Joseph Mitchell and David Jamieson report on the suspension of strikes and protests amid national mourning, as the economic situation worsens and attacks on workers continue.
Strikes, protests and conferences have all been suspended following the death of Queen Elizabeth. Britain has entered a period of national mourning which could, according to some reports, last as long as a week after her state funeral.
At the same time, her son is being inaugurated as King Charles III. Representatives of the political opposition from Labour leader Keir Starmer to Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon have all committed themselves to the coming weeks of state ritual.
Strikes for pay in multiple sectors, including Royal Mail and Rail strikes, were called off by the RMT and CWU unions on Thursday (15 September), after the announcement of the Queen’s death. The TUC abandoned its conference, despite thousands of delegates and other activists and trade unionists having already made arrangements to attend. Several protests and other events were also cancelled or postponed. A pre-planned commemoration march for Spanish Civil War volunteers was banned by Police Scotland in Glasgow
However the Treasury, energy firms, employers and governments from Holyrood to Westminster continued attacks on living conditions, highlight the danger of any prolonged suspension of industrial and protest action. On the same day strikes and protests were suspended, Scottish Government finance minister John Swinney announced £500 million in cuts to public services.
It also came on the same day as a protest outside the Scottish Parliament over deteriorating real pay as prices continue to surge.
Hundreds of people marched down the royal mile towards the Scottish parliament demanding a pay rise for workers and urgent action on the cost-of-living crisis. The STUC (Scottish Trade Unions Congress) organised the event and brought together all their affiliated unions including Unison, the RMT the CWU and others. Speeches from rail union leaders highlighted the urgency of the situation and the ultimate responsibility of the Scottish Government to secure inflation-level pay rises for Scottish public sector workers.
Chris Mitchell from the GMB union, recently involved in organising the bin strikes in Glasgow as part of a national pay campaign, spoke of his confidence in the emerging workers’ movement. He told Conter: “We’ve awoken the sleeping giant, the trade union movement is on the rise, together we are tackling the cost-of-living crisis which is actually more of a greed crisis.”
On the inaction of the Scottish Government, he said: “Instead of waiting months and months whilst strike action is taking place treat the workers with dignity and respect and don’t use workers as political football and play the blame game.”
The STUC and the affiliated trade unions reinforced the same message as they gathered outside the Parliament – Scotland demands a pay rise. Whilst this message was made loud and clear, many speakers recognised the steps already taken by the Scottish Government including the rent freeze and the Child Payment scheme. However, these measures do not go nearly far enough in supporting households who have already been driven into poverty by the pandemic and the rise of inflation over the last few months.
Mick Hogg, regional officer for the RMT in Scotland told Conter: “The Scottish Government can do a lot more, especially in recognising the essential workers who deserve a pay increase after a long and sustained period of stagnant wages in our economy.”
Not all activity was suspended. A large protest took place in London on Saturday (10 September), over the killing of a young black man Chris Kaba, fatally shot by Metropolitan police on Monday 5 September. On a smaller scale, Strike solidarity activity is continuing in Glasgow, with leafleting for events over the weekend of the succession. Some strike actions are also expected to continue.
The trade union movement in this country has more momentum than for years, despite the anti-trade union laws which have made industrial action and pay disputes a bureaucratic nightmare. The new Prime Minister Liz Truss has vowed to take on the unions with even more draconian measures. The new movement faces serious dangers that the state is preparing for today, even as they waffle about national unity. In coming days and weeks efforts of solidarity will need to be redoubled.