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September: Strikes, schools and Scotland's local democracy

The prospect of strikes impacting Scotland's Schools took a step closer at the end of August, reports Stuart Fairweather.

Unison joined Unite and the GMB in announcing the councils where action is likely to take place. At this point 26 councils will see strike action unless COLSA improves its offer.

A special meeting has been called by COSLA to discuss the issue. But the clock is ticking with potential strike dates now set for September 13th and 14th.

There are degrees of complexity involved in unions co-ordinating action. Whilst all have the same objective of getting COSLA back to the table with an improved offer, the details of each union’s approach are still being discussed.

With the prospect of strikes local government leaders will hopefully recognise the strength of feeling that is being expressed. Schools being on the frontline will be a test of each union’s ability to organise and to address public opinion. The popularity of councils will be tested with the spectre of picket lines being formed across the country from Shetland to Dumfries and Galloway. Council leaders will also be aware that workers in waste services are likely to be the next group of workers to be balloted. Their strike action last year led to an improved offer of 7%.

COSLA will, no doubt, highlight the general financial squeeze on councils as a break on the reaching of an agreement on worker's pay. They will try to put a spin on the current 5.5% offer. Whilst there is something in the argument about limited budgets, it does not stop COSLA collectively calling on the Scottish Government for more funding. Indeed, doing this could bring councils, trades unions and communities into an alliance calling for better pay and better services.

This summer's Verity House agreement between the Scottish Government and councils was limited in its content but signalled a desire to look at local government finance. Whether the follow-up action by a Scottish Government which laments its own financial woes will be enough to put councils on a more sustainable path waits to be seen.

The recent reality in Scotland's 32 councils has been one of doing more with less. Now they are giving serious consideration to reducing, or even cutting statutory services. This is having a huge effect of the moral of council staff. A real-terms cut in pay will do nothing to respond to this.

Fundamental thought needs to be given to the role and purpose of local government in today’s devolved Scotland. For those that believe in the principles of 'power in people’s hand and services for people’s needs', there is a need to act by working with councillors willing to do more than simply manage decline. Reasserting a radical take on local democracy is essential in Tory Britain if we are to continue to have councils that are a meaningful part of Scottish society.

Published 30 August 2023.


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