GMB and Unison picket lines covered Glasgow on Tuesday 23 and Wednesday 24 October in a two-day strike by City Council employees.
A lunchtime demonstration on the first day of the strike also saw four thousand people march through Glasgow to a rally in front of the City Chambers.
It was the biggest strike for equal pay in British history. The target was years of pay discrimination against City Council women employees, resulting from the Workforce Pay and Benefits Review (WPBR) which was introduced and defended by successive Labour administrations
The then Labour-controlled Council rejected the equal pay schemes used by all other local authorities in Britain. The WPBR which it chose to use was unique to Glasgow and systematically discriminated against women.
Employees on full-time contracts, for example, automatically got extra points (and pay) for being on full-time contracts. But female employees are more likely to be on part-time contracts than full-time ones.
The WPBR awarded the same basic pay to jobs of equal value. It then invented reasons to award extra points (and pay) to jobs predominantly done by male workers. The result: a male doing a job of equal value to a job done by a female was paid up to £3,000 a year more.
The City Council unions walked out of the job evaluation process involved in the WPBR, lodged a collective grievance about it, and also lodged a formal complaint with the City Council leader.
In October of 2006 the (Labour-controlled) Council approved the WPBR – despite the absence of any agreement with the Council trade unions. Employees were given three “chances” to accept the WPBR in late 2006 and early 2007. Then it was imposed.
Discrimination also loomed large in the rationale for the Council’s creation of arms-length companies (ALEOs) in the following years.
It believed (wrongly) if it shunted low-paid women off into ALEOs, then those women would not be able to use better-paid male workers still employed by the City Council as comparators.
A statutory investigation of the WPBR conducted by the Equality and Human Rights Commission in 2010 found that the WPBR was discriminatory. But the report was neither acted on nor even made public.
Without counting this week’s strike, in the period 2006 to 2017 there were 14 separate WPBR disputes (short of strike action), and ten strikes which related to the WPBR.
A total of 6,000 City Council employees were balloted about those strikes, and 3,500 of them took part in the strikes.
Apart from the strikes in opposition to the WPBR, 12,000 legal claims about pay discrimination have been lodged by women council employees, many of them dating back to 2008. They have been “on the go” ever since.
£2.5 million was spent by the City Council under successive Labour administrations in attempting to persuade the courts that it was not discriminating against women workers.
This was spent not just on the employees’ claims about pay discrimination but also on the “big” legal proceedings about the nature of the WPBR itself, and the Council’s claim that a woman working for an ALEO could not compare her rate of pay to that of a man working for the City Council.
This was the record of successive Labour administrations (Purcell, Matheson, and McAveety) over eleven years (2006-17).
In May of last year Labour lost control of the Council to the SNP. The new SNP administration initially continued with the Labour-legacy legal proceedings but then abandoned them and promised a negotiated settlement.
But it has not lived up to its promise. There has been no progress in the seventeen months since its election.
Although the SNP’s failure to progress talks was the trigger for the strike, the blame lies fairly and squarely with the Labour administrations of 2006-17. The SNP has failed to resolve in 17 months a problem which Labour administrations created over eleven years.
The last Labour Council leader, Frank McAveety, is still leader of the Labour Group. And as long as he remains Labour Group leader, the Scottish Labour Party’s promise of “Real Change” will remain a dead letter.
UCU pay ballots miss threshold
Despite a clear vote in favour of strike action in a UCU ballot which closed on 19 October,, only a handful of institutions met the 50% turnout threshold for action in the universities’ dispute over pay, casualisation and equality.
Across the board turnout was 42% with a 68.9% vote for action, the best UCU has ever achieved in a pay ballot! The FE pay ballot which also closed on 19 October also went down to defeat in the face of the 50% rule.
In a consultative vote HE members had clearly rejected the employers’ 2% pay offer and failure to act on the growth of insecure posts within the sector, but not enough were convinced of the need for industrial action.
The timing of the ballot (which began in the summer break), fatigue after strikes on pensions earlier this year, and a general sense that workload, not pay, is the key issue for permanent staff may all be factors here. Branches need to act to ensure that casualised staff — many of whom played vital roles in the pensions dispute despite having no guarantee of a long-term career in the sector — do not become alienated from the union given the failure to secure a vote for action on their pay and conditions. Effective local campaigns will be central to that.
Meanwhile, the row over the USS pension scheme in pre-92 universities continues with increasingly embarrassing revelations for the employers’ side about miscalculations underpinning their claim that the scheme is underfunded. When strikes were called off in the spring it was with the promise that a Joint Expert Panel would investigate the disputed state of the scheme. The JEP’s first report has upheld almost all of UCU’s criticisms, entirely vindicating the decision to strike.
However, its report still concedes too much to the employers and would require an increase in contributions. USS is currently consulting members on an interim increase: there is a template for responses at bit.ly/2EEPvj8.
Just before the ballot results were released, UCU held a recall congress to deal with unfinished business held over after its main congress earlier this year was cut short by a staff walkout. Employees of the union had refused to facilitate the congress, claiming that motions of censure and no confidence in the General Secretary Sally Hunt were an attack on their working conditions. At the recall event the motion of censure was passed and the no confidence motion withdrawn (Sally Hunt is currently on sick leave and was not present to defend herself).
Action at grass-roots level is now needed to organise local disputes in both colleges and universities around issues that can win majorities for action. That may mean strikes around specific aspects of casualisation as they affect an institution or over London Weighting (and similar arrangements for other costly cities).
Ensuring that Labour commits to abolishing the anti-union laws, including the 50% turnout threshold for action, is also vital.
London Underground Central Line disputes
RMT drivers have three ongoing disputes on the Central Line: resisting the removal of detrainment staff on the Waterloo and City Line, where drivers operate out of Leytonstone depot; demanding reinstatement for Paul Bailey, a driver they believe was unjustly sacked; and fighting against an out-of-control management culture.
Management have backed off for now on their plans to remove Waterloo and City Line detrainment staff. They were planning to impose “flash-and-dash”, whereby, rather than the train being physically checked by a station assistant, the driver would simply be expected to flash the cab lights on and off and hope that would be enough to remind any passengers to get off, then take the train into the sidings.
In the Paul Bailey case, there is a lot of propaganda being circulated by the Central Line Operations Manager. Paul was sacked after “failing” a drugs test, for the presence of cannabinoid substances, but a second test on a sample taken at the same time showed he was well within the cut-off limit of 50-ng/mL.
Management are now moving the goalposts and saying the limit is 15-ng/mL, even though all the documentation says 50. They won’t release the results of Paul’s initial test, they’re just saying “he failed”. When pressed on why they won’t release the results, managers say, “we don’t have to”. So there’s obviously something dodgy going on in terms of openness and transparency.
The third dispute is over what the union calls a “breakdown of industrial relations”. There are a raft of issues involved here, which affect drivers at all Central Line depots. They’re similar to the issues in the Piccadilly Line dispute. Drivers feel like we’re being pushed around by management. They knowingly run trains late then effectively force drivers to work past their shift finishing times. There’s also a big issue with the authoritarian way the attendance policy is being applied; drivers who are at work with no issues are being hauled in for medical case conferences and told they’re at risk of losing their jobs!
In the Waterloo and City Line and Paul Bailey disputes, there are clear demands: retain detrainment staff, and reinstate Paul. In the other dispute, RMT is fighting for a wholesale change in management culture.
RMT members will strike on 7 November, alongside Aslef, who have a parallel dispute on the Central Line over similar issues. Aslef also have a live ballot mandate over cab security, but it’s not clear what their strategy is for that.
The issues with Central Line management have been ongoing for years, resurfacing over and over again. Drivers say it feels like they have to strike to keep the bosses in check.