The mainstream media this week discovered the local government 'single status' agreement with lurid headlines such as '£250 on your council tax to fund equal pay'.
As Socialist Worker has been arguing for months, the reality of the single status deal is that it will not only fail to deliver equal pay justice, but will also cut the pay of hundreds of thousands of workers across Britain.
And it will be used as an excuse to raise council tax unless the government is forced to release more funds.
The deal, signed in 1997, saw union leaders agree to stop legal action over equal pay claims in local government.
In return, they told their members, the councils would offer six years' back pay to women who could show they had been discriminated against. And no workers would suffer wage cuts to pay for this.
But nearly everywhere council leaders have offered less than six years' back pay and have rammed through vicious wage cuts to balance the books. Often those facing cuts are themselves women.
Angela is a street sweeper in Birmingham – where a huge struggle is building over single status. She told Socialist Worker, 'All the signs are that my pay is going to be slashed by thousands of pounds. And yet women care workers are only going to get three years' back pay instead of the six they deserve.
'The implementation of the scheme is designed to set us against each other, to make mainly male manual workers think that women are the problem, or for women who have been underpaid for decades to think that it's the manual workers who are holding up justice.
'But it's the council – and above all the government who won't give the funds needed – who are the problem. We need unity to win justice over equal pay without losers.'
By 1 April this year every council is supposed to have sorted out the problem. According to the Local Government Association, half are expected to miss this deadline.
In dozens of councils trade unionists are fighting to get women workers what they are due and to halt wage cuts of up to 25 percent for others.
This is a key issue in the British trade union movement, yet there has been a disgraceful lack of coordinated resistance from the union leaders – who have banned any national discussion of the issues.
In Birmingham a workforce of 38,000 is facing a Tory – led council that is denying full back pay and cutting wages for, officially, 14 percent of the workforce. Next Tuesday the Unison union branch, with 14,500 members, will hold a mass meeting to discuss the attacks.
If there is a successful fight in Birmingham it can galvanise opposition elsewhere and pressure the union leaders into making it a national fight.
Council workers have not won backing from the main parties, but Birmingham Respect councillor Abdul Aziz has made clear the party's support for justice.
He has demanded a full council debate over the issue. He told Socialist Worker, 'The government has to make available the money to solve the crisis. If there are billions for Trident and war then why is there not enough for our services and key workers?
'Women deserve the full recompense for the years of discrimination, but others should not face pay cuts.
'Council leaders are prepared to hire extra managers on big salaries, but won't give the money to those who actually deliver the services.'
Single status round-up
Workers in the T&G and GMB unions at Falkirk council are set to strike on 9, 12 and 13 March.
The strike is part of the continuing campaign against Falkirk council's decision to implement new single status contracts last December.
As part of their ongoing campaign against wage cuts Southampton council care workers are to strike from 9 to 12 March.
The council has imposed cuts in care workers' wages of between £500 and £7,000 a year, claiming they are to pay for single status.
Shetland council withdrew a single status pay offer that would see cuts in wages of up to 30 percent following an angry reaction from workers.
Union activists estimated that up to half of the council workers would lose money under the proposal.
Unison union members voted to reject proposals on single status last week.