Wednesday, 24 February 2016


Councils are setting budgets that plunge the knife into the heart of workers' jobs, working conditions and the services available to children, the elderly, sick and disabled vulnerable people.

For the Westminster Tories this is grounds for champagne-fueled celebrations. It's hacking away at the public sector, which they detest on principle, and boosting the prospects for profiteering by the private sector - and to hell with the human consequences.
For the SNP government, it's a case of much hand-wringing, justified attacks on Westminster's cuts to the Scottish block grant, and then meek and supine devolution of Tory butchery to local authorities, college and university boards... and ultimately the workers and service users who voted in their droves for the SNP as an allegedly 'anti-austerity' party.
For Labour and SNP councillors, all we see is jockeying for propaganda advantage in advance of the May elections, with councils run by both parties 'regretfully' wielding the axe to an estimated 15-20,000 jobs over two years, and countless losses of vital services in the working class districts most in need of a safety net. 

Instead of passing on cuts - £350million this year alone - the SNP government, and councillors (Labour and SNP), should be standing up for the people who gave them an anti-Tory, anti-austerity mandate, and set No Cuts Budgets in defiance of Westminster, to mount a mass campaign of workers and communities to demand back some of our stolen £billions. 
Alongside that they should be declaring emergency legislation in the Scottish parliament to scrap the Council Tax and replace it with an income-based Scottish Service Tax, shifting the burden from low-and middle-paid workers to the bloated minority, thereby doubling funds for council jobs and services from £2billion to £4billion, on last year's figures.

However, those facing horrendous job insecurity, mind-wrecking workloads, and cruel cuts to daily life necessities, would be wise not to wait for either SNP or Labour politicians to discover a spine and rescue them! 
Labour carries out cuts whilst proposing to increase taxes on workers. The SNP implements cuts and has now - according to a speech by Nicola Sturgeon yesterday - dropped their pledge to abolish the Council Tax, after winning tens of thousands of votes on that promise.
Increasingly, council workers support the call for No Cuts budgets, but also see the need to take things into their own hands, by staging industrial action. 

West Dunbartonshire teachers are staging courageous strikes in defence of children's education, threatened by cost-cutting reorganization. They've resisted brutal attempts by the Labour council to pitch parents against the teachers. 
The Justice for Jannies campaign is gathering steam in Glasgow, as school janitors stage prolonged strikes against a Labour council which has stooped to hiring non-union staff to cover up the chaos.

As cuts budgets are set, with disregard for the opposition of workers and communities, the union leaderships, STUC and socialists need to help prepare workers for united, coordinated action against the cuts. 

I spoke to a Glasgow City Council worker about the impact of cuts, and the need to prepare strike action. 

"Previous years of funding and job cuts have cascaded down to people in most need. For example, under 'personalization' of care, last year people were entitled to five days a week at Day Care Centres, but due to Centre closures, this year they only get two days. People can't afford to buy the placements, so with Social Workers bogged down in bureaucracy, trying to deal with ever-decreasing budgets, the burden increasingly falls on carers. Many are elderly, in some cases parents in their 70s caring for children in their 40s.

Glasgow City Council want to shed 3,000 jobs over the next two years by non-filling of vacancies. But already, after years of job cuts, stress related illnesses are rocketing. Managers are reluctant to let Social Workers go because they know the post won't be filled. 

Non-replacement in Social Work has led to increased caseloads and stress, increasing sickness, meaning a worse service to the vulnerable people in need of attention, and back-breaking workload, a vicious spiral.

Goodwill hours are built up through flextime. Staff don't build up flexi to take a day off, because their diary is filled up for four weeks in advance. So it's really unpaid overtime.
I know of people off sick but using annual leave and earned flexi time to cover sick absence because they're scared to build up their sickness stats, in case it leads to disciplinary action.

Senior management were surprised at the level of uproar about the planned attacks on flexitime and other terms and conditions. We're surprised that they were surprised! 
The system couldn't function without goodwill, where staff stay behind half an hour or more to deal with urgent cases. The council wanted to take away payments for this, through attacks on Flexi-time. They also wanted to cut annual leave to new employees - if we ever get any! - from 28 days to 25. And to give up 6 days of public holidays for annual leave, which would mean refuse collectors and residential care staff losing out thousands of pounds on enhanced payments, plus the childcare complications. 

These attacks, clawing back about £4million from workers' terms and conditions, is one of the reasons we've had record levels of attendance at union meetings, including 350 at the UNISON branch AGM.

The fury that erupted over these attacks has forced the Labour council to back down, at least for now. But we need to be vigilant. They'll come back at us, when they think the time is right, for example after the elections are over!

The mood of our UNISON branch AGM was electric, and determined to fight all cuts. All £131million. If they get away with that, what next year? The 350 members there felt it will take strike action to stop these cuts. And not just token one-day strikes either.
Through individual strikes by small sections of workers we've already cushioned the blow in recent times, winning victories and regradings. People acknowledge we've prevented some cuts through struggle, but they're worried about their security longer term, committed to the job they do, but unable to see themselves working until they're 67! 

This is a savage attack on local government, and it's being carried out by the SNP. In previous elections I'd have given the SNP my first, constituency vote. But what's the point? They're carrying out the attacks."

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