8,000 women council workers are beginning the largest coordinated strike action in Glasgow since 2011, Mark Porciani reports
In Glasgow, there is a whiff of working class resistance in the air. Women council workers have had enough. They expect their Equal Pay dispute, which has been ongoing with the City Council since 2006 and entails workplace discrimination going back decades, to be resolved immediately. Recently I attended a meeting organised by the WASPI women. During the discussion, it became clear that the majority of the women in the room were not only fighting back against unjust changes in retirement, most of them were also impacted by this Equal Pay dispute.
Last month marked the 10th anniversary since we paid for the bailing out of the banks. The cost to resolve this discrimination is a hundredth of what RBS got for reckless disregard and naked greed. To pay for this bailout, workers have been hit hard by austerity cuts, and pay has not risen significantly for over a decade. In these hard times, it's easy to understand why women working for the City's biggest employer want this dispute resolved immediately.
To do that the Council need to find a vast amount of money. Where the money comes from to pay for this is also important. This time last year, the Glasgow North East Labour MP Paul Sweeney called for the money to resolve this dispute to come directly from the Westminster Treasury. Meaning no other vital services will be impacted.
We do not want to go down the road that Birmingham went. They sold off an International Conference centre to pay part of the Equal Pay dispute bill. In Glasgow, we collectively own, through the Council, at least 18 concert and exhibition spaces. At the end of the dispute, all of these assets must still be on the Council books.
It's extremely concerning that in the last fortnight the SNP-controlled Council sold the House of Fraser building on Buchanan Street to Sports Direct Boss Mike Ashley. This is a 350,000 sq/ft asset at the heart of the City. Susan Aitken leader of the council declared this was a “major investment” for the City and “clear vote of confidence in Glasgow.... the future of this iconic retailer's Glasgow presence secured, we look forward to the new owners building on its cherished relationship with shoppers and reputation as a valued city employer for almost 170 years."
This is in practice a vote of confidence, from Aitken, for the most horrendous forms of capitalism, poor wages; and deteriorating working conditions. The only sense of security a worker gets from Mike Ashley is the ones he uses to repress them. Whatever the problematic question we may face – Mike Ashley is not the answer, he is the problem.
Most House of Fraser staff see no future with Mike Ashley. The Sports Direct Dictator played a major part, as a minority shareholder, in ensuring the company went into administration. At the start of the year, he took the company to court in the clear knowledge this would tip the company closer to administration. It's really offensive to think that part of a solution to Glasgow City Council discriminating workers and not paying equal pay could be Mike Ashley. Thankfully we have time to stop this pro-capitalist madness from the SNP - this deal is not due to be complete until January 2020.
Just under 18 months ago the SNP took control of Glasgow City Council for the first time. The promise of resolving this issue was central to their election campaign. Aitken from the outset was rather foolish in believing this would be an easy dispute to resolve. They also came to power in May 2017 promising to resolve another industrial dispute involving janitorial staff - which took to the turn of this year to resolve. In the first six months of governance, the SNP spent more time on what name they should call themselves, than resolving the issues that were critical to the taken office. The conclusion of this pointless Tartan Blairite exercise was that they decided to call themselves “The City Government”.
As Paul Foot explains in his book “The Vote”, working class representation is hard fought for. The SNP clearly opportunistically took advantage of how the vote has been undermined, by right-wing Blairite Labour, to take power. This is not only a warning to the SNP. It should be a vital lesson for any future Corbyn-led Government. He will have to deliver immediately on the promise to resolve issues of betrayal. Fail to do this and workers will fight back immediately. Gone are the days that workers will wait years for the representatives they vote for to deliver.
In August, at the STUC in Glasgow, the Scottish Labour Women's Network was launched. This started with an apology for how Labour had let women down badly on this issue. At the time Councillor Aileen McKenzie said:
“We got a lot of things wrong for a particular group of women - we let them down, we should have done more. Workplace Pay and Benefits Review (WPBR) did make things fairer for some employees but it let down a particular group of women and we should have done more for them....What we did right was recognise that there was an issue with equal pay and began to take steps to try to address it and that worked for most employees. But one group has been left behind. That is in part because we didn't have enough female representation, not enough women in deliberations, not enough women in political positions and not enough in senior roles.....I don't think what we did wrong can be made up to them but there is no point in me saying sorry without practical action. Women were made to feel undervalued. We can never give them back the time they have had to spend fighting this. We need a review of Cordia home care workers shift patterns for a start.”
It is extremely difficult at times for Labour activists inspired by Corbyn in Glasgow. This is a welcoming new start from a new generation representing Labour in the City. We have a long way to go, but this is the groundwork we require for Corbyn and Richard Leonard's agenda to be successful.
Cordia is the Council owned company set up during the Blairite era to administrate catering, care, janitorial, and other domestic-like services for the council. Thankfully this is been brought back in-house unopposed.
One of the problems with the 2006 Equal Pay revolution was it led to further discrimination for women workers who were not employed in professional qualified jobs for the Council. This was a total disregard for women providing important services. This week, all of us will learn how vital these workers are to our communities.
This isn't only just a burden for women. One male worker from the council explained to me, “my partner and myself are classified on the same grade by the council. I work less hours than her and every week my pay pack is significantly higher than hers. There is only one member of staff at our depot. None of us will be crossing the picket line.”
The dispute involves at least 8000 workers. The whole Council will be shut down by the impact of the strike, and solidarity from other workers. It will also be the largest strike day in the City since the one-day coordinated action in November 2011. According to Unison they have:
“ been pursuing a co-ordinated strategy of litigation, negotiation and industrial action if necessary, to secure justice for members who have been denied equal pay. Over the last decade, the council has, under different political leaderships, fought legal claims for equal pay all the way to Scotland’s highest court. But at the beginning of this year, after all legal avenues backed the women, the council’s current political leadership promised to negotiate a settlement for the past injustice.
But after 10 months and more than 20 meetings, UNISON and the GMB have said enough is enough.
In September, a UNISON ballot of nearly 3,000 education workers saw a 90% vote for strike action. A second UNISON ballot of more than 2,000 home carers, school cleaners and caterers, and other staff employed by the council’s arms-length company Cordia saw 99% backing action.
A GMB ballot of its members working for Cordia resulted in 98% backing for strike action.”
The overall campaign is not only critical in the fight for equality in the workplace. The turnout for ballots to strike are exceedingly encouraging in terms of challenging the latest instalment of Tory anti-trade union laws. I have always been of the view that while the turnout threshold is anti-democratic and unnecessary considering the state of bourgeoisie democracy. At the same time, revolutionary and radical militant trade unionists could use this as a means to get greater trade union participation.
This ballot to strike demonstrates the potential of this anti-trade union legislation turning into a Perestroika situation for us in overturning these draconian Thatcherite laws for good. Also, the type of union organising and campaigning applied during the dispute is a welcome return to the type of leveraging campaign that ensured justice for the Blacklist Campaign in 2013.
Last week, the Glasgow Evening Times published an inspiring article from inside the GMBs strike room. Both Unison and the GMB have set up strike rooms in their Glasgow HQs. Messages of solidarity and workplace collections from activists will be appreciated.
Show solidarity with strikers
Union branches should send strike fund donations and messages of solidarity to Drew Rigden, Unison Glasgow City Branch, 84 Bell Street, Glasgow G1 1LQ. Donations paid to Unity Trust, Sort Code: 60-83-01, Account Number: 20275789. For the GMB contact the GMB Scotland. You can express you solidarity online with the hashtag #GlasgowWomensStrike
The STUC will by hosting a strike rally on from 11.30am to 2pm on the first day of the strike, Tuesday 23 October.
Assemble at Glasgow Green from 11.30 for a march to George Square, where the rally will be addressed by a number of speakers.
Also, on Saturday 27th of October Teachers in the EiS will be gathering in Kelvingrove Park, Glasgow from 11am. On the 30th October, teachers in the union will start a ballot to strike for the demand of 10% pay settlement.