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Today and tomorrow a record 8000 women across Glasgow will take strike action in their continuing fight against Glasgow City Council for Equal Pay.

These women, supported by their trades unions Unison & GMB Scotland, have been fighting for equal pay for over a decade.

The battle has gone on so long that around 200 women have died while waiting to be paid what they are owed.

Equal Pay Rally

Glasgow City Council stands almost alone across Scotland, and within the UK, as one of the few Local Authorities who have not resolved the issue of equal pay. Most people you speak to on the street think that equal pay was resolved years ago. Sadly, not for these women.

Instead, in 2006-2007, in an attempt to resolve equal pay, Glasgow City Council introduced a new job evaluation scheme. However, the Glasgow scheme, which was not agreed to by the unions, perpetuated the discrimination meaning that low paid women in jobs such as home care continued to earn thousands of pounds less than men in comparable roles like road workers or mechanics.

In recent days the media coverage of the strike has picked up.  However, the attention, political and public support the strike has received pales into insignificance when compared with the national coverage and awareness there was of the Birmingham City Council refuse collectors strike last year (a predominately male role) and the Junior Doctors strike of 2016 (a strike of middle class professionals).

8000 of Glasgow’s lowest paid women - cooks, cleaners and carers -taking part in one of the largest strikes for equal pay since the Equal Pay Act was introduced, in 1970, with over 300 pickets across the City - appears to warrant less coverage.

As far as I am concerned Eva Livingston, of the Guardian, summed up the sad reality perfectly when she asked “is it that they are too female to be a proper workers’ rights story, and too working class to be a proper feminist one?”

In recent days these women have faced criticism from their employer and from the press. Glasgow City Council described the strike as “unnecessary and potentially very dangerous for some of the most vulnerable people in the city”.

You only need to look at the outrageous headline in Saturday’s Glasgow Evening Times to get a taste of what I mean. “Fears for old folks” (The Express) “putting lives at risk” (The Times) screamed the headlines, clearly lines taken straight from Glasgow City Council’s PR department, without actually applying any thought or questioning to the matter.

In what other situation would it be acceptable to blame those who have been wronged? To, frankly, victim blame in this way?

The problem is that the work these women do is still too often considered “women’s work” and society still does not value or care about “women’s work”. That is the reason why the press and the employer think they can behave so badly, miss the entire point of the strike and blame the women who, after a decade of fighting, have used their fundamental human right to withdraw their labour.

And yes, surprise surprise, these women provide essential services. These women have been providing these services - unnoticed, unthanked and underpaid for years. And it is these very services for which these women have been paid less than their male equivalents.

So can be please stop with the fundamentally sexist guilt trip bring placed on these women for withdrawing their labour after being messed about too often for too long. This nonsense does not happen when men take strike action. Some may counter by saying that men do not care for vulnerable people. I say, if the jobs these women do were taken as seriously as the employer takes the jobs of their male workers we would not be in the situation we are in today.

We are here because of a failure by an employer to pay equal pay. End of.

And while we’re at it can we please stop playing politics with this dispute and using this as yet another way of avoiding talking about the actual issues. I am sick of the political blame game about whose fault it is, the Labour Party who were in power for decades, implementing and defending all this discrimination or the SNP who came to power, promising big, before themselves losing the trust of the women.

To focus solely on this, at the expense of what the women’s strike is about, is to spectacularly write out of history the dignity and strength of these women’s struggles. Whoever is to blame, the parties in power, or the officials who served them, it is surely time to put that in the past. These women deserve better and they deserve it now.

I sincerely hope that Glasgow City Council end this dispute, end it fairly and pay these women what they are owed. Don’t forget that this is wages that they are owed. Wages that they have not been paid.

Compensation for these unpaid wages is the minimal justice that these women deserve.

But let’s also not forgot one of the biggest tragedies of this equal pay scandal - the difference these wages would have made to the women had they been paid it at the time they were due. Too often this may have meant the difference between a mother having to work several jobs to make ends meet, or, if she’d been paid properly, having more time with her kids when they were growing up.

Compensation for what their due will give these women some justice. But what they will never get back is the lives that they could and should have had had they been paid properly in the first place.

Blog by Jillian Merchant, Employment Solicitor Glasgow

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