The GMB and Venality

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‘The legend that is Chris Mitchell!’

From Alasdair Galloway

The utter venality of the GMB action over the weekend to reinstate strike action is difficult to exaggerate.

Let’s put to one side (for now at least) the obvious intention of embarrassing the Scottish Government in front of the whole world, and thus support (they think) their chums in the Labour Party. I am not suggesting this is not relevant – far from it – remember who Richard Leonard is married to. My point is that the GMB position is weak enough without making that charge.

First of all, something which seems to be getting forgotten is that there was an agreement on wages just last Friday. But not only that – there was an agreement for consultation over the next 14 days – ie till the 12th November. For the GMB that seems to have been cut from 14 days to less than 48 hours.

Secondly, Connor Gillies reported on “The Nine” that the GMB want Glasgow CC to agree to an “unspecified pay rise”. That is young Mr Gillies’ description which is nicely uncertain. Is it just that he doesn’t know? Or is the GMB asking for Glasgow CC to agree to the principle of a pay rise and then they will tell them what it will be?

Sure the latter is ridiculous, but it also directs us toward another fact that is being ignored. This dispute was always directly between the GMB (on behalf of their members) and COSLA (on behalf of the local authorities, including Glasgow CC). In other words, in terms of the procedure it is not in the gift of Glasgow CC to offer a pay rise. That is a matter for COSLA and should be offered to the employees of all Councils. Not just Glasgow. I wonder why they would try this?

In turn this directs us to a very important question. Why only Glasgow? Well one reason is in paragraph 2, and when you pursue this whole sequence of events to this stage, you begin to fully realise the force of it. Why not Edinburgh CC, or Highland, or Argyll & Bute who are equally involved in these wage negotiations?

Practice is that Municipal (or Council) wages are determined by national negotiation. My guess is that if COSLA (or worse the Scottish Government) suggested making the negotiations local, with different Councils doing their own thing, the GMB would be in the van of critics that this would be an attempt to cut costs in more rural areas (Highland, Argyll & Bute) by paying less than in urban areas such as Glasgow. But it is the GMB who are behaving in this way.

However, the GMB have shifted position over 24 hours. Their original press release read (

“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.”

Let’s go through this

  1. Proper time and space has not been allowed by Glasgow CC? Really? It was the GMB who agreed the 14 days consultation, so this really doesn’t stand up.
  2. The Council threatened Court action using “anti-trade union laws”. To fully consider this we need to move on to their second press release on Sunday.

The second press release reads as follows (

“We met the council in good faith, offering a clear set of proposals to reset industrial relations and avoid strikes. The council rejected these proposals. 

“We specifically offered heads of terms to work together to tackle the chronic and unacceptable problems caused by years of cuts, to urgently address the employer’s unresolved discriminatory pay system and outstanding equal pay liabilities, and back this with a commitment from the council that they would not use anti-trade union laws against their workers again.”

There are 3 specific claims made here, though it’s important to note that nowhere in this subsequent release is a pay rise mentioned. In fact, they have now said (in the same page as cited above) they are going to ballot their members on the COSLA pay offer while they are on strike!

Let’s start with the last point, that Glasgow CC “would not use anti-trade union laws against their workers again.”  Personally, I prefer disputes being kept out of Courts as the Courts seldom of and by themselves solve the problem and in many cases may make the whole thing worse. BUT, for a Council to make that sort of commitment is just ludicrous. A Council – any Council and not just Glasgow – could simply not give such an assurance. For one thing they not only have responsibilities to their employees (important as they are) but also to, for instance, Council Taxpayers, and could find themselves, under the right circumstances, at the wrong end of an action brought by Council Taxpayers alleging breach of statutory duty.

Starting at the beginning, however much force there is in the allegation of “chronic and unacceptable problems caused by years of cuts”, I would expect that this is true of many other departments in many other Councils, but most importantly it is not something to be resolved over a weekend. But most importantly, it can hardly be disengaged from a near enough decade of austerity bequeathed to us not be the Scottish Government and certainly not by Glasgow City Council, but by the government at Westminster. I would be surprised if the City Council has dealt with every problem in an ideal way, but they are hardly the authors of funding problems in the public sector. For sure it’s not a demand to be addressed in a couple of days.

But it’s when you get to the second one that you begin to wonder whether all this is a joke. To suggest that anyone, never mind the City Council has more responsibility for “unresolved discriminatory pay system and outstanding equal pay liabilities” than the GMB is hard to sustain.

Consider this about the role of the GMB when Glasgow CC introduced its Workforce Pay and Benefits Review (WPBR), which was meant to remedy pay discrimination but in fact further institutionalised it.

“Of the 12,000 equal pay claims currently outstanding against Glasgow City Council, two thirds are Cross’s clients and only one third are represented by Unison or the GMB. This is not what one would expect if the unions had been in total opposition to the WPBR from the outset.” “The issues behind the Glasgow equal pay strike” Dale Street


“Frustration at union (in)action from 2005 on Irvine’s blog (supported by published comments from trade union members) is directed mostly towards the GMB” Beirne, M., Hurrell, S. and Wilson, F. (2019) Mobilising for equality? Understanding the impact of grass roots agency and third party representation. Industrial Relations Journal, 50(1), pp. 41-56.,

So, to sum up this sorry situation, having agreed to put a wage increase to members with 14 days for consultation, the GMB go on strike because 48 hours after coming to an agreement they find the employer hasn’t given them enough time.

Realising that their position is, lets be kind, weak, another press release is put out, which shift the ground much more clearly to industrial relations generally in the department concerned. The demands made vary from problems much less than fully in the control of Glasgow CC, moving on to claims that are deeply ironic, suggesting not so much an airbrushing of history but a rewriting of it. It concludes with a demand that no sensible Council could ever agree to.

Why? Is it a “cop out”? Har har. Or just an attempt to embarrass the Scottish Government, Glasgow and thus all of us, when the rail workers let down the “cause”?

One last thing, if you want to get some idea of how the Union’s actions have gone down, have a read down this When I was a lad the GMWU (as it was then) was colloquially referred to by guys in the AUE and ETU etc as “the mugs’ union”. That much has not changed, I would suggest.

15 thoughts on “The GMB and Venality

  1. Sorry Alasdair, but with this standard of reporting you will never get a job with the Record, Herald, Mail or any other MSM comic.
    Thank you for this explanation.?

    Liked by 6 people

  2. 100% agree with this.
    The actions of the GNB should be a field day for investigative journalism, but this is Scotland where such a concept is prohibited by the colonial media.

    BBC/Radio Scotland? An expensive joke on us!

    Liked by 7 people

  3. To put it colloquially, the dogs in the street know why the GMB (or more accurately the Scottish Labour Party) called this strike on Sunday after making an agreement with COSLA on Friday. Scottish Labour was determined to use the unions to try to embarrass the SNP during COP 26 and after the agreements which were reached with the rail unions and also COSLA on Friday, they saw the chance of that disappearing. Anas Sarwar needs to answer some very hard questions.

    Liked by 5 people

  4. The GMB are not interested in protecting the workers that’s clear, they are using them for political means and it should be a lightbulb moment for the workers who are paying for this. The workers are being used as political pawns, are they OK with that? the suggestion that an unspecified wage rise be acepted is just ridiculous and taking the rip and it must be aafirst the world over among unions!

    The GMB are an absolute disgrace to unions around the world, in fact they sound more like a mafia/mini political operation than a union.
    Keir Hardie and many others, must be turning in their graves right now.
    Disgusting abuse of power and very sinister indeed.
    Ps. there are many workers around the globe who have to fight and some die in conflicts in order to have a union to support and protect their rights, so GMB, hang your nasty scheming heads in shame.

    Liked by 5 people

  5. As a X shop stewart I’ve said it for many a long year Scottish workers don’t need English unions they can set up their own Scottish unions

    Liked by 4 people

  6. I saw the recent TV coverage of the GMB’s man , Chis Mitchell , with his side-kick , a rather large , rodent-like creature .
    This rodent-like creature was shouting to camera while Chris Mitchell was silent – or have I mixed them up ?


  7. I have been disappointed to see the reaction to the latest strike action in Glasgow by many people in the pro-independence community, and it is a sad reflection on the damage done to the trade union movement in Scotland by the Labour Party that such an integral part of working life is now viewed with such suspicion by the people who should most benefit from being members. Industrial action by workers across many industries has been rather noticeable recently, with the RMT union recently settling their rail dispute which had dragged on for months, and it was only the fact that COP26 was looming which drew a serious offer from management and saw the situation resolved in the favour of the workers.
    Similarly, the GMB union were using COP26 to gain a better deal for their members, and rightly so. Industrial action must, if it is to be effective, be done at the right time, and what better time to win a better deal than when the eyes of the world are on you? On Friday it did seem as though that had been successful, with the GMB calling off action to consult with members over a new offer, but within 48 hours strike action was back on – yet no consultation was carried out.
    When receiving an improved offer made in good faith industrial action should be suspended while consulting members, but this is often misused as a Tory tactic to call a halt to industrial action for the benefit of the management, perhaps for a short period where it would be advantageous for them. This may be the case here, and it would be a slap in the face for independence supporters to find out that an SNP council had been using Tory laws to try to prevent legitimate strike action.
    The other side of this particular argument is of course that someone within the GMB has been working hand in glove with the Labour branch leader to put egg on the face of the Scottish government, and many GMB members have been active on social media saying that they suspect that very thing. The only people who know why the offer was apparently accepted for consultation and then rejected without consultation are the GMB union leadership, and it is now incumbent on them to set the record straight, because to fail to do so not only does harm to their case, it continues to fuel distrust in the wider trade union movement in Scotland. To see Scottish GMB members saying they will leave their union, losing hard won rights and protections in the process, because they now distrust the motives of their union is outrageous. To see independence supporters calling for the Army to be called in to beat the strikes is sickening, and is something I would normally expect to hear from dyed in the wool Thatcher loving Tories!
    When it took Glasgow City Council, the SNP had the chance to wipe the slate clean, but instead it has squandered the goodwill of the people – to the extent the culprits in the Labour Party who built a legacy of years of mismanagement will likely step back in to the clean-up job now required, the first recorded case of rats boarding a sinking ship. Unfortunately for the wider independence movement the SNP in Glasgow failed to adhere to the maxim by which we campaigned in 2014 – “work as if you live in the early days of a better nation”. It’s not too late do so, and a key part of that should be treating workers with respect and honesty.
    That goes too for the GMB union, who must also respect their members by being honest and laying out exactly why they went from suspending action to strike action almost overnight. For the pro-Labour leadership, the chance to give the SNP council and the Scottish Government a bloody nose may have been too good to resist, but to do so at the expense of the membership would be criminal.
    All of the above serves as a stark reminder to all of us in the independence movement that we must not abandon our trade unions, and lose all the protections and benefits they deliver to us, but we must instead get stuck in and become active in our respective unions, we must become the eyes, ears and voice of the independence movement within our unions to ensure that going forward they are acting in the best interests for their members and for Scotland – not against us.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for your very full and considered reply, but you wont be surprised to learn that I dont agree with certain parts of it.
      First of all I have no problem with any trade union taking advantage of the pressure on the SG, to make sure everything is working normally while the world is visiting us, to secure a better deal for their members. As you say action should be taken at the “right time”. That is not the issue. The issue is how do you justify signing a deal at some point on Friday afternoon which includes two weeks for consultation, and then bombing it out on Sunday afternoon?
      Would it not have been better, even if only from a PR point of view, to have walked away from the talks on Friday with no agreement, and called the guys out on strike – I mean they had the mandate and it was the “right time”, so why this shambles?
      Your paragraph beginning “When receiving an improved offer made in good faith industrial action should be suspended …” (with which I agree btw) seems to me to be facing both ways at the same time. Why would any manager with even just a few operating brain cells, have their employees at work and then threaten to involve the Courts? If that happened then there is a great need for someone in the Glasgow CC management to get psychiatric advice. The guys are at work so lets piss off the Union. Sorry dont think so. In any event, the threat of Court action (and to the best of my knowledge no papers have ever been issued) I think was something that arose after the GMB had made clear their intention to go on strike anyhow.
      I have even more problems with the proposition that an SNP Council might have proposed “using Tory laws to try to prevent legitimate strike action.” Was/is the strike action legitimate when an agreement, with a two week consultation, has been agreed and signed by the parties. If the strike action is not legitimate – and calling strike action 48 hours after an agreement is struck might not be legal – then should the law not be used? But in any case, as above, to the best of my knowledge, the binmen are on strike but no Court papers have been issued. Was it an empty threat that the Union is using to buttress its own position?
      You are right that “The only people who know why the offer was apparently accepted for consultation and then rejected without consultation are the GMB union leadership”. Two press releases went on Sunday and since then nothing but silence (perhaps they realise the unwisdom of issuing two different narratives within a few hours?). Why?
      If any “independence supporters [are] calling for the Army to be called in to beat the strikes is sickening,” – I’d agree. Its also pointless – as far as I know the Glasgow binmen will be back at work next week (btw the conference will be on that week). I’m old enough to remember the “Winter of Discontent” when the army were called in to empty bins, but it took ages to get this organized, and for them to get their lorries into position etc. If there is an independence supporter (I mean a real one) calling for this to be done, I would say “get a life”.
      I do though have a large measure of agreement with your point about “wiping the slate clean”, but
      1. this is not true of Glasgow only – sadly it’s true of much of Scottish Municipal life, which needs a good shake up at managerial level.
      2. I take your point that the SNP have done little over the four years to address this, BUT could the same argument not have been made of the Unions? Why throw this very large elephant into the room this weekend. So why now? The response about taking advantage of COP doesnt wash here – if you were going to make progress on this and take advantage of COP the GMB would have been on top of this before now.
      Lastly, when you write “For the pro-Labour leadership, the chance to give the SNP council and the Scottish Government a bloody nose may have been too good to resist, but to do so at the expense of the membership would be criminal.” you are dead right. Let’s take an example of the situation that the GMB have created last weekend. Let’s imagine two binmen – Willie and Jimmy. They live in Yoker. Willie is employed by West Dunbartonshire Council and Jimmy by Glasgow CC. They meet up every Friday night at the Lovatt Arms for a pint. Can you imagine how Jimmy is going to feel when he learns that his mate has been at work, and earned his week’s wage while he has been on strike?
      The GMB, again as far as I know (from Connor Gillies of the BBC) are actually putting the offer to their members right now during the two week consultation, which kind of blows a big hole in their original press release – this bit, “The council has failed to give our members the proper time and space to consider the 11th hour offer from COSLA”. Instead the focus is on the more nebulous “to work together to tackle the chronic and unacceptable problems caused by years of cuts” as though Glasgow CC has a stash of cash somewhere that we dont know about. That the Council wouldnt commit to not using ever “anti trade union legislation” against the Union, as though only the employees matter, when the fact is that Council has as many commitments to the Council Tax payers who might take a different view. As for the middle bit about ” urgently address the employer’s unresolved discriminatory pay system and outstanding equal pay liabilities”, when the GMB arguably did a good deal to create this situation is just laughable.
      In other words Jester, this whole thing is a very old Union strategy, that if you want a strike you make demands you know wont be – or better still cannot be – satisfied.


  8. There are 40 unions affiliated to the STUC, with around 675,000 members. We’ve seen GMB attacked multiple times, recently RMT, with side-swipes at Unite and Unison for those who don’t know the difference, then of course EIS before that, and I daresay a few others, I’m losing count and the will to live.

    So probably only around 30 or so to go and attack for taking advantage of their, by implication, gullible and thick members, and hey presto, that’s another 675,000 YES votes down the tubes, along with those of their partners, kids, siblings and parents.

    All because some people hate the Labour party which left them and they’re still ultra-bitter about it to the exclusion of hearts and minds and any sort of interest in actually getting Independence for Scotland.

    Woopee-doopee-doo. Another 314 years of the Union.

    Meanwhile Thatcher is laugh laugh laugh as workers are screwed.

    Peter Piper

    Liked by 1 person

    1. When you write Peter, “We’ve seen GMB attacked multiple times, recently RMT, with side-swipes at Unite and Unison ” are you suggesting that there is anything inherently wrong with being critical of a trade union. I buy happily into the unfair, prejudiced, biased, misleading and sometimes lying press coverage that they have – and indeed have had over the years. John mentioned somewhere “Bad News” and the work of the GU Media Group. This was being set up in my last two years as an undergraduate at GU. I was taught by one of the main movers and shakers in this group, John Eldridge. THAT is how long all of this has been going on. In fact I researched the perception of newspaper bias in a large and well-known engineering plant a year or two later, and found that by and large the guys knew and factored in the political biases (which were a good deal less subtle than now) in the newspapers (TV news was different – it was objective! I wonder if I redid this research if I would get the same result?)
      But getting back to the point if a Union is wrong should we not say so? If a Union signs an agreement on Friday and goes back on it on Sunday, is that not wrong, or at the very least highly suspicious? Should we not say so? Or do the Unions get a free ride?
      One last point, this matter has been ongoing with COSLA since before last April at least. Yet all these demands about how much management are distrusted; the equal pay problems, which have been going on since the year dot and arguably involve Labour at least as much as the SNP; and the laughable “you wont use TU legislation against us” which is just begging to be hit out the ground by a coalition of (probably Tory) Council Tax payers – these things only got parachuted in on Sunday night? Suspicious, would you not agree? Not very efficient, would you not agree? Perhaps even politically motivated? After all, like Jester and I agreed a union should make their move at the right time.


  9. “Meanwhile Thatcher is laugh laugh laugh as workers are screwed.”

    She’s in much better health than I thought then..


      1. Aye, fair enough.

        But her Hallowe’en piece on the doorstep was still rubbish. Some drivel about being a proud girl from Lincolnshire and a wee song about Michael Forsyth, was not really what I expected for a laugh.

        I still gave her some peanuts, an apple and a copy of the Herald for her Hallowe’en bag right enough..


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