Monday, 4 February 2019

The Story of the Fight for Equal Pay

Here's an otherwise good article about the fight for equal pay in Glasgow which suffers from one glaring fault - the piece makes absolutely no mention of the role played by Action 4 Equality Scotland (A4ES) or Stefan Cross.

Now as everyone knows A4ES represents the majority of equal pay claimants in Glasgow, we led this fight from Day One and it's great to see the trade unions are now on board - because we are undoubtedly stronger working together.

So it's surprising to read something by Eve Livingston which writes A4ES and Stefan out of the history of this long-running dispute, especially as the City Council and the Scottish Government both tried to do this previously - albeit unsuccessfully I should add.  

Maybe the answer is to write the history up myself because the detail of everything that has happened over the years is recorded in my blog site archive - going all the way back to 2007.

Women Make Glasgow: On the Equal Pay Strike

Yesterday, thousands of council-employed workers, joined by thousands more allies, marched for equal pay from Glasgow Green to George Square. The dispute has been ongoing for over a decade under multiple administrations, which has led to toxic party political disputes between Labour and the SNP. But Eve Livingston writes that these strikes are part of a much bigger picture…

Glasgow has a history of radical women. When 8,000 more of them strike this week to demand equal pay for council-employed carers, cleaners, caterers and support workers, they will join a proud tradition of Glaswegian women making their voices heard and pulling together collectively in pursuit of what is just and fair.

In 1915, Govan’s Mary Barbour led around 20,000 people in rent strikes when landlords raised rent to capitalise on an influx of WW1 munitions workers and shipbuilders. Her direct action resulted in rent controls being imposed by the government, and a statue of her stands today at Govan Cross. In 1943, in the midst of another war, Glasgow’s women munitions workers took part in history’s biggest equal pay strike, when an estimated 16,000 walked out and secured a new pay agreement as a result. Today’s equal pay women collectively make up the biggest peacetime equal pay strike the country has ever seen, and they will be similarly vindicated.

The battle they’ve been fighting for the past twelve years isn’t an easy one, though. Across Scotland and the UK (and indeed the world), equal pay remains a pipe dream for many women despite being guaranteed in law since 1970. The reasons for this are many and could constitute a whole article in themselves: pay grading and structures are off-puttingly complicated and opaque for one, and historical worker-led activism has traditionally favoured men. But perhaps most infuriatingly, the types of jobs that have been coded as ‘women’s work’ – jobs like cooking, cleaning and caring – have simply always been seen, oxymoronically, as both jobs we should do regardless of pay because they are so inherent to our nature, and jobs so lowly and invisible they don’t warrant any further attention.

A conversation around equal pay has reemerged in the UK in recent years as feminism becomes increasingly fashionable and marketable. But because these are the parameters in which the conversation has happened, it has focused mostly on white, middle-class women with visible roles: women like the BBC’s Carrie Gracie, who remains the only equal pay claimant that many of us could name if asked on the spot. Her fight for equal pay was brave and important, and she consistently used the platform it gave her to turn a spotlight onto other equal pay battles bubbling away under the surface. But in spite of her efforts, many rage on under the radar, at a level of society easily invisible to those who don’t need to look at it.

Not only are Glasgow’s women fighting in a national and historical context in which working-class women are forced to shout twice as loud to be heard, but the local context in which their battle takes place – and the reactions to it – provide yet another obstacle for them to overcome. The facts of their case are, in summary, this: the dispute began in 2006 under a Labour-run council when a new pay scheme designed to eradicate unequal pay actually ended up entrenching it. For years, the Labour-run Glasgow city council fought equal pay claims in courts and tribunals – where equal pay claimants repeatedly won – until the SNP took control of the council in 2017 on a promise of ending litigation and settling equal pay claims.

Unison didn’t sign off on the original pay scheme and has taken strike action on multiple occasions over different elements of pay and grading relating to equal pay. The GMB union, which hasn’t taken strike action until now, didn’t sign off either but had been plagued with accusations of protecting male members’ interests and pressuring women to settle. Twelve years on from the original pay scheme, many of those involved in the unions have changed, and our understanding of equal pay and respect for the rights of women workers has started to improve more widely. Both unions say negotiations have failed and that members have called for strike action as a last resort.

Those are the facts. And like all facts, they can spawn many analyses and lead to a thousand conclusions. Among the most cynical of these are this is all political strategising against an ostensibly cooperative SNP council. Among the most offensive are that Glasgow’s bold, brave, working women are being used as vacuous pawns in the political ambitions of union officials.

As a feminist and a socialist, I acknowledge all of the above facts and come to a different conclusion: that Labour’s treatment of these women was scandalous; that the SNP came to power on a set of good promises about this; that I believe workers at their word when they say negotiations have failed and that they see industrial action as their only option. On a personal level, I’ve spent time with many of these women in the process of reporting this dispute and I defy anyone to speak to them for longer than a minute and believe that such smart, principled activists would ever be duped in a political chess game. Not to mention the ‘useful idiots’ trope is also not one I’ve ever seen anyone brave enough to direct at male strikers.

None of this is to say unions are beyond reproach or that “all politicians are the same”. In this case, the male-dominated and male-oriented GMB of 2006 clearly let its members down, and many elected SNP officials – the feminist credentials of whom I don’t doubt for a second – now find themselves in an unenviable and impossible position. Rather, it’s to say the answer to why strike action of this scale was never called previously is more about societal power and its distribution than it is party political power and its gatekeepers. You only need to glance at the scaremongering coverage of striking women leaving vulnerable people at death’s door to understand the emotional blackmail placed on the shoulders of already heavily-burdened women when they threaten direct action. In their position, it might take many of us a decade to feel powerful and worthy enough to strike too.

In fact, this discourse around Glasgow’s equal pay strikes highlights some of the greatest threats to workers’ solidarity in general. The accusation of political manoeuvring on the part of trade unions is an age-old – and right-wing – trope which has been used to discredit direct action by workers for as long as it has existed. The creation in the public imagination of the single entity ‘the unions’, rather than a dynamic and constantly evolving mass of activists, branches, officials and policy, works in its favour. And, perhaps most crucially of all in this case, the framing of these disputes as political interest versus political interest rather than workers versus state power can only operate to splinter and erode solidarity among a left which should be firmly united behind the former.

It’s for this reason we shouldn’t waver in our support of industrial action, no matter the circumstances, demands, historical context or stakeholders. Dignity, respect and equality are not bonuses that bosses – no matter how ostensibly reasonable or kind, no matter what political party they might be from – will hand down voluntarily with a shiny bow on top, because they are simply not built into capitalist structures of work. They have to be fought for, from below, against all the odds and by asserting our worth, just as Glasgow’s women have done for the decades in which they’ve kept up this fight, and just as they are doing now by choosing to escalate it at this point.

If this is an essay about the context in which Glasgow’s equal pay strikes are taking place – historical, political, national and local – it’s also worth taking a minute to think about the future. It may be true, as Glasgow City Council have said in response, this strike will make no difference to negotiations – that, after all, is largely up to them. But it’s not true it will make no difference at all: 8,000 politicised, angry women who know their rights have been shown their voices matter and their hard, emotional, undervalued work is worth something, and they aren’t going anywhere. Many more thousands will have watched them from near and far, and started to think they might matter too. And once they’ve won, society can’t carry on with the business as usual of subsidising whole cities on the funds they’ve stolen from downtrodden women, or taking for granted that they will dutifully do the work the rest of us don’t want to, quietly and at great discount.

When Glasgow’s women have taken their rightful place in the history books for spearheading this monumental change, the narrative around them will be one of workers’ rights and women’s liberation. For now, they do as we do, and they battle diligently despite accusations of political infighting, overstating their worth and being silly gormless women, because they know that what they’re asking for is the least that they deserve. This city’s working-class women haven’t been wrong yet.

All pictures are PSI Creative Commons. Video, shot and edited by Jonathan Rimmer, belongs to Conter.

Politics of Equal Pay (23/01/19)

Here's a really good article by Catriona Stewart in the Evening Times which reflects on various aspects of the long fight for equal pay in Glasgow City Council.

Now what I like about the piece is that it's pretty even-handed  with both its praise and criticism since it's true to say that lots of people (and organisations) have been blowing their own trumpet since a deal was announced.

I'll have more to say about this 'trumpet blowing' in a separate post because while it is important for everyone to have their say - they ought not to be allowed to rewrite history.

One thing that is clear, for the moment at least, is that Glasgow is being left to clear up this business all on its own - there's no mention of extra help or funds from the Scottish Government even though its ministers clearly are listening to the 'special cases' being made on behalf of other groups.

Catriona Stewart: The equal pay fight is far from over

By Catriona Stewart @LadyCatHT - Evening Times
Equal pay strike in Glasgow (Kirsty Anderson) with
 the celebrations came the recriminations.

Settling the equal pay dispute in Glasgow has been a battle rumbling on for more than a decade and finally, finally, on Thursday last week an agreement was reached.

The news was broken first by the unions with Glasgow City Council and Action 4 Equality Scotland issuing a joint statement confirming the deal shortly after.

While the women who are due to receive their long awaited payments must have been over the moon - the average pay out is expected to be £35,000 while some will receive upwards of £100,000 - on social media it quickly became about politics.

Who should be given the credit and who should shoulder the blame?

The issue has been a political football. The equal pay scandal is squarely on the shoulders of the Labour administration and the unions that allowed their women members to be sidelined and underpaid.

Would Labour have resolved the issue had Frank McAveety not lost control of Glasgow City Council in 2017? We'll never know.

The unions are in a better place as they have had the chance to turn themselves around in support of the women. GMB Scotland, in particular, has been frank about the organisations failure in looking after the interests of women members.

New union officials Rhea Wolfson and Hazel Nolan would seem to have won the trust and respect of their women members while UNISON has a healthy and active membership of campaigners who have been impressively vocal on the issue.

Action 4 Equality Scotland has been a constant throughout the equal pay dispute yet lawyers Mark Irvine and Stefan Cross QC have had criticism for making money from the lengthy struggle.

That's an odd argument. Lawyers don't work for free, they, like the women involved in the equal pay battle, expect to be fairly recompensed for their work.

Along with recriminations, there is another element where social media has played a part.

Unlike in the early years of the equal pay dispute, there is now an active community of equal pay women on Facebook who have shared vital information, encouraged other women to get involved and lit the touch paper that led to last year's march and rally to George Square.

It has been fascinating to see how the use of social media - so derided in other contexts - has had an impact on Glasgow's equal pay dispute.

So, praise is due to the women for continuing to fight during what must have been extremely discouraging times. Praise to the unions and to Action 4 Equality Scotland.

And praise to Susan Aitken and the SNP administration who kept a pledge to sort out the mess left behind by Labour.

Yet quibbling over who has done the most for settling equal pay seems a pointless side issue when there is so much left to be done.

A full council now must sign off the agreement when the SNP has minority control of the council and the women must approve their individual settlements.

It will take another two years to rectify the unfair pay structure that led to the current mess the city is in.

More compensation will need to be paid at the end of those two years to women who have been shortchanged throughout that period.

Some 3000 different jobs will need to be assessed and any pay changes signed off by the unions and the council.

Mr Cross faced ridicule when he suggested the equal pay claims would cost the city £500 million but now here the city is with a £500 million bill.

The pay of thousands of women will have to be brought to an equal status of the pay packets of hundreds of men.

Sorting that out will also be a hugely costly business.

When the budget is announced next month, hard choices will have been made to help to pay for the bills equal pay has caused.

And the ramifications will be felt for years to come.

No one likes to feel the pinch and feel the pinch we will so the campaign must continue to ensure the city - its residents and its elected members - remember why equality is so important and must be delivered.

Last week was a major victory but the fight still continues