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THEY’VE been accused of not knowing why they’re striking, as if they’re pawns in a political game played out above their heads.
“I’m not convinced they actually know the demands made on us,” Glasgow City Council SNP leader Susan Aitken said last week.
Perhaps she said this in an interview with the Evening Times for a reason, because she wouldn’t hear the end of it if she said it to the faces of the 8,000 women set to down tools next week. Rarely has there been a more determined and formidable force than Glasgow’s equal pay strikers.
GMB and Unison have pledged to bring Scotland’s largest city “to a standstill” as staff including care workers, cleaners, school dinner ladies walk out on Tuesday and Wednesday.
Over a decade ago, the council introduced a scheme it said would eliminate gender pay inequality, but it instead perpetuated it by building in a protection for male workers at similar grades who would lose out on bonuses.
Local government has long seen a disparity between the remuneration of jobs historically done by men — such as bin collections and estate maintenance — and those dominated by women, like home care.
Earlier this year, the council said it would reach a settlement, but unions and lawyers acting for the women have been frustrated by a lack of process.
It’s estimated the cost could be around £750 million, but months down the line council leader Aitken says she doesn’t know the cost, let alone how the City Chambers will meet it.
There’s nothing unusual about justice delayed. Just look at the female activists deceived into relationships with undercover police officers, who were told by even friends and family they were going mad for thinking it and then fought tooth and nail when they sought compensation.
Or the blacklisted workers the construction companies first deprived of livelihoods, well-being and relationships and then fought in the courts to prevent them getting recompense.
Or the families of the victims of Hillsborough, waiting decades for a judgement that South Yorkshire Police were to blame and an acknowledgement of a cover-up. Or the miners of Orgreave, still waiting.
But that doesn’t make it in any way acceptable. And in the case of Glasgow’s equal pay catastrophe, it’s worse, because the injustice is readily acknowledged. But it’s apparently all right to leave women in the lurch and blame other forces, past failures or the system. And life’s too short for that.
That’s why union officials representing the female strikers are calling not just for Glasgow to pay up now but for a total shake-up of how equal pay is dealt with.
The Glasgow case, after all, is just the tip of the iceberg. At Asda, GMB is representing female workers on the shop floor denied the pay given to their male counterparts in distribution and the bill could be huge.
But public-sector bodies, private companies and the judiciary alike have proved themselves not up to the job of sorting this out. It’s time for governments in London and Edinburgh to get a grip, acknowledge the scale of this challenge and come up with a strategy for speedy justice.
When Glasgow’s public service champions take to the picket lines next week, they deserve our full support. Their fight, after all, is so much more than their own.
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