Mark Porciani reports from Glasgow on striking workers, COP26 and the mood in the city
Monday 1 November was the first official day of the UN COP26. The world leaders, fresh from their carve up meeting at G20 in Rome, are in Glasgow for a talking shop. Fittingly, at the steps of the Goma (Gallery of Modern Art) performing on Monday morning were Oxfam’s bagpipers, "The Hot Air Band". Each member wearing a paper mâché head of the G7 plus Putin world leaders.
The COP26 Coalition called on people across Glasgow to "raise banners" in our windows, gardens, and streets expressing the issues that need to be addressed by the COP26. At 5.30am striking Glasgow City Council GMB Cleansing Workers and raised their banners demanding better pay and conditions. Also, at Glasgow Central Station, RMT members working on the Caledonian Sleeper went on strike.
At all the depots across the city, picket lines were formed outside the recycling centres and cleansing depots. At Blochairn depot next to the fruit market, the 16 members of the GMB are taking action. One striker told me he came off shift on Sunday to discover in an email the strike was back on.
On Friday the action was postponed to consider a new deal. On the surface the offer by Cosla of 5.89% seemed to be a good deal. However, the devil in the detail was that it consisted of as much hot air as a G7 gathering. Late Sunday afternoon, the GMB Glasgow tweeted the dispute was back on, describing negotiations as having been in "bad faith".
The statement justifying strike action explained:
"The council has failed to give our members the proper time and space to consider the 11th hour offer from Cosla and the fact the council moved to block strike action in the Court of Session using anti trade union legislation, means there is too much bad faith among members towards the employer.
"Therefore, our members in cleansing have informed us that they will still proceed with the planned strike action from 00.01 hours Monday 1 November. We are calling for an urgent meeting with the council as soon as possible and we will work until one-minute to midnight tonight to try and fix this.
"We have also made the Scottish Government aware of the situation and are liaising with the First Minister's office, but without any further dialogue the cleansing service in Glasgow City Council will take strike action from tomorrow and throughout the first full week of the COP26."
Glasgow City Council have tried to shift responsibility on Cosla. Years of cuts by Labour and SNP-Greens is what brought these workers to this situation. These workers are striking in both constituencies of council leader Susan Aitken and Nicola Sturgeon. Last week Aitken basically called workers and residents raising concerns liars. Dismissed our concerns on the fact "every city has rats". Nicola Sturgeon accused us of "talking down to Glasgow".
The biggest depot is in the southside of Glasgow, Polmadie, had nearly 50 - 100 pickets. Rory from Living Rent and a paramedic just off his night shift visited the pickets with food from Gregg's. A number of Unison Stewards from other depots across Glasgow visited. The CWU’s Dave Ward sent his solidarity and last week Frankie Boyle the comedian was sharing Chris Mitchell’s tweets declaring they were right to strike.
In George Square on Sunday, a homelessness man John said, "two weeks ago these streets were filthy, bins overflowing and now look at it, cleaned up for these people visiting." He also moaned about how the bench where he ate his meals on now had an armed police officer there instead. One thing the Council will not be able to hide from delegates is the soup kitchens and queues of homeless people that happen every night in Glasgow.
There was determination on the first morning of strikes. Finding out by email hours beforehand hasn't stopped them coming out. A meeting is planned for Tuesday. As one striker quipped, "obviously not in a council building. They won't let us in or are still closed". A lot of Glasgow venues are still closed since lockdown or are being used for COP26.
One said "this was more than about pay. It's about the conditions inside there as well", pointing to his depot. When you looked at his depot the recycling side had been outsourced and rebuilt by Viridor. Austerity and privatisation is why these workers are striking.
Another worker was clear that the issues related to the wider questions of the waste of the environment caused by capitalism. Lamenting how daily his job is about uplifting "white goods we would once by able to repair when broken down".
When workers are making this type of connection, it is clear the call by Greta to join the youth strike on Friday could be a significant moment. She arrived in Glasgow on Saturday night by train and hopefully she will consider visiting the picket lines this week.
We all need to unite behind this dispute. Every worker in city should be considering joining the strikers in George Square on Friday lunchtime. As the strikers said on Twitter, "the Camaraderie and Solidarity is getting bigger." All of us must show that!
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