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23 January 2019

Mass strike wins historic step towards victory in Glasgow equal pay battle

Matt Dobson, Socialist Party Scotland

In a historic announcement, trade unions and lawyers representing 13,000 Glasgow council workers have reached an "agreement in principle" to end the equal pay injustice suffered by low-paid women workers for over a decade.

The Scottish National Party (SNP) administration in Glasgow has also confirmed an agreement has been reached. The deal is thought to be valued at around 500 million.

This is a larger sum than the council was discussing a year ago. The decisive catalyst for this breakthrough is the colossal impact of the 8,000-strong 48-hour strike, in reality a working-class uprising, by the workers and their trade unions on 23-24 October 2018, which shook the city.

The administration was fully aware that unless it moved it faced the prospect of more strikes, escalating further the political impact and the inevitable backlash against the SNP. The mood and confidence of the strikers to fight on has only increased since October.

Striker Isobel O'Brien told Socialist Party Scotland: "It's been very emotional. We all deserve every penny we get having fought for so long. Thanks to your party for your support. Come to the City Chambers on 24 January at 12.15pm to celebrate and show them we can still mobilise."

Denise Philips, Unison home care convenor, who spoke at the Socialist Party's Socialism 2018 rally, told the BBC: "They have been playing about and robbing us for years. They need to pay up now, hopefully it comes to fruition".

This is a historic turning point in the fight for equal pay. But the process isn't over. The 'deal' still needs to be agreed by the council.

The claimants - the heroic low-paid workers who have inspired trade unionists internationally - will also be the best judges of whether this proposed settlement meets the cost of what they are owed and rectifies injustice. Throughout this dispute, mass meetings have made every critical decision and this will continue.

Once the settlement for more than a decade of injustice is finalised, the question then becomes how an equality-proofed pay and job evaluation scheme for the council can be agreed.

The trade unions, which have grown through the dispute, with a new layer of activists and shop stewards energised, are in a strong position to combat any reticence from council officers and the SNP.

It should also be noted that, after claiming the use of financial powers such as borrowing to set a no-cuts budget was irresponsible, the council has taken the option of securing a commercial loan to finance the settlement.

However, the repayment rates on this will be significant, running into tens of millions annually. The trade unions and working-class communities will need to prepare to fight the attempts of the SNP-led council to carry out cuts to pay for the deal.

At every stage the trade unions, and Socialist Party Scotland, have called for the cost of the equal pay settlement to be met by the Scottish and Westminster governments. These bodies could have taken the funds from the wealthy and big business rather than the wider working class.

Socialist Party Scotland and our members who play a leading role in Glasgow City Unison will continue to give support and solidarity to the workers in the next stage of their struggle.