GMB strike GMB strike. Photo: Nick Efford / Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0, license linked at bottom of article

Come COP26 many of Glasgows essential workers will refuse to cross picket lines across the city, Mark Porciani reports

Cleansing workers who are in the GMB have voted to go on strike on 1st November over pay and conditions. This falls on the first Monday of COP26. Unite members in the city’s cleansing department will refuse to cross picket lines, and this will bring the city cleansing services to a standstill.

Living Rent Scotland’s tenants’ union have joined forces with the GMB in Glasgow and together they are making a series of demands to resolve the city’s cleansing crisis:

  • Employ an additional 100 road sweepers.

  • Employ an additional 100 refuse workers.

  • 95% of cleansing staff to be employed in-house, and no more than 5% of the workforce to be made up of agency workers.

  • Drop the ‘bulk uplift’ charge introduced on 5th July.

  • Bring back the Back Court teams: ‘Too many backcourts across Govan regularly become unsanitary and hazardous, with rats and seagulls so rampant around many homes that parents won’t risk their children playing out the back.’

  • Reverse the cuts to the Environmental Enforcement team, and develop education programmes on waste and recycling.


Services have been systematically cut for decades. However, most of the demands being made by GMB and Living Rent are responses to cuts made since 2017 by the SNP and the Scottish Greens on the council. This administration has turned Glasgow into an environmental disgrace. In September, Bernard Ponsonby on STV claimed that Glasgow streets were “filthy”. The council leader, Susan Aitken denied there was a problem, and claimed there were only patches that had issues. All the city needed was a “spruce up”, she insisted.

The issue of rats is a major concern for both tenants and workers. The GMB has been using an inflatable rat, ‘Cludgie’, to highlight the problem. Cleansing Workers are often attacked by rats, requiring hospital treatment for injuries, and treatment for dangerous infections like tetanus. After one incident, Chris Mitchell, the GMB branch convenor, said: ‘Cleansing workers in Glasgow face this problem every day of their working lives.’ He went on to point to council cuts as the clear source of the mounting problems:

‘Cuts in road sweepers leaving and not being replaced, cuts in mechanical road sweepers from 29 to 23, and an ageing fleet means it’s becoming increasingly dangerous in health and safety for the workforce and the public.’


On Saturday 23rd October, Living Rent branches are coordinating litter picking and outreach sessions in their communities. They will then assemble at George Square, outside the council’s City Chambers with the rubbish they have collected. There will also be a rally.

Over the last eighteen months, cleansing workers have been described as key workers. They are that and more. They are critical workers for keeping our streets clean and ensuring solutions to the environmental crisis.

In the 1980s, Glasgow’s logo was a ‘Mister Happy’ saying: ‘Glasgow Miles Better.’ As the host City for the COP26, a more fitting logo would be Mister Sad saying: ‘Glasgow Miles More Rubbish.’ Like all key workers, it is time they were given genuine respect, in terms of pay and working conditions, for the sake of basic human dignity, and for the vital contribution their work makes to the health of our communities.

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