The National:

After Glasgow's forthcoming cleansing worker strike was brought to the UK's attention during last night's Question Time, two residents and campaigners discuss the situation and its connection to problems of the 1970s.

GLASGOW cleansing workers are becoming more militant as direct result of Susan Aitken’s poor leadership regarding the council’s refuse policy. With their budget being cut time after time, workers are fed up with not being able to do their job properly. If this leads to industrial action we must remember the events of the past that took place in Glasgow in the 1970s during the bin man strike.

The reason for the strike in the 70s was over a dispute about pay and conditions. At the time, dustcart drivers were being paid a basic wage of £32.50 compared to Heavy Goods Vehicle drivers who were paid £37 in the private sector. The strike lasted 13 weeks in total.

In 1970 there had been a decision made by the National Joint Council for Local Authorities that local government should automatically pay the rate set by the Scottish Joint Industry Board (SJIB). The Glasgow corporation refused to do this, citing budget cuts and the social contract (a government policy that was aimed at restraining wages to decrease inflation) as the reason why they couldn’t accept the SJIB’s pay rate. Many have said this was “complete nonsense” as the dustcart drivers were paid so poorly that it was very unlikely to affect inflation.

The strike showed how important cleansing workers are to the upkeep of the city with rubbish piling high and there being fears over disease spreading and increased numbers of rats. In the 1970s rats were freely running all through the community and some rats were as big as small cats. I remember being in the butchers as a young boy when a large rat scuttled across the floor. The butcher had to come round the counter with a spade as it wasn’t the first time it had happened.

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The stench of the overflowing bins was awful and I was warned by my mother to avoid playing anywhere near the rubbish. If we continue to neglect our sewers and drains and don’t empty bins regularly then we run the very real risk of our rat population increasing very fast and potentially increasing the risk of spreading diseases such as hepatitis, e.coli, tuberculosis and several other illnesses related to rats. No one wants to relive the smelly dirty streets and the loss of pride in where we live and work!

For the first time in 25 years, the army was brought in to break a strike and clear the rubbish away. On March the 19th 1975, 1500 troops were brought in to clear 70,000 tons of waste. With this, the Glasgow Corporation and the government showed that they would much rather keep workers on low wages rather than have constructive negotiations and abide by previous agreements.

READ MORE: COP26: Glasgow cleansing workers vote for strike action during summit

A common theme between now and then is the council in Glasgow refusing to accept that the buck stops with them. We need clean communities. How that’s funded isn’t up to us, it’s up to the council. The days of being able to cut our way to prosperity are over, not that they ever started. If the council wants to avoid the disruption, then listen to workers and listen to communities. 

Living Rent members alongside cleansing workers and members of the GMB will be outside City Chambers on Saturday October 23 to demand investment in cleansing services and investment in the key workers who keep our streets clean.