Dundee council workers launch all-out strike against privatisation

by Connor Beaton

Hundreds of joiners, plumbers, electricians, labourers and scaffolders employed by Dundee City Council have begun an all-out strike against privatisation and management surveillance less than two weeks before the city plays host to the Scottish Trades Union Congress (STUC).

The city’s SNP majority administration stands accused of outsourcing work to private firms which was previously handled in-house by the council’s Construction Services team.

Striking workers, alongside supporters from the trade union movement and socialist organisations including the Republican Socialist Platform, gathered in the City Square this afternoon as negotiations took place between Unite the Union officials and council management.

Members of the Republican Socialist Platform joined the gathering with a banner memorialising Dundee trade unionist and communist Mary Brooksbank.

Around 320 tradespeople are involved in the strike, which began on Tuesday and is currently set to continue until Friday 28th April, after which it will turn into eight weeks of discontinuous strike action taking place on Mondays and Fridays.

The dispute began after workers in the council-owned glazier’s shop on Clepington Road, which produces double-glazed windows for council homes and properties, raised concerns that an important piece of equipment was not being properly serviced. In response, the council shut down the machine and handed tens of thousands of pounds to a private glazing firm.

“Our guys could have still done that work but they decided to give that work out instead,” shop stewards’ convener Steve Geekie told Heckle. “Rather than spend £2,000 servicing our own machine, they eventually gave away £70,000 worth of work to this private firm.”

Steve Geekie, convener of the Unite shop stewards.

Despite pleas from workers in the glazier’s shop to repair the machine, the council insisted on conducting a review which eventually concluded that the work should continue to be outsourced, albeit to a different firm, beginning a dispute which has since broadened and escalated into an all-out strike.

“On the back of that, we’re now finding out there’s joinery firms, blacksmith firms, painting firms who are doing our work — and they don’t fall within the construction charter that’s been signed between the city council and Unite the Union,” Geekie added, referring to the 12-point Fair Work charter signed with great fanfare in 2018 and almost immediately disregarded by council bosses. “There have been breaches of that charter, so we’re looking to get that stopped.”

Workers have also complained about tracking devices installed in work vehicles, which they say are being abused by some managers to surveil workers beyond what is necessary.

“We’ve had trackers on our vehicles for 15 years and there haven’t been any issues — but now we’re finding that we’ve got managers who we feel are abusing that tracker system,” Geekie explained. “They’re looking all the time at where guys are, what they’re up to and making snidey comments, ‘what were you doing there with so-and-so?’ and we’re not going to put up with that.

“One manager has [accessed tracking data] 63 times compared to another manager who’s only been on it once, and they’re saying that’s not excessive. We’re saying it is.”

The strike is only the latest embarrassment for construction bosses in Dundee City Council, which has been mired in allegations of corruption since 2019, when it emerged that the council’s head of construction was treated to an all-expenses-paid trip to Spain by an electrical company shortly after it was awarded an £8.3 million contract without going through a formal tender process. The scandal led to a lengthy police investigation before prosecutors announced late last year that there was not sufficient evidence of law-breaking to bring criminal charges.

The council is expected to come under more pressure when hundreds of trade unionists descend on the city later this month for the annual Scottish Trades Union Congress (STUC), which is taking place in the Caird Hall from 17–19 April 2023.



Connor Beaton is a republican socialist based in Dundee, where he works as a journalist. He was one of tens of thousands of young people drawn into politics by the 2014 independence referendum campaign. He is now the secretary of the Republican Socialist Platform and a local organiser for the Radical Independence Campaign.

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