Glasgow women on strike for equal pay, photo Public Services International/CC

Glasgow women on strike for equal pay, photo Public Services International/CC   (Click to enlarge: opens in new window)

Matt Dobson, Socialist Party Scotland

Three years ago this month saw an heroic 48-hour mass strike for equal pay. 8,000 Glasgow council workers, organised by Unison and the GMB, took the action. The majority female workforce had been underpaid for decades by successive Labour and SNP administrations.

Following the strike, a famous victory and £500 million in compensation for years of unequal pay was secured.

As Brian Smith, branch secretary of Glasgow City Unison – the union branch that helped lead the equal pay struggle – said in February 2019: “The deal that has been agreed represents a huge transfer of wealth to working-class families in the city, and as such represents a seminal victory for the workforce. A victory that would not have been achieved without the marvellous 48-hour strike last October.”

The action by Unison and the GMB unions received international coverage and was seen as a massive victory. It brought a new layer of activists into the local authority trade unions, many of whom become reps and stewards.

Walkouts by mainly male bin workers who took ‘illegal’ solidarity action were also a feature of the history-making action.

The militant strike brought the Glasgow SNP-run council administration to the table to agree a deal, in early 2019, when faced with the threat of another strike.

However, the third anniversary of the equal pay uprising has been marked by a betrayal from the ruling council administration.

SNP failure

Despite using many public opportunities to say she has settled the historic dispute, the SNP council leader Susan Aitken’s administration still has substantial outstanding equal pay claims it has not settled, running into thousands of individual claims.

The council is now also attempting to renege on the 2019 deal by excluding substantial sections of the workforce from compensation for unequal pay pre and post-2018. Moreover, the council says it cannot implement the promised new pay and grading system until 2024.

Glasgow City Unison made a public statement on 1 October, stating its intention to organise members to ballot for strike action.

Socialist Party Scotland, whose members play a leading role in Glasgow City Unison, gives its full solidarity to council workers and their trade unions.

This equal pay betrayal makes a mockery of leading SNP politicians’ claims of standing for ‘fair work’ and against gender discrimination. The overwhelming majority of the staff involved also worked throughout the pandemic maintaining the delivery of essential services

It is yet another example of the SNP’s anti-trade union and anti-worker approach. Recent examples include the disputes with the RMT trade union on the railways, and the paltry disputed pay offer – effectively a pay cut – this year for local government workers.

It’s quite clear the SNP administration is trying to cut the cost of its equal pay bill by making low-paid, primarily working-class women pay the price.

We are also likely to see the council try to implement yet another cuts budget in the next few months rather than fighting for more resources for the city from Holyrood and Westminster.

It’s way beyond time we elected councillors prepared to stand on the side of workers and refuse to carry out cuts.

The Scottish Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition is inviting trade unionists and community campaigners in Glasgow, and across Scotland, to attend our upcoming meetings to discuss a socialist, anti-cuts challenge for the May 2022 council elections.