disciplinary measures.” If disciplinary action is taken against any worker, the entire labour movement, not just in Scotland but throughout the UK, must rally to their defence.