The strike that began today (Tuesday 23 October 2018) in Glasgow may be the biggest equal pay strike in UK history. Pete Cannell reports on Day One. Thanks to Christine, Mike and Eric for their contributions to the report.
The two-day strike for equal pay involves more than 8,000 Glasgow council workers, members of the GMB and Unison trade unions.
The dispute began in 2006 when the Labour-controlled council introduced a pay evaluation scheme. Instead of ending differences between job categories, the scheme entrenched inequality. Women workers in cleaning, catering, home-care, schools and nurseries were penalised by a complex system that resulted in receiving lower pay than mainly male workers in other sections engaged in jobs that were supposedly of equal value.
At midday on Tuesday, 5,000 marchers, mainly women, set off to march through the city centre from Glasgow Green to George Square. The tone was set as we arrived at the Green for the start of the march – passing van drivers and motorists sounding their horns in cacophony of support. This was probably the loudest march I’ve ever been on – chants, whistles, Vuvuzelas adding to a festive and incessant barrage of noise. As we marched up through the Trongate the pavements were lined with small groups of men applauding and almost every woman on the streets had a broad smile. ‘People Make Glasgow’ is Glasgow City Councils corporate slogan. A speaker at the rally raised a huge cheer when she said ‘We are working women and we make Glasgow’.
The action comes after 12 years of tribunals and court cases. This is the first time that the women have taken strike action. Their frustration is evident in the strike votes – 99% yes in Unison and 98% in the GMB.
In May 2017 the SNP became the majority party on the Council, taking over from an entrenched Labour administration. This was part of the seismic shift in voting patterns in the west of Scotland that followed the 2014 referendum. The SNP’s election platform included a promise to settle the dispute. Council leader Susan Aitken protests that she is absolutely behind the campaign for equal pay and claims that the strike is unnecessary. Some in Labour and the SNP have tried to claim political advantage blaming the other for inaction. The truth is that neither party has any right to claim the moral high ground. The strike has given a voice to the women workers in a way that tribunals, court cases and years of negotiations and inaction could not do.
This may be the largest equal pay strike the UK has ever seen. As elsewhere the strikers support a system that is over-extended and undervalued. Going on strike is hard when you work with, and for, the elderly, young people and the most vulnerable. The strikers know the true value of what they do and they are proud, frustrated and angry. Before the strike GMB Scotland Organiser Rhea Wolfson said: ‘The voice of Glasgow’s working women will be heard around the world. After decades of rampant sex discrimination they will tell their employer, “Stop the delays. We want justice.” This is a battle that should have been settled years ago but its time has come.’
It’s an encouraging sign of changing times that the speakers in George Square were all women and that the music playing before the speeches had been thoughtfully chosen to express the mood of the march. It’s obvious really, but it’s often not the case. The strike is a welcome sign that the women themselves are becoming active participants in a struggle that has been extended for a shamefully long time. But it may take more action before politicians move on from paying lip-service to equal pay to agree a settlement that provides equality and justice.