Workers (dis)united: thoughts on the recent strikes in Glasgow

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The strike movement in Glasgow shows great potential, argues striker Vladimir Unkovski-Korica. But it can only meet that potential with greater co-ordination between industries and unions.

Working class militancy in the wake of the cost-of-living crisis is on the rise. And opportunities for bringing striking workers from different unions and workplaces is growing.

This was in evidence over the last two weeks in Glasgow. Several national strikes took place at the same time during this period, and, although they involved a variety of issues, pay was central to all of them.

Four different unions were involved. The CWU and UCU were out on the 24th, 25th and 30th November, while the EIS was out on the 24th and 25th and Unite in several universities was out on the 30th.

Even though the strikes were on national issues, the possibility was there for three unions to hold joint rallies together in Glasgow on two separate days in two consecutive weeks.

Holding joint inter-union rallies at city-level could have created a deeper sense of solidarity and awareness of union power both within these unions and in the city’s working class as a whole.

Critically, a joint rally would have helped to overcome the narrow sectoral approach that trade unions often take and to broaden the union movement’s political horizons.

The need for politics is dictated by the fact that the bosses are not constrained to fighting their corner just in the workplace. They have a powerful ally in the form of a viciously anti-union Tory government.

The bosses, backed by the Tories, are out to keep wages down. They say that rising wages will fuel inflation. But where did this inflation come from?

The breakdown of international just-in-time supply chains has much to do with it, which is often explained by events seemingly out of any boss’s control, from Covid to the Ukraine war.

But it was the ruling class who pushed a long-term growth strategy of outsourcing production overseas to make it cheaper. The chickens are now home to roost, but the employers want workers to pay the bill.

Hence the Tory anti-union legislation which is in the pipelines and the stealth austerity in November budget for the coming year.

Fighting the employers is like fighting a many-headed hydra: you cut off one head, but two more appear to grow from the wound.

Striking out the monster will require coordinating between unions. Working together is about giving workers the confidence in numbers that they can defeat their terrible foe, and developing relationships between workers in different industries that can endure beyond one set of strikes.

Because defeating the bosses and the Tories will not happen as a result of one short fight or a limited number of strike days. It will take a period of intense cooperation over a variety of issues, and an escalating strategy of struggle.

So it is a shame that, despite being on strike on the same days across the city, unions in Glasgow did not organise a joint rally or demonstration. We would have had much to discuss, from problems in the workplace, to city-wide issues, like rent, or broader questions, like the politics of energy prices.

But not all is lost – far from it. Workers in one union were aware that they were taking action at the same as workers in other unions.

There was a variety of union rallies, but each made every effort to include speakers from other striking workforces. There were also small steps towards coordination. For instance, there was a joint rally at the Buchanan Steps in the city centre held by the city’s UCU and EIS branches in universities on Friday the 25th.

Similarly, the joint strike of UCU and Unite brought several universities to a standstill. There was a joint mini-rally between the university’s branches at the University of Glasgow on the 30th, with a speaker from Strathclyde UCU and the Student Solidarity Coalition.

Student support for strikes is visibly stronger than in the past, as many students are angry that growing student numbers have made accommodation in the city exceptionally difficult to find and extortionately expensive.

Wider sections of the population are also increasingly getting involved in building wider solidarity and resistance. The Glasgow Strike Solidarity network clearly brought support to picket lines, and banners or flags of the People’s Assembly and Enough is Enough were visible at rallies.

So the potential is there for broader union cooperation, which could lift the fighting spirits across the labour movement. Militants across unions should take the lead by bringing motions to their branches calling for greater solidarity and a more political approach. This time, we need to win.

This article was first published at Counterfire.

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