THE STUC has its foot on the neck of the SNP and won’t let up. Trade unionists are rallying in their thousands outside Holyrood today – a clear symbol of a significant shift in Scottish politics: the STUC now feels like the main opposition to the SNP. Importantly, the STUC – despite widespread misconceptions – has no affiliation to Labour. The STUC’s message is loud and clear: the SNP poses as progressive – it talks the talk but doesn’t walk the walk – and has tax and welfare powers at its disposal to help the people but simply isn’t using them.

Ahead of the rally, I spoke to STUC general secretary Roz Foyer. She’s a woman on a mission, now talked of across the Scottish trade union movement as the leader members have been waiting for to force the SNP to put its money where its mouth is.

Today’s rally is called Scotland Demands Better. Foyer says “you could subtitle it ‘Scotland demands a pay rise’.” Unions forced Nicola Sturgeon around the table over local government strikes, symbolised by Edinburgh’s transformation into a rubbish tip during the Festival. The SNP previously claimed it had ‘no role’ in disputes, despite setting council funding. However, after widespread criticism over inaction, Sturgeon stepped in, and strikes, which would have closed schools, were suspended. Talks led to the SNP government suddenly finding money for better pay offers.

Foyer says more strikes are coming unless the government fixes pay for “civil servants, health workers, teachers, a whole range of other public sector workers. We’re not taking our foot off the gas. Workers need proper pay packets to get them through.”

Strikes are growing beyond the public sector. Foyer has “been on picket lines in the past few weeks with journalists, BT workers and others in the private sector”. Unite, which operates across the public and private sectors, had 450 disputes in the last year, took 76,000 workers out, and got members £150million more in pay deals.

“Bosses and politicians aren’t going to do anything to help you unless workers get together,” Foyer said. “Many companies are making record profits at the same time as trying to suppress workers’ pay. We’ve had enough. We’re not putting up with that any more.”

Sturgeon wouldn’t have intervened in recent strikes unless unions piled pressure on her, Foyer says. Initially workers were offered 2%, they’re now considering an 11% increase. “That wouldn’t have happened if we hadn’t dragged the Scottish government kicking and screaming to the bargaining table,” Foyer adds. Unions have “shifted the public narrative” with popular opinion now demanding “an economy that works for working people”.

Sturgeon's proposals for dealing with the cost of living crisis – a rent freeze, rail fare freeze, increasing child payments and extending free school meals to all primary pupils – simply don’t go far enough. Foyer wants the SNP to use its powers for “more progressive taxation. Not just short-term rent freezes but long term rent caps”. She noted Scotland was subsidising private bus companies – with money going to shareholders – while “starving” the publicly owned railway of cash. “Our economy isn’t working.”

Sturgeon refusing to intervene in recent strikes for so long is “just what you get with politicians – they’re not going to move unless you put up a fight. She hasn’t acted any differently than any other government leader.

“What we have with the SNP is a government that likes to talk the talk and appear to be on the people’s side. Now we’re telling them they’ve got to walk the walk. We’re in the fight of our lives.” Sturgeon coming to the table has “created a precedent for every other [future] negotiation”.

The SNP can “either do nothing and keep making excuses, blaming Westminster, or step up to the plate and prove they’re on the side of ordinary people and are prepared to do whatever it takes within the powers they’ve got to stand by us”.

Foyer noted that when public sector workers strike in Labour or other opposition controlled councils, like Edinburgh during the Fringe, “all blame is heaped on the local authority”, but when strikes loom in SNP councils, like Glasgow during Cop26, “the blame is heaped very much elsewhere”.

So is Sturgeon’s programme for government progressive? “Who says the SNP is progressive? It talks like a progressive party, it needs to start acting like one.” She welcomed this week’s announcements for tackling the economic crisis – as well as the SNP being “respectful” of unions compared to Conservatives – but what’s being proposed is inadequate.

The STUC wants more taxation on wealth. Tax rebates and business rates should be linked to “fair pay”. Given Sturgeon referred to a “humanitarian emergency”, free school meals should extend to all secondary pupils. “We want radical changes to the Scottish government’s economic policy”.

With the Greens in government, there’s no longer need for the SNP “negotiating and horse trading” over any budget – so the government must look at “how we use taxation to redistribute wealth from the richest. The two richest families in Scotland have more wealth than the poorest 20%.”

It’s been said Sturgeon won’t use tax raising powers as she fears hurting the middle class who she needs onside to win independence. “She must make up her mind which side she’s on. Words means nothing unless you’re prepared to put money where it matters.”

A general strike is highly unlikely as “it may not be the most effective way to make our point”, but expect “wave after wave of coordinated action”, with unions striking “at the most powerful and strategic time” – as refuse workers did during the Edinburgh Festival. Unions are “talking to each other, we’ve our arms around each other, we’re together”.

Teachers want a 10% rise, health workers and civil servants are balloting, RMT workers will be taking action after rejecting ScotRail’s offer – there’s disputes in the post office, and further and higher education sectors.

“The list is endless,” Foyer says. “Workers aren’t sitting back … Our rally will say ‘if this is a humanitarian emergency then let’s see you act - use everything in your powers to get us through as we won’t get that from Westminster’. We need a government on the side of the people.”