SCOTLAND is facing a 21st-century “winter of discontent” with strikes, demonstrations and industrial unrest on a scale not seen for a generation, union leaders have warned.
One senior Scottish union leader claimed yesterday that a massive wave of public sector strikes was now “inevitable” following the UK government’s decision to impose massive cuts on the public sector.
The scale of the cuts for each UK department and for the Scottish block grant will not become clear until after the Comprehensive Spending Review is announced in October but Chancellor George Osborne made it clear in his Budget that the cuts would be the most severe in living memory.
Unions are waiting until October before deciding exactly how best to fight the cuts, but they have started putting private plans in place now for the strike ballots, demonstrations and protests they believe are inevitable.
Even some conservative estimates from the Office for Budget Responsibility forecast UK-wide public sector cuts of 600,000 jobs – with at least 60,000 going in Scotland.
But others believe the scale of job losses, starting after the October spending statement and going on through the winter and next year, could be even higher at 750,000 or more.
The winter of 1978-79 became known as the “winter of discontent” as large numbers of public sector workers went on strike in protest at attempts to implement a pay freeze to curb inflation.
Some union leaders now believe the winter of 2010-11, as the cuts imposed in the Comprehensive Spending Review start to bite, could be just as rancorous with wave after wave of strike action paralysing services.
One Scottish union leader said: “I do think strike action is inevitable. That will not be the first port of call. We don’t want to go there but we are starting to see real redundancies, compulsory redundancies. There will be demonstrations, protests and strikes.”
The Institute for Fiscal Studies warned recently of the “longest, deepest, sustained period of cuts to public services spending at least since World War Two” and predicted cuts of between 25 per cent and 33 per cent to government departments.
In Scotland, that is expected to amount to a real-terms cut of at least £1.5 billion to the £30bn Scottish block grant.