|Volume 49 Number 1, January 26, 2019||ARCHIVE||HOME||JBCENTRE||SUBSCRIBE|
The mammoth struggle of the female workers of Glasgow City Council over pay inequality has reached a successful conclusion, with thousands of women to receive pay-outs that could total more than £500m.
The council and the equal pay claimant group, represented by Action4Equality Scotland, and Unison, GMB and Unite, announced earlier this month that they have reached an agreement in principle to settle the thousands of pay claims.
Such an outcome is significant in a time when arbitrariness and imposition is increasingly the norm. The struggle is also significant for its scale. A strike held in October last year was the culmination of a twelve-year fight of these women in defence of their rights. Over 8,000 women struck work and 12,000 demonstrated in the streets in what was the biggest such strike over equal pay in British history. It therefore stands amongst the historic democratic successes of the workers' and women's movements, from the era of Red Clydeside a century ago to the Ford workers' strike in the 1960s.
It has been a long drawn-out battle that has taken many complicated turns, in the course of which some 14,000 separate claims have been brought to the courts! It began in 2006 with the introduction of a new evaluation-based pay scheme, a result of the council's own workforce pay and benefit review. The scheme had been introduced with the stated intention of dealing with the issue of pay inequality between women and men. However, such is the irrationalism that the scheme was turned into its opposite. In practice, the scheme was set up such that it those on split shifts and irregular hours were paid less. This particularly affected those employed in homecare, cleaning, catering, schools and nurseries, which are female-dominated sectors, as opposed to those in predominantly male sectors such as waste collection. Rather than solving any problems, these arrangements entrenched inequality, and in May 2017 the pay review was ruled to have discriminated against women by the Court of Session.
Even when the administration of the council changed, words did not become deeds as promises to settle claims lay unfulfilled. In conditions of arbitrary authority, so-called negotiations on issues of pay and conditions have typically become sham exercises and a form of imposition. Such was the experience of the women, who accused the council of a lack of meaningful engagement.
Regardless, the council workers were having nothing of it and fought to defend their interests. Leading up to October's strike, Unison regional organiser Mandy McDowall said: "It is a modern-day scandal that nearly 50 years on from the Equal Pay Act being introduced, we find ourselves standing alongside thousands of women who are being discriminated against by one of the UK's largest councils."
"These women are the lifeblood of Glasgow," she added. "They carry out vital roles across the city - cleaning, caring, educating and looking after some of the most vulnerable people in our society. They are the cogs that keep our city turning, yet their roles remain chronically undervalued."
"Strike action isn't a decision these women have taken lightly, but after months of empty promises they have been left with no choice," she said.
The action and broad mobilisation proved crucial in this success. Action4Equality's Stefan Cross said that it is since the strike that "there have been real and constructive negotiations", and GMB organiser Rhea Wolfson said: "This has been hard won and wouldn't have happened if the claimants hadn't taken decisive action last October. The strike succeeded in its aim of making the council take these claims seriously. It was also a spectacular event that put equal pay for low-paid women on the national agenda."
We congratulate the women workers of Glasgow on their victory.