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Around 12,000 will join new equal pay strikes in Glasgow

It's a fight to make real what was won by inspirational strikes in 2018
Issue 2796
20 women equal pay strikers in Glasgow with orange and black GMB flags and purple Union banners

Glasgow workers striking together for equal pay in 2018 (Pic: Andrew McGowan)

Up to 12,000 Glasgow council workers are set to strike in two weeks’ time over equal pay. The workers, overwhelmingly women, will strike again next month if they don’t win.

The Unison union is calling out nearly 9,000 members, and the GMB around 3,000 on Tuesday 29 and Wednesday 30 March and then on Wednesday 20 April and Thursday 21 April. 

The combined total could be even larger than the inspirational equal pay strike in the city four years ago that seemed to have won over the issue. It will involve workers in home care, cleaning, catering, schools, nurseries, residential homes, parking services, homelessness hostels, addiction services and admin functions across the council.

Lisa, a child development officer and Unison member, is preparing to join the strikes. She told Socialist Worker, “In 2018 there were a lot of people who had never been on strike before but were really involved and passionate when it happened.

“Then we got the result and we thought, at last, we’ve got it, it’s done. And now we find out the council is going back on that. How can that happen? It’s been proven in court that we’re underpaid, how can they do that?

“There are lots of women who are relying on this money.  People worked through the pandemic, and some were ill and some tragically died. There were women who lived in care homes and didn’t go to their own homes because they wanted to keep the residents and their own families safe. Now we are treated like this.”

Lisa adds, “People are ready to go for the strikes. They’re up for going as far as it takes, and that means beyond the four days if necessary.”

Kath Stirling, Unison branch chair, said, “The purpose of the strike is to force the council to maintain the current arrangements for equal pay compensation payments. These were won after the last strike but the council is moving to tear up those arrangements. This could see smaller payments for some and others left out completely.

“These are the same women, in the same jobs still being paid under the same discriminatory gender pay scheme. We say no dumping of the 2019 deal. No exclusions.”

A 12-year battle over women being paid £3 an hour less than men in similarly important roles led to the 2018 strikes. Thousands of women joined official strikes and refuse workers—most of them men—who had not been balloted supported the action by refusing to cross picket lines

The GMB organiser reported that on the day of the strike she had an angry phone call from the shop steward of the parks and recreation department demanding that pickets were put in place so that workers there could refuse to cross them.

With an overwhelmingly popular strike that won attention across Britain, the council sued for peace. It agreed in 2019 to pay out at least £500 million. This deal settled most equal pay claims up until March 2018 and included a new pay and grading system.

A Unison union office in Glasgow with the word "strike" spelt out in leaflets before the equal pay strikes in 2022

The Glasgow Unison union office now spells out a clear message over equal pay

Unison says that since then, around 5,500 new claims have been lodged for the period prior to March 2018, with nearly 20,000 claimants awaiting settlements for the period after that.

It said the current dispute centres around whether the new claimants receive the terms of the 2019 agreement. Every day the council delays and swithers away from justice means hardship for the women involved—and some have not lived to see the cash they deserve.

There is a real feeling to strike. Ballots saw 98 percent of GMB members and 96 percent of Unison members voting to strike. A consultative Unison ballot did not hit the turnouts required under the anti-union laws in some sections. But the union rightly went ahead with a formal ballot of all those affected and reached the threshold.

There are some indications that the council—led by the Scottish National Party—might try to divide the workforce using a “traffic light” system where claims from the lowest-paid are waved through but others are blocked.

There should be no deal without justice now for all—and no more delays. The council will fear the power of the strikes and also worry about the effect on the elections on 5 May. Escalating action, and solidarity again from other workers, can win an important victory for working women in particular and all workers in general.

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