THE roll call of unions with national strike mandates is now increasingly long. The RCN nurses’ union, PCS civil servants’ union and Scotland’s EIS teaching union have joined the UCU university lecturers’ union, RMT rail union and CWU communications union in this.

All these unions have convincingly beaten the increased thresholds imposed by the Tory Trade Union Act 2016 to gain lawful mandates for striking.

Having successfully passed this hurdle, these unions now face another one. This is about how to develop a successful strategy in order to generate sufficient effective leverage over their employers to gain their bargaining demands.

It is here that the “smart” strike undertaken by Scottish local government members of the Unison, Unite and GMB unions in the late part of the summer holds a great lesson.

Refuse workers in Edinburgh, Glasgow and other towns and cities in Scotland undertook sustained strike action.

In Edinburgh, it was a two-week strike during the time of the main festivals. It was this and the threat to bring out school assistants straight afterwards that forced the Scottish Government to intervene in the dispute between these unions and the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (Cosla).

The Scottish Government provided further funds to facilitate an acceptable settlement to end the dispute.

Why and how did this happen?

The unions chose to selectively use their most high-profile and strategically placed members to create this hard-hitting leverage.

READ MORE: Scottish Ambulance Service staff set strike date in pay dispute

The impact of refuse workers’ action was immediate and very visible, with rubbish piling up on city streets. The unions reckoned that although the disruption would affect the public, the public would support them.

This is as the cost of living crisis was a generalised phenomenon angering many. And, they were right. It created political pressure on both local and national governments.

But it was more than that. The refuse workers undertook this sustained strike on the basis that they would receive strike pay. So that loss of wages was not an issue which might impede or undermine their action.

The strike pay was funded by their fellow local government members who were not called out on strike.

This was a smart, strategic strike. It has significant ramifications for other unions. Both the RMT and CWU have taken umpteen days of strike action without gaining any advances on their bargaining demands.

This means sustained strike action is what is needed to create the economic and political pressure that can compel governments to intervene. And bring disputes to an end on terms that favour unions and their members.

This strategy can be applied elsewhere.

For example, the RMT members in the train operating companies could pay for the RMT’s Network Rail signallers to stay out on strike indefinitely – given that they are a relatively small group of members with much more strategic power than conductors and other train operating staff.

The rail network would be closed down with the minimum of sacrifices sustained by RMT members. Given the Westminster government is the ultimate arbiter here, a deal gained on this basis would not only apply to Network Rail but also all the other train operating companies.

For the CWU, taking out the key processing and distribution hubs for an extended period would mean that no mail would be there for delivering, even though those union members in the delivery function would not be on strike.

In hospitals, universities and schools, as well as the various offices of state in which civil servants work, there are certain strategic functions and roles which can be selectively taken out by strike action. Meaning those members’ lost wages are paid for by a levy on the wider union membership.

This is to think creatively, in other words, smartly, about creating maximum gain for minimum pain. It somewhat turns on its head the old union adage of “One out, all out!”.

This smart strategy is critical because employers are increasingly hard-nosed and are prepared to use their resources to withstand union pressure.

And, in a cost of living crisis, there is also a fine line between workers feeling that, on the one hand, they cannot afford to strike and, on the other, they cannot afford not to strike.

Gregor Gall is Visiting Professor of Industrial Relations at the University of Leeds