By Amy Dean, Glasgow Marxists
The next few weeks will see important events for the workers’ struggle across Scotland. Starting in Glasgow where the ongoing council equal pay dispute will culminate in a strike of thousands of women workers on the 23rd and 24th of October. The dispute dates back to equal pay claims from 2006 when Glasgow City Council introduced a Workforce Pay and Benefits Review System, which aimed to tackle the gender pay gap. However under the scheme low-paid jobs tending to be occupied by women such as cleaning, catering and care are being paid significantly less than jobs such as refuse collection, which are deemed to be of the same value but are male dominated.
Following years of legal action, including a ruling that the Council’s exclusion of women from bonuses had been discriminatory, Glasgow City Council announced in early 2018 that it would seek to end the dispute through negotiating a settlement for 12,000 current and former workers. However, despite ten months of meetings the resolution has still not been finalised. The Council has said it plans to put forward a deal by the end of the year, and has also highlighted the financial difficulties it will face in reaching settlement with estimates placing the cost in the region of £500 million to £1 billion.
Meanwhile the affected women who are working predominantly in care, cleaning and learning assistant roles for the Council have overwhelmingly voted in favour of strike action to show the Council the true worth of the jobs they do, and demand a fair settlement. Ninety-nine percent of women represented by Unison and 98% by GMB voted in favour of action.
The struggle underlines the continuing gender pay gap as well as the overall exploitation and mistreatment of low paid workers under capitalism. Women have long been seen as an easy target who are less likely than men to fight low pay and poor conditions, whilst in the period of austerity the conditions and pay of workers across all sectors, and particularly those in jobs deemed to be low skilled, have come under attack. The women striking against the Council are an important example of militancy from one of the most exploited groups in society.
As well as supporting their struggle, we would call on all workers across the Council to join the strike in solidarity so as to cause even greater disruption to services and increase the pressure on Glasgow City Council. In addition to the women getting fair pay settlements, we would also underline that the point should be to bring the women’s pay up rather than reducing the pay of male workers.
Another key dispute that is currently taking place is that over teachers’ pay. The EIS, the main teaching union in Scotland, has demanded a 10% pay rise in response to a 20% cut in real wages since the financial crash in 2008. The Scottish Government has responded with an offer of a 3% increase. As well as a substantial real wage cut, teachers in Scotland have also faced increased hours and stress as a result of cuts.
The Union is now set to ballot its members on whether or not to accept the 3% deal. Following this, if (as expected) the deal is rejected it is likely the EIS will ballot for industrial action in the case of a better deal not being made. The potential of a teachers strike, which follows the recent strike of lecturers, is yet another example of the extent to which pay and conditions of “middle class” jobs has worsened, particularly since the financial crisis. As a result more and more people are coming into struggle.
The Council and the Scottish Government may claim that they are in no position to increase teachers’ pay by 10% or pay out settlements to underpaid women workers’, and that in order to do so it would need to reduce services. We say to this that the working class has been paying for a capitalist crisis that was not of our making for ten years now. Given the vast wealth that exists, currently in private hands, within society there is no need for services to be cut and for workers to be paid poverty wages. Put simply, whilst under capitalism austerity may be an inevitability; with decisive change there is another way. Under socialism we would expropriate the private wealth of the corporations and bring it into the hands of the many in order that we can all have access to decent pay, services and standard of living.