Glasgow Strife: Fighting for workers’ rights in Glasgow

I have been a long time supporter of FRFI in Glasgow. The analysis provided in the paper of the ever increasing attacks on poorer sections of the working class, casualisation and the role of the unions and the Labour party in implementing these attacks has been confirmed time and again in my own experience as a worker.

For the past four years, I have worked in an arts venue in Glasgow managed on behalf of Glasgow City Council by Glasgow Life, one of the Arms Length Management Organisations (ALMOs) established by the Labour council in 2007.

Earlier this year, I was off work for four weeks with an official sick note from my doctor. However, despite working the equivalent of full time hours for the past two years, because I was employed on a supposedly casual basis, I was not entitled to payment for my scheduled shifts or even Statuary Sick Pay at the rate of £86.70 per week, despite having paid national insurance since the age of 17 and never once having claimed benefits. My only option was to sign on as unemployed. Despite ‘assurances’ from senior managers at a meeting at the start of this year that we would receive contracts (after re-applying for our own jobs) in July, at the last minute this was delayed with no explanation, meaning that we are continuing to lose money through the non-standard working hour payments and improved holiday pay that even zero-hour contracts would afford. If any of us was to suffer illness or injury, again we would be thrown on the scrapheap.

Glasgow Life is one of the biggest employers in the city, employing 3,000 staff with an operating budget of £100 million. Glasgow City Council created Glasgow Life and other ALMOs – essentially private companies, with charitable status, now running public services on behalf of the council – expressly to undermine the decent working conditions gained by council workers over many years. These ALMOs are run as the fiefdoms of the local Labour party. Glasgow Life’s Chief Executive Officer, Bridget McConnell (£132,000 salary), is the partner of former Labour First Minister Jack McConnell. Ed Milliband talks of ‘cracking down’ on zero-hour contracts while Labour councils implement them on a mass scale.

The principal trade union supposedly organising in the workplace, BECTU, has actively undermined our attempts to fight for better conditions. Last year, a sympathetic manager in our venue discovered that dozens upon dozens of ‘casual’ workers had been systematically paid holiday pay at below the legal statuary minimum for up to five years. Through her determined efforts over the course of several months, for which she herself was threatened with dismissal, alongside pressure we were able to exert, the company finally conceded and made back payments totalling several thousand pounds. When presented with the calculations initially, union stewards had told us that they had spoken with senior management and that there was nothing untoward!

Workers in Glasgow Life have had a pay freeze imposed upon them for three years, as inflation has spiralled. UNITE and BECTU both advised their members to accept Glasgow Life’s derisory 1% pay increase this year, which they duly did. Workers have already had their conditions destroyed, with over-time, public holidays, minimum call outs and non-standard working payments all abolished or severely undermined. I have seen many militant workers and long-standing trade unionists leave the unions in disgust. Barely any of the casual workers are unionised, despite our attempts to approach the unions for a fight. The senior managers, accountants and ‘human resource’ administrators responsible for implementing the cuts to services and working conditions, on the other hand, are more than well represented in the unions supposedly defending us!

Young workers today are being raised in a culture where casualisation and wage freezes are the norm; public holidays, overtime, collective bargaining, all the basic conditions once taken as a given, are unheard of, ‘luxuries’ to be ill afforded. The effects of these defeats will be felt for a generation. Market forces are being released into the public sector at an ever more rapid rate; the effect is not just on wages and conditions, but on the fundamental ownership and democratic accountability of these resources, which belong to the people of Glasgow as a whole.

There are no easy solutions. Casualisation makes workplace organisation increasingly difficult, as we ourselves have found: everyone is working different days and times, month to month the shift patterns change, there is no continuity to forge the solid links on which past struggles were built. We have no contracts and could simply be got rid of at any moment. I and other workers have supported whatever limited actions the unions have taken, but the links which bind them to the Labour party and its anti-working class agenda run deep. There is no choice but to start the urgent work of building independent, working class action to oppose these attacks. Glasgow plays host to the Commonwealth Games in 2014 (sponsored by ATOS!), with Glasgow Life workers a key part of its running – it is high time that we struck at the heart of this plan and fought for the real common wealth!

Alan Ryan


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