I had a very short working week last week; in on Monday and Friday and out on strike Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. I had mixed emotions about it – I had rejected the initial pay offer but did not vote for strike action – but felt I had to support those who did. Various figures have been bandied around in the media about what the pay offer actually was with some figures being more believable than others but what could not be disputed was Cosla’s own cleverly presented figures.
A generous £2000 was proposed which on the face of it seems more than acceptable however in a job where you physically cannot work more than 27.5 hours a week, that £2000 was based on someone working 39 hours and even more deviously, on the lowest possible pay grade which extremely few people will ever be on.
What the pay increase was for probably 90% of the staff – nobody knows. The figures have not been forthcoming and because of this, it is very obvious that it would be much less generous than the official figure.
The councils do not have the money to fund a wage rise, that is abundantly clear and to then hear that the second increased offer was yet again coming from the council coffers was a disservice to everyone. Cuts would be made to fund this and it didn’t take a genius to figure out that the money would be coming from an associated education budget that pays for many of the support staff involved – you’ll get your pay rise but you’ll lose your job for it. Many feel that they simply aren’t valued; during covid it was the support staff that manned the childcare hubs then had their hours cut on return to full time schooling and now being told that the government won’t help contribute has made many dig in their heels and eager to take part in follow up strikes.
As always things turn political. The Unison leader, very involved with the Labour Party, was being slated for calling the strikes to score points against the SNP during a Westminster by-election but I’m not entirely convinced of that argument. The only people who can settle this dispute is the SNP Government yet they are not willing to do so and Labour are playing the “we care” card just as the SNP would do if the positions were reversed.
What was more striking was that after 3 of the largest unions declaring industrial action, 2 then withdrew. For unions to break solidarity with each other in a supposedly united front was strange and for me that is the political trickery going on. If the pay rise comes then everyone benefits yet if it goes wrong then the blame will be laid firmly at the foot of one union. Whether we get a decent pay increase or not is no longer the issue, it’s about feeling valued and unfortunately, I’m not even hearing sympathetic words from our political leader. We know money is short everywhere but it was found for others and squandered on out of control projects that never came to fruition and sadly backs up the belief that many are beginning to share – that both of our governments are out of touch with huge numbers of their voters.
Only last week a longstanding Highland MSP was suspended from the SNP after taking desperate measures to try to be heard instead of being ignored. Nothing is changing in the respect that the Highlands have been warning for a while now that they are increasingly being treated less favourably than the central belt with the one size fits all approach and a dismissal to focus on the more populated areas of the country but still they are not being listened to. They are told that they are outdated and out of touch and to leave the party if they no longer fit in but that is the point entirely. After 2014 and the massive influx of new members the party changed not the members already there. It is seen and heard all the time as people talk of the party they belonged to before – they have taken their values and moulded the party in a different direction.
Change is always needed for improvement and insight but respectful debate and discussion seems to be missing at the moment. Independence activists talk constantly of the need to take people with them not alienate them but sometimes I feel that advice should be followed slightly more close to home.