A walkout of over 8,000 low paid mainly women council workers in Glasgow, in late October, was rocking city council bosses as Socialist Review went to press.
The dispute that has brewed for 12 years was said to be easily the biggest strike by workers over equal pay since the 1960s. They work in care, catering, cleaning, caretaking, administrative and educational support roles for the council.
The dispute centres on an unfair pay and grading system that left women worse off. This was under a Labour-run council that also imposed cuts and privatisation of services.
Anger at the rocketing workloads this led to still fuels discontent today among council workers, particularly as it has not eased up under the new Scottish National Party (SNP) administration.
Nursery worker Esme spoke to Socialist Review about the issues and the strike. “I am a Child Development Officer (CDO) and work with children two to five years old. There's not enough CDOs in the city, which makes our job highly stressful.
“Years ago, bin men used to have the highest sickness rate in the council, now it’s CDOs. We have a physically and mentally exhausting job.”
Esme said that the SNP government’s promises to double free child care for three year olds, and older, will “make things worse” because the promise has not been matched by adequate resources.
It’s no wonder, with years of stress and cuts on top of pay inequality, that the women are so determined to force council chiefs to settle. Some are owed tens of thousands of pounds and estimates of the final bill have been put at over £1 billion for over 12,000 workers with equal pay claims.
Esme said, “Nobody can afford to strike but this our money. We shouldn't have to strike to get it. I'm not just striking for myself but also for those strong women who save lives and care for the dying, who have been treated so badly.”
It’s this determination that has the bean counters at the council worried. Chief executive officer Annemarie O’Donnell sent a letter to staff ahead of the two-day October walkout, which unions branded “scaremongering”, “distasteful” and “dangerous”. Esme said it left those at her work “raging” with council bosses.
“The letter accused us of being irresponsible and putting lives at risk, saying, ‘If you strike you’ll get nothing’. It’s emotional blackmail and it’s only made me more determined. I'll lose as many days’ pay as this takes.”
This is all the more disgraceful because first minister Nicola Sturgeon had said prior to the SNP taking control of the council that “the injustice suffered by low paid women in this city will be put right. Equal pay for equal work, denied for too long, will be delivered by the SNP.”
The council strategy now appears to be same as the previous administration — refuse to negotiate properly and force the women to use tribunals as a way of settling their claims, hoping to kick the issue into the long grass.