The long-running campaign for equal pay for Glasgow City Council women workers, finally settled in February 2019, is on the agenda of the Scottish Labour Party annual conference, taking place in Dundee on 9-10 March 2019.
A motion submitted by the Scottish Labour Women’s Conference – tabled at that conference by the GMB, which represented many of the low-paid women – notes the resistance to equal pay for local authority women workers, “including during years of Labour power”.
It describes last year’s Glasgow City Council equal pay strike, probably the largest equal pay strike in British history, as the result of “a decade of delay by Labour, continued by the SNP’s handling of the negotiations.”
“At least partly,” the motion also attributes the lengthy delay in implementing equal pay to “the lack of women’s voices being heard.” The dispute would have been resolved sooner “had more women been in positions of power, influence and decision-making.”
In order to ensure that there is no repeat of “Scottish Labour’s equal pay scandal”, the motion variously calls for an audit of “ the state of women’s representation within Scottish Labour in local government … and the role of women within Labour Groups.”
The motion also calls for “gender balance of senior roles, including cabinets (in Labour Groups)” and for all Labour Groups to report on “the statuts of equal pay within their area and the steps (they) will take to resolve, implement and maintain equal pay.”
Will Glasgow Labour Group leader Frank McAveety, who presided over the last two years of Labour’s “decade of delay”, take to the rostrum in order to oppose the motion and call for its rejection?
He should. Because when a similar motion, was tabled at last month’s meeting of Shettleston Constituency Labour Party, that’s exactly what McAveety did.
What was the motivation of the mover of the motion, McAveety wanted to know? The issue of equal pay was a complex one and all that Labour administrations had done was to follow legal advice. The SNP was guilty as well. And the Labour Group had fully supported a negotiated settlement to the dispute.
But this was just McAveety’s typically tedious empty verbiage.
No legal advice was given to Labour administrations, for example, to move the women workers into arms-length companies (ALEOs).
That was purely a Labour Group initiative designed to try to stop the equal pay claims: Women workers employed by ALEOs, ran the argument, could not use male comparators employed by the Council.
In 2010 the legal advice was trumped by a statutory report by the Equality and Human Rights Commission which stated that the Council’s job evaluation scheme was discriminatory. But the Labour-controlled Council simply suppressed the report and carried on discriminating.
And the legal advice which successive Labour Groups supposedly felt obliged to follow – although they were probably more concerned about the cost of settling the equal pay claims – was the same legal advice which the new SNP administration simply chose to ignore.
The McAveety-led Labour Group did agree to a negotiated settlement to the dispute. But only after it had lost power and after the new SNP administration had come out in favour of reaching a resolution through negotiations.
McAveety’s self-serving rewriting of history is small beer compared with his arguments at the time of last October’s equal pay strike, when he demanded that Labour Party members support the Labour councillors who had presided over a decade of discrimination!
According to McAveety “principles of solidarity and support for elected members” were in play. Labour Party members had “a joint responsibility to support our elected members.” Labour councillors had been “on the frontline protecting services from Tory and Nationalist austerity.”
In reality, the only principle in play was one of solidarity and support for the women workers who were the victims of discrimination by Labour councillors. As for being on the frontline of protecting services, successive Labour administrations simply passed on Tory and SNP cuts.
(And insofar as they found ways to avoid imposing cuts in jobs in services, it was through discriminating against low paid women, thereby ‘saving’ some £550 millions on the City Council’s wages bill.)
The motion’s reference to “the lack of women’s voices being heard” and its call for an audit of “the state of women’s representation” in Scottish local authority Labour Groups highlight another long-standing problem in Glasgow Labour Group (and doubtless other Labour Groups as well).
In 2016 the Scottish media reported mounting criticism of McAveety for his lack of commitment to gender equality in the Labour Group.
According to one councillor: “Some females complain of a macho culture (in the Labour Group), an unpleasant environment to work in. One has even described it like entering a time warp to the 1970s.”
In 2017 the soon-to-be SNP Council Leader Susan Aitken saw electoral advantage in highlighting in the issue:
“There is a reason why a lot of (Labour) women councillors who were elected in 2012 are not standing for re-election. The current (Labour) leadership thinks leadership consists of throwing your weight around when you don’t get your own way, intimidation, bullying and sexism. This is coming from women Labour councillors.”
In 2018 a workshop on diversity of representation at Scottish Labour’s local government conference heard Glasgow Labour women councillors complain of “a male macho culture” and a “jobs for the boys culture” in the Labour Group.
Why, asked one woman councillor rhetorically, do so many Labour women councillors in Glasgow serve only one term of office, and why is the Labour Group leadership not interested in this?
Glasgow Labour Group has not had a female leader in a quarter of a century. Since 1994 its leaders have been: Patrick Lally, Bob Gould, Frank McAveety, Charlie Gordon, Stephen Purcell, Gordon Matheson and Frank McAveety (again).
Delegates to the Scottish Labour conference need to ensure that the motion is: not kept off the agenda because of some spurious procedural technicality; passed; and, above all, acted upon.
For years Scottish local authority Labour Groups, especially in Glasgow, have been a dead weight around the neck of the Party, with councillors functioning as an organised faction in local CLPs to the detriment of democracy and accountability.
Implementation of the motion can be the start of cleansing the Augean Stables.