THE coordinated strike action taken by members of various trade unions across the nations of Britain on Wednesday, February 1 was the biggest walkout in the current wave of industrial action.

In Scotland, England and Wales, an estimated half-a-million workers joined the strikes.

Here in Scotland, the groups of workers taking strike action ranged from civil servants in the PCS union, to members of the UCU university lecturers’ union, Aslef train drivers working for a number of private train operators and teachers in the EIS union in Clackmannanshire and Aberdeen.

In Glasgow, strikers and their supporters left their picket lines to march to the Buchanan Steps in the city centre for a strike rally of more than 1000 people.

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Three, large feeder marches – of PCS members from the nearby offices of the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), lecturers and students from the University of Glasgow, and UCU members from the University of Strathclyde – were cheered into the square. Liz McGachey, a member of the national executive committee of the PCS, addressed the crowd.

She said that over 100,000 PCS members were out on strike across Britain as part of, “the biggest walkout [of trade union members] for over a decade.” She contrasted the UK Government’s oft-repeated appreciation of essential workers at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic with its treatment of public sector staff now.

“During the pandemic, our members went above and beyond the call of duty,” she said. “We were told we were vital workers, we were applauded. At a time of national crisis, we put our own safety at risk to provide essential services... The reward for this hard work and dedication has been a relentless assault on living standards.”

McGachey told the crowd that, across the UK, 40,000 PCS members are using foodbanks, whilst 47,000 are claiming Universal Credit as a consequence of low pay.

Roz Foyer, general secretary of the Scottish Trades Union Congress (STUC), told the rally that the strikes in Scotland put workers in dispute with the governments at both Westminster and Holyrood. Addressing Nicola Sturgeon’s administration, she said: “We need Scottish Government action to sort out their own employees who are having to take action today.”

She then added, to a huge cheer from the crowd: “It’s not good enough to just be a little bit better than the UK Government.”

Foyer demanded “less talk” from the Scottish Government, saying the Holyrood administration must “get their money on the table” in order to reach a fair settlement with Scotland’s public sector workers. Arguing that the February 1 action was “only the beginning”, the STUC leader insisted that the economic crisis meant it was essential that working people fought back.

Foyer said the ongoing industrial action “wasn’t going to be easy”, especially as the Conservative Westminster Government and its supporters in the media would seek to set working people against each other. “We cannot allow any more people in our communities to face starvation, to be unable to heat their homes, to be unable to feed their kids. It is not acceptable and we are now saying ‘enough is enough!’”

Speaking at a strike rally in Glasgow on Wednesday evening, the STUC leader called on the Holyrood Government to block the implementation in Scotland of the Westminster Tory administration’s latest anti-union legislation.

At the Buchanan Street rally – in addition to banners and flags of the striking unions the PCS, the UCU and Aslef – there was notable solidarity from other trade unions, including the public sector union Unison, general union Unite, transport union the RMT and the teachers’ union the EIS. Chris Sermanni of Glasgow City Unison told the Sunday National why his union had sent such a large delegation to the rally.

“Solidarity of the trade unions and general class solidarity is really important”, he said. “People are out fighting for wages, terms and conditions and their jobs, but it’s become something bigger now.

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“It’s part of a fightback against a [Westminster] Government that completely and utterly refuses to engage with workers and stonewalls them.”

SERMANNI pointed out that even some groups of workers who had reached settlements in the last year or so are coming back into dispute as a consequence of below-inflation pay offers. “The cost of living and inflation are out of control”, he continued, “and we’re getting lessons [from Conservative Government ministers] on controlling our personal budgets!”

This, he added, was “instead of them coming and having a serious discussion about giving us the proper, inflation-adjusted pay increase that we deserve.”

The contingent from the University of Glasgow included a large number of students. One of them, Etemu, an economics student from Austria, was carrying a handmade placard that read: “Students in solidarity with the strike”.

It is essential, she told the Sunday National, that students show their support for their lecturers when they take strike action. “Our learning conditions are very much conditioned by the lecturers’ working conditions”, she said.

She accused university bosses of trying to drive a wedge between students and lecturers. “We see the university authorities trying to pit the students against those who are on strike”, she commented.

“They say that [striking lecturers] are responsible for a decline in our learning conditions. So, we need to show solidarity, to show that there’s a united front [between students and lecturers].”

Etemu acknowledged that there are pressures on the quality of education at the university. However, she lays the blame firmly on the shoulders of management.

“We need to expose what the University authorities are doing to students and lecturers,” she argued. “For example, there’s such an increase in student numbers that lecturers face an unbearable workload. That is also not good for our learning environment.”

The mood of the Glasgow rally was one of defiance and determination. When an Aslef member in the crowd called for a general strike, there was widespread agreement.

A warning, perhaps, to employers – including the governments of the UK – of a deepening sense of militancy among trade unionists.