History was made in Glasgow over the last two days. In years to come it will be a date and event taught in schools and universities to students anxious to learn how women eventually won the right to equal pay with their male counterparts for doing jobs of equal value. Sure the Ford Dagenham strike of 187 women in the summer of 1968 was a trailblazing action which resulted in the Equal Pay Act of 1970 but the streets of Glasgow were filled on Tuesday with the new women trailblazers, the new women history makers. Despite the Equal Pay Act being 48 years old and the Equality Act being 18 years old 12,000 women workers in Glasgow are still waiting for compensation in relation to the unequal pay they have received over the last 12 years.
The women involved care for the sick, the elderly and the vulnerable across Glasgow. They perform essential duties that allow many to live a semblance of independent and dignified lives in their own homes. Without these carers hospitals would be filled to overflowing. They cook for our children in state schools. They provide additional support for children with special needs. They are Glasgow’s army of carers, cooks, caterers and educational support workers. They are the heart and soul of the City and they have been underpaid and thus undervalued for the last 12 years.
It was a joy and pleasure to join with these women at Glasgow Green on Tuesday and march to the incredible rally in Glasgow’s George Square. The Square is adorned with male statues to the great and the good but disgracefully no women statues are erected representing our patriarchal and sexist past. On Tuesday the Square was literally a sea of women. Angry, determined, compassionate and courageous women, on strike and standing up for equal pay.
Up to 12,000 have suffered from historic unequal pay. At least 8,000 of them participated in a two day strike to force Glasgow City Council to finally settle their claims. The Square was full to capacity and the City Council can delay no longer. Promises to settle made last year will have to now be honoured.
On social media I have had to fend off critics of the strike who complain the women didn’t strike during the 2006 – 2017 period when Labour was in charge of the City. The SNP were only elected to take over in May 2017 and have not had long to sort out the mess left by Labour. This is a ‘political’ strike ‘against the SNP’ is the cry from some quarters. Why did the unions not organise strikes against the Labour council over this issue some ask. The women are being “used”; “manipulated”; “misled” is the accusation. Well let’s be absolutely clear. The single biggest villains in this whole equal pay fiasco are the previous Labour Administrations. Three different leaders knew these women were due equal pay compensation but instead of settling with gusto and integrity they disgracefully mounted a legal campaign to try and block the settlement in Scotland’s courts.
A Labour Council scuttled around expensive lawyers’ offices spending £2.5 million on legal costs to try and prevent their own low paid women workers receiving compensation. That money could have and should have been used to settle the equal pay compensation. Those leaders should be named, shamed and never forgotten for their despicable actions.
Similarly the unions involved. In the early days after the 2006 decision that these women were indeed discriminated against and due equal pay compensation their trade unions were too slow off the mark to press the claims and are undoubtedly guilty of letting the Labour council off the hook over the issue.
Some say union connections to the Labour party were to blame but that is a simplistic and inaccurate conclusion to draw. The fact is the unions failed to take the whole issue serious enough in the early days and that dictated their inaction on this vital issue. It was more incompetence than conspiracy.
If unions in Glasgow were not prepared to support strikes because of a Labour council being in office then how could you explain the library workers strikes, nursery nurses strikes, janitors strikes, cleansing workers strikes and many more over the last two decades while Labour has been in power?
I find suggestions that these women strikers in Glasgow are being “manipulated” by Labour supporting unions or Labour politicians in the background to be utterly patronising. The 8,000 women strikers are low paid but they are not daft. They are not ‘pawns’. They are caring, compassionate and considerate adults who took the decision to strike for 48 hours with heavy hearts. They don’t wish to upset or let down their vulnerable clients or thousands of children who depend on them but they had to make a stand.
Sacrificing two days of pay for women already on low paid is no easy decision either. This historic strike action is political in the sense that it is striking a blow against pay discrimination in the workplace and helping to put flesh on the bones of the Equal Pay and Equality Acts. But it is not a Party Political strike.
Thousands of the women striking will have voted SNP, some on the basis of their explicit promise to ‘fix’ the equal pay scandal. Hundreds of the faces I saw on the march and during the strike rally were familiar faces from various independence marches and rallies. On the picket lines supporting these women I spoke with many who are proud to support independence for Scotland. These low paid women deserve respect, support and admiration not patronising comments about ulterior motives.
I was very pleased to read the First Minister’s Tweet in relation to this strike action https://twitter.com/NicolaSturgeon (Oct. 23rd). She rightly condemned the hypocrisy of Labour politicians supporting the strike over the last two days while hiding the fact they had fought the women’s claims in court. These Labour politicians are indeed guilty of hypocrisy and deceit.
However the First Minister also expressed her “admiration” for the strikers:
While I wish the strike wasn’t happening, I have nothing but admiration for the women involved. However, I feel contempt for a Labour Party expressing solidarity now when, in power, they took these women to court to deny equal pay. @theSNP and @SusaninLangside are working to fix.
No condemnation. No accusations of being misled. She rightly expressed her admiration for an army of low paid women who have had the courage and commitment to stand up and be counted in the war against unequal pay specifically and low pay in general.
My favourite placard on the march and rally the other day illustrated clearly the understanding these women have of the real culprits in denying equal pay compensation over the last 12 years. It read “Decade Of Delay” with the pictures of three of the main sinners, Frank McAveety, Gordon Mathieson and Stephen Purcell, superimposed in the background.
Each of them were at crucial times over the last 12 years Labour leaders of Glasgow City Council and instead of moving might and main to settle the equal pay claims they chose to fight the claims in court. Disgraceful and unforgivable actions.
Another placard had the slogan “Fight The Power” with the picture of Glasgow City Council Chief Executive, Annmarie O’Donnell, superimposed onto it. This woman is far from being low paid with a bumper and record pay cheque last year of £252,860 http://action4equalityscotland.blogspot.com/ . In my opinion neither she or any other Council Executive, male or female, is worth such a huge salary but at the very least she should be earning her money by organising a just settlement of this 12 years long issue instead of steering foolish legal actions through the courts.
Of course current Glasgow City Council leader Susan Aitken is now in the hot seat. Her party is the SNP and they made bold commitments to settle this dispute during the council elections hustings in May 2017. They have done some good things and made some positive noises. They settled a long running janitor dispute in the City https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-glasgow-west-40927374 favourably and took vital care services back into Council responsibility where they belong and wound up the arms-length company Cordia https://glasgow.gov.uk/index.aspx?articleid=23210 .
But leadership is a constant series of challenges and is not easy. She picked up the equal pay challenge and now has to come up with the answers. She indicated publicly that a settlement was near and the women would start to be compensated by April next year as part of the new financial year’s budget. Those are positive words but up until now they are only words. They must become actions soon or the SNP’s credibility across the City will suffer.
New Labour abandoned these women workers. The SNP must not repeat that unforgivable mistake.
Before signing off I must recognise and applaud the cleansing workers across Glasgow who refused to cross picket lines and thereby took solidarity action with their striking women colleagues and the Art Galleries and Museums staff who did likewise. Thatcher and successive Blue Tory and Red Tory Governments have outlawed solidarity action by one group of workers in support of another. It’s what prevented the miners from defeating her in 1984/85 and that defeat ushered in vicious anti-working class legislation and cuts to wages, benefits and living standards. Solidarity actions like those in Glasgow are what make workers strong against the bosses and should be applauded. My bins and thousands of others were not emptied yesterday but the inconvenience is for a good cause.
A final word is due to Stefan Cross and the campaign group Action 4 Equality Scotland https://www.a4es.co.uk/ . Without the determination, commitment and considerable skills of Stefan Cross this whole Equal Pay claim may never have reached this stage. A working class guy who has never forgotten his roots or sense of Justice Stefan has worked tirelessly on behalf of the low paid women of Glasgow and across Scotland. His efforts have actually moved and influenced the trade unions to act and I’m sure I speak on behalf of thousands when I say well done Stefan and please keep up the good work.