Busting The Myths Around Glasgow Equal Pay Strikes

As Glasgow’s gears up for what will be the biggest withdrawal of labour for equal pay in the UK since the 1960s, UNISON Scotland have provided some FACTS to counter the MYTHS that are doing the rounds. 

MYTH:  The Unions agreed to the Glasgow pay system but are now suing against their own agreement.

FACT:  UNISON’s local branch and equality team vetoed the Workforce Pay and Benefits  Review (WPBR). The tribunal decision records that the unions walked out on the job evaluation process, took a grievance and formally complained to the council  leader. The council admitted in the litigation that the jobs were graded by managers and consultants alone. In no sense is WPBR a union scheme.

“Nothing agreed, nothing offered, nothing proposed.

We demand real negotiations.”

The council approved WPBR on 16th October 2006. The committee report reflects the fact there was no agreement. Instead the report recommends imposing WPBR and contemplates doing so by mass dismissals. Under a Labour majority,  the report was approved. Workers got three chances to accept WPBR over the winter of 2006/07. Then it was imposed.

All this is “on the record”. In 12 years of argument over WPBR, including 14 disputes, 10 strikes and over 12,000 legal claims, no council official has ever said this was a union approved scheme. Anyone saying that now is making mischief.

MYTH: If the unions had employed their industrial muscle on this long before now we wouldn’t be in this position.

FACT:  No current Scottish pay system has faced more disputes and legal conflict than
WPBR. There have been 14 separate WPBR disputes in 11 years and 10 strikes.

“Start looking at settlement proposals so negotiations can finally start.

All we have had for nine months are talks about talks.”

Nearly 6,000 workers have been balloted in WPBR disputes and 3,500 have taken strike action. In parallel with the strikes there are 12,500 legal claims, many of which date back to 2008. Are the council honestly saying we could or should have been MORE aggressive?

Militancy is not the issue. None of this conflict would have been necessary if the council had not suppressed the findings of the statutory investigation by the Equality & Human Rights Commission in 2010.

In 2010 the EHRC conducted a statutory investigation of WPBR and told the council it was discriminatory. That report was suppressed. In 2018 Councillor Aitken correctly ordered the release of the secret report. Although that instruction has not been met in full we know enough from the material released to say that discrimination should have ended long before now.

What was needed to resolve this dispute in 2010 was not greater union militancy or legal wizardry, but simply the regular transparency of a council meeting. The officials were able to block and suppress the EHRC until 2018 because councillors never met to discuss equal pay issues between 2006 and 2018. Councillor Aitken exposed the fact that all Glasgow councillors failed, and failed badly. That is something we agree on. The big questions are simple – who knew what about the EHRC, when did they know, and what did they do? How did they silence a statutory agency that held expert evidence of discrimination at the council?

MYTH: The reasons for the strike do not justify strike action.

FACT: The reason for the strike is clear – the claimants have lost faith in the willingness of senior officials to deliver Councillors Aitken’s instructions. In December 2017, the parties agreed to adopt a joint timetable with clear stages or milestones. The workers were already low on confidence in March 2018 when they told Anne Robinson’s BBC documentary that they were going to the union to demand a strike.

“The women know the reason for the dispute because it was the women who called the strike.”

In May, a consultative ballot extracted a council commitment to adequate funding, a new joint timetable with milestones and a deadline of Christmas. In August the council missed their milestones, tore up the timetable and told the unions there would be no money until April 2019. We don’t know if the officials had councillor approval for the actions that triggered the strike vote. We shared that information openly with the members, as a trade union should, and the reaction was as clear as it was predictable. The call for strike action was overwhelming. This is a member led campaign and the members are angry. Very angry.

MYTH: The women don’t know why they are striking because the union misinformed them.

FACT: The council get irritated when we advise them how to address equality issues but it has to be said that publicly patronising powerful women who have high value legal claims is a high risk strategy. The members meet at least once a month to plan and execute their campaign. The members went to the Court of Session and there were over 30 claimants at the recent tribunal hearing. They know how the scheme was designed, they know about the EHRC cover up, they know the detail of the 42 point settlement plan and they know the council tore it up. They have battled through 14 disputes over 11 years and they know this is the conclusion of a long slow battle. The women know the reason for the dispute because it was the women who called the strike. It’s that simple.

MYTH: The unions know that council officers are carrying out the instructions of the council leader.

FACT: Cllr Aitken told the officials to end the EHRC cover-up and produce the report in full. In fact she told them three times. But we are still waiting for the truth behind the cover up. Councillor Aitken asked for a time table with milestones and dispute resolution. The officials missed the milestones, tore up the timetable and refused to go to mediation before 2019. Was that what the officials were instructed to do? We genuinely don’t think so.

MYTH: Any delay in making payments is due to the strike, not the actions of the council

FACT: The claimants’ representatives have been available to talk, without condition, since December 2017. It was the council who left the talks in response to the strike notice. The strike does not delay settlement. What delays settlement is the council’s attitude to the strike – their decision to walk away shows a lack of respect for low paid women. Every dispute is settled by discussion. The only way forward is to talk.

MYTH: The union’s escalated the campaign when the SNP defeated labour in 2017

FACT: With 6000 workers in 14 disputes, 10 strikes and 8,000 legal claims the campaign was very assertive against the Labour administration. What escalated the scale and significance of the campaign even further was the Court of Session decision in August 2017. Labour presided over the WPBR years and the SNP administration has set a course towards equality. Accepting the Court of Session ruling and removing WPBR were strong decisions that have received credit from the workforce and their representatives. But the unions are clear – we are in dispute with the employer, not the elected members. Party politics is irrelevant.

MYTH: The union’s are covering their backs for their discrimination over the last 12 years

FACT: This briefing sets out our actions. We vetoed WPBR before it was adopted. We commissioned the leading UK expert to analyse its impact after it was imposed and went straight to mass litigation. Every member received advice and we encouraged them to join the campaign. Although we lost the tribunal and the first appeal we kept fighting. In parallel with the litigation we organised Cordia workers against the discrimination within the ALEO policy and Cordia’s daily practices. We closed Cordia down and took the workers home to equality within the council. Working with Action4Equality we had to change the law of equal pay to bring equality to Glasgow. UNISON organised the mass participation of low paid women and removed the discrimination of tribunal fees to restore access to justice for all – in Glasgow and across the UK. We succeeded where the EHRC failed. This is not “union back-covering”. This is pay equality & pay justice.


Challenging poverty through trade unions and collective action

On the fifth day of Challenge Poverty Week 2018, Francis Stuart from our Policy team looks at how labour market trends are contributing to poverty in Scotland, and why rebuilding trade union power is key to tackling inequality.

Much has been made of Scotland and the UK’s ‘record levels of employment’. Yet real wages remain lower than they were ten years ago and one in ten workers are in insecure forms of employment such as zero-hour contracts, temporary work and low-paid self-employment. More still are underemployed – working part-time but seeking more hours.

These labour market trends feed into the picture of poverty in Scotland today.

More than one in five people in Scotland live in poverty. The likelihood of being in poverty is higher still for women, lone parents, ethnic minorities, and disabled people and their families.

In-work poverty is also on the rise, increasing from 440,000 in 2011-2014 to 540,000 in 2014-17.

That paid work is no longer a guarantee against poverty should concern us all. So how can we address this?

Well a good place to start, whether you are a policymaker or a professional, an activist or an academic, would be to promote trade union membership and collective bargaining coverage.

There is a strong body of evidence to show that high trade union membership and collective bargaining is associated with lower levels of economic inequality. This can be seen historically in the UK where inequality, particularly at the extreme end, has risen at the same time as trade union membership has fallen.

Trade union membership and top 1% share of income in the UK

graph blog 1

It can also been seen across the developed world, where countries with higher collective bargaining arrangements, have lower levels of extreme inequality.

Collective bargaining and top 1% share of income in EU countries (2010)

blog graph 2 

While the current labour market and trade union membership trends are concerning, they aren’t fixed. Trade union membership levels only began to fall in 1979 due to a concerted and deliberate political attack by Government and elites. It can be undone through workplace organising and political support from outside the workplace.

Rising poverty isn’t predetermined either – it is driven by low-paid, precarious work; high housing costs and a diminishing welfare state. Yes addressing these issues requires policy change from Government but, as the link to trade unions shows, it also requires institutions and political movements that fight for that change.

Positively, there are a range of inspiring efforts underway. Only yesterday, workers at Wetherspoons, TGI Fridays, McDonald’s, Uber Eats and Deliveroo walked out on strike in a day of action coordinated by trade unions.

Later this month more than 8,000 Glasgow City Council workers – mostly women carers, cleaners and caterers who’ve been historically discriminated against – are set to strike after Unison and the GMB members overwhelmingly voted to take industrial action over equal pay.

Out with the trade union movement, a number of anti-poverty groups, disabled peoples groups and groups such as Living Rent, are led by those with first-hand experience of challenging those responsible for discrimination and exploitation.

Let’s learn the lessons from these organisations and movements. Not to stop making the case for policy change but to ensure that it is sustained by a fundamental transformation of the power dynamics within our economy.

Challenge Poverty Week is organised by The Poverty Alliance. Find out more about their work here.

Where Does Free Speech End and Hate Speech Start?

Julie Ferguson, EIS rep and member of the STUC Disabled Workers’ Committee, writes for the STUC blog:

In June this year, it was announced that in Scotland hate crime against disabled people increased from 188 in 2016-17 to 284 in 2017-18.  This is a worrying trend, especially in the current political climate of austerity, leaving the EU and its Human Rights Convention, and general labelling of disabled people as “benefit scroungers”.

Disabled people are regularly insulted, and challenged aggressively, simply for being different:

“You don’t need that wheelchair, you can walk.”

“Why should you get money from the government?  Earn it like everybody else!”

“You’re a retard.”

“Get out of my way, blind bitch.”

“Disabled people should be sterilised.”

“Cripples shouldn’t be allowed out.”

“I hope you choke on your plastic straw and die.”

So.  Where does free speech end and hate speech start?

On Twitter, this is a common view:

Julie_blog quote 1

[Tweet reads: “Even though some opinions are REALLY out there, they’re still not YOUR opinion.  People need to accept that free speech includes all; not just the one that line up with theirs”]

Well, let’s check that.

Amnesty International UK states thatFreedom of speech is the right to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, by any means.”.  As Amnesty International UK points out, we have the right to look up, listen to, write, and say anything we want.  Within reason.  The UK and Scottish Governments both have an obligation to prevent free speech from becoming hate speech, i.e. a hate crime.

Police Scotland defines a hate crime as one “motivated by malice or ill will towards a social group by: race; sexual orientation; religion/faith; disability; transgender/gender identity” This definition includes the use of intimidating or threatening behaviour (including obscene calls and gestures), verbal abuse or insults (including name calling), and online bullying and abuse.

The boundary between free speech and hate speech/crime lies somewhere between those two definitions.  I can’t give you legal advice about whether something you or someone else has said is definitely free speech or hate speech.

I am asking you to think about it more, to consider what you’re saying, or what someone else is saying, with this in mind.

Here’s some examples of ‘free’ speech:

Collin Brewer, a councillor in Cornwall, said disabled children should be put down because they cost the council too much money.  Afterwards, he said that he didn’t think he’d done anything wrong (4).

On Twitter, a photo of a nine year old girl with disabilities was used in a pro-eugenics campaign.  The message read, “It is okay to think that every child matters however a lot of them do not”.

While campaigning to become President of the United States, Donald Trump mocked a journalist for being disabled, and he was filmed jerking his arm spastically.

On Reddit, there are several threads (you may not want to click the following links) discussing whether disabled people, particularly mentally-disabled people, should be euthanised (killed).  A lot of people think we should be killed.

Another Twitter example:

julie blog image 2

[Tweet reads: in case youre wondering YES I am prejudiced against the mentally disabled and mentally ill, id kill them myself if I could, w an uzi w “GOOD INTENTIONS” engraved into it !”]

Why am I worried?  There are people out there who advocate the right to say anything they want without consequences.  Perhaps these people won’t take it further into physical violence, but they’re opening up the potential for others to do so, thinking that they will have support for their actions.

Two years ago, 19 people were killed in a care home in Japan, because they were disabled. 25 more were wounded. If we let hate speech against disabled people become normal, not only do we have to deal with the mental damage of that behaviour, we’re also normalising violence against disabled people.

Don’t believe me?  Boris Johnson recently made derogatory comments about burkas and niqabs, and violence against Muslims often increases after politicians hold forth like this.  Watch the news, pay attention to the people around you.

The bottom line is, nobody gets to abuse another person for being disabled, or for any other protected characteristic.  If you think you’ve experienced a hate crime, report it to the police.  Police Scotland must log and investigate any incident as a hate crime if the crime is seen by the victim as caused by prejudice.  If it’s a hate crime, they’ll take it further.  If it’s a hate incident, they’ll use the information to identify trends and target resources more effectively.  Either way, reporting it helps you and other people.  If you think you’ve witnessed a hate crime, report it to the police.  You do not have to be the victim of the crime to report it.

If you’d like to read more about hate crime legislation as it currently is in Scotland, with recommendations for improvements, please have a look at Lord Bracadale’s “Independent Review of Hate Legislation Crime in Scotland”, which was published in May this year.  The report can be downloaded as a PDF.

Popular Policies for a Just Transition

Tackling climate change is a global imperative, and Scottish Labour today has added its proposals to the clear set of targets that are being demanded of the Scottish Government.

Ambitious targets for decarbonisation of our economy are essential in the context of global climate change agreements to limit temperature increases to 1.5oC.[1] These targets must not be made at the expense of the workforce and communities which currently extract or depend on the use of fossil fuels. These are the principles of a ‘Just Transition’.

The Just Transition Partnership was formed by Friends of the Earth Scotland and the STUC in 2016. Its members include Unite Scotland, UNISON Scotland, UCU Scotland, CWU Scotland, PCS Scotland and WWF Scotland.

Substantial changes are needed to decarbonise our economy and support good quality employment. This will require large-scale investment in transformation of the production and consumption of energy, as well as reductions in overall energy use.

Done in the right ways, the transition to a low carbon economy can create good new jobs, yield significant economic and social benefits, as well as avert the potentially catastrophic environmental consequences of climate change.

That is the purpose of Just Transition, endorsed through inclusion in the Preamble of the Paris Agreement which takes into account the imperatives of a just transition of the workforce and the creation of decent work and quality jobs in accordance with nationally defined development priorities”.[2]

A Just Transition means moving to a modern low-carbon economy in a way which protects workers’ livelihoods, creates a new industrial base and delivers a fairer Scotland. This concept is central to a successful response to climate change, the implementation of existing Scottish greenhouse gas (GHG) emission reduction targets, and those proposed under the new Climate Change Bill. Bold targets need strong delivery plans, public enthusiasm and engagement in achieving them.

Any just transition needs to ensure popular support by taking the needs of workers and communities into account and bringing wider socio-economic benefits for citizens of Scotland.

The Scottish Government has accepted the case made by the Just Transition Partnership[3] and Stop Climate Chaos Scotland to set up a Just Transition Commission. Labour’s announcement today builds the pressure on the Scottish Government to make it robust.

A statutory Just Transition Commission, involving workers with real frontline experience in the development of a proper industrial strategy, offers the opportunity reduce emissions while creating new, good quality jobs and benefitting communities across Scotland.

[1] UNFCCC Paris Agreement 2015 Article 2 https://unfccc.int/sites/default/files/english_paris_agreement.pdf

[2] Paris Agreement, Preamble

[3] https://foe.scot/resource/proposals-for-just-transition-commission/

A Home To Take Pride In

Kris Hendry, from the Public & Commercial Services Union, looks ahead to the upcoming European Championships and LGBT+ equality on behalf of the STUC LGBT+ Workers’ Committee. 

This year will see Glasgow host its third major sports event since 2014 and, as was the case with the Commonwealth Games in 2014 and the Homeless World Cup in 2016, LGBT+ equality will be very prominent at the heart of the Championships thanks to LEAP Sports Scotland. 

In 2014 LEAP put together and ran the original Pride House Glasgow, the first to be held as part of a Commonwealth Games, and followed this up in 2016 Pride House Glasgow returned for the Homeless World Cup with over 5,000 people visiting between both events. 

This year Pride House Glasgow returns once again for the inaugural European Championships and promises to, yet again, make sure LGBT+ issues are a key focus of the Championships with a wide range of events planned between the 1st and 12th August. 

A Proud Nation? 

Scotland, in more recent times, has a proud history when it comes to LGBT+ equality, particularly in the context of wider UK LGBT+ issues. 

Our country was the first to repeal Section 28 (or 2A) which banned the “promotion” of LGBT+ issues in schools and was also the first to begin the introduction of same sex marriage rights. 

More recently the Scottish Government introduced automatic pardons for all men who had previously been convicted of homosexual acts when these were still criminalised, an issue our Committee was directly involved in taking forward. Additionally, as the Westminster Government is currently consulting on reform to the Gender Recognition Act, the Scottish Government is currently considering feedback, including our own, on their consultation which closed in the spring. 

However for all the legal equality our community has achieved, LGBT+ phobic hate remains an everyday reality for many of us. Whether it be in the workplace, at home or just out in the street, many within our community continue to suffer verbal and, occasionally physical, abuse just for being who they are. It is an issue that our Committee is committed to continuing to tackle, alongside the STUC General Council and our colleagues in the STUC’s other Equality Committees. 

A Rainbow Europe 

With this year’s Pride House Glasgow taking place during the European Championships, one of the major focusses will be on LGBT+ equality across Europe. 

Each year the international LGBT+ organisation ILGA-Europe produces their “Rainbow Europe” report which highlights the varying states of LGBT+ equality across the continent. The fact is that even within Europe, so many of our LGBT+ family continues to be persecuted by their own Government’s just for being who they are.

International solidarity has been a key staple of the Trade Union movement and our Committee will continue to stand alongside activists across Europe, and around the world, in challenging LGBT+ phobic attitudes in the fight for true equality for all LGBT+ people, wherever they are.

Get Involved

The STUC LGBT+ Workers’ Committee encourages everyone to visit Pride House during the European Championships and get involved. Pride House Glasgow is open to all, regardless of whether you identify as LGBT+ or as an ally to the community, with events for people of all ages.

We also encourage people to get active within their own Union’s equality structures and help feed into the work of the Committee through our annual LGBT+ Workers’ Conference and throughout the year.

“But know what isn’t gonna solve anything? Inaction.”

Declan Welsh performed alongside Emme Woods at the Trump Rally in George Square on Friday 13 July 2018. He shares his thoughts about Trump, the rally, and why inaction isn’t an option.

On Friday I was asked by the Scottish Trades Union Congress to speak at the rally protesting Donald Trump. I performed my poem Lads, in reference to the President’s “locker room talk” defence.

I was delighted with the turnout, and in response to those who say “where were ye during Obama’s drone strikes” or “what about May and her aggressive immigration policies”. Aye. I totally agree. But know what isn’t gonna solve anything? Inaction. If there’s one good thing about Trump, it’s that he is the ugly, brazen face of this system. He shows it for what it is. Obama, May and others were (to varying degrees) slightly more palatable versions of it, but immigrants were still treated as sub human, and bombs still fell on the world’s poor.

There are, however, things unique to Trump as a figure. The way he speaks about women, immigrants, foreigners, and multiple other myriad issues has shifted discourse to a point where now, fascists are no longer scared. They feel like they are winning. And in many ways, they are. This is why it matters to turn up to these things. It is not your only responsibility, but it is one of many. If we come out in force, we begin to create our own movement. In solidarity with immigrants, with victims of sexual assault, with those affected by American imperialism, with African Americans, with environmentalists. We can use Trump, and his odious, toxic, caricature of an existence to rally against. First, we defeat the man, then we defeat the system.

So, aye, me saying a poem to a big crowd of socialists isn’t gonna change the world. But that big crowd of socialists might. And I, for one, want to be a part of that.

You can watch the video of Declan performing Lads here.

TRUMP: Fascism makes progress by increments

STUC General Secretary, Grahame Smith, shares his thoughts ahead of Trump’s UK visit. An abridged version of this was published in the Daily Record on 13 July 2018.

Donald Trump arrives in the UK this week. His encounters with our PM are nothing more than a convenient pretext for the real reason for his visit, the most expensive ever Scottish golfing holiday.

To some Trump is a figure of ridicule, and he has given the late night American talk show hosts plenty of opportunity to do just that. To some, including many white working class Americans, he is a figure of salvation from the drudgery of global capitalism. And to some, me included, he is a figure of dread, someone to be feared, someone who poses a significant threat to democracy.

We Scots like to think we are a welcoming people. But there are limits, and we should draw the line with Trump – a narcissistic, misogynist, sexist, racist, authoritarian, white supremacist, Nazi sympathizer.

Trump and the other authoritarian leaders, in whose company he appears most comfortable, pose a serious threat to us, to our planet, to democracy, to unions, to progressives across the world.

We should never forget the many lessons to be learned from history and it’s not as if we haven’t seen this movie before.

The rise of ultra-right, populist, protectionist, authoritarian regimes, has consistently followed a global economic crisis – just like the one we suffered in 2008.

Fascism makes progress by increments. It feeds off economic discontent. It manufactures and stokes ethnic, cultural and national grievance. It concentrates power in the hands of its elites. It ostracises minorities or outsiders – those who do not conform to its definition of what is morally or culturally acceptable, who are ‘less worthy’.

It eliminates opposition politically, in the media or in civic society – including trade unions.

Fascist regimes hate international institutions that would hold them to account against collective standards for human, labour and civil rights. They prefer the company of their own.

They justify their actions as upholding the rule of law – the law they create, however outrageous, and however divergent from international standards. Any decent is condemned as lawlessness and is ruthlessly crushed.

Trump’s actions certainly conform to this sinister pattern:

pulling the USA out of the Paris climate accord and the UN Human Rights Council and violating the rules of the WTO;

consistently criticising international institutions like the UN, the EU and WHO;

preferring the company of authoritarian dictators like Putin, Kim, Erdogan and Duterte, on whom he lavishes praise;

threatening to ‘lock up’ his political opponents, condemning those who challenge him, including the press and media,  as anti-American;

disregarding evidence to justify policy decisions while making a virtue out of ignorance, including his own;

attacking unions, collective bargaining  and workplace reps;

justifying the separation of families on the Mexico border and the interment of children as upholding the rule of law;

referring to those seeking asylum as people who infest America;

demeaning, through his words and actions, women; people with disabilities, African Americans, and the LGBT+ community;

retweeting disgusting and bogus videos of the UK’s far right; and

defending the Charlottesville Nazi’s who marched with their torches in defence of pro-slavery monuments, and amongst whom, Trump said, were ‘good people’.

There is no moral equivalence between fascists and anti-fascists as Trump tried to assert. There are fascists and those who oppose fascists, only one of those groups is right.

Theresa May has much to be ashamed of, but her sycophantic tolerance of Trump, despite his total disregard for her and the so called ‘special relationship’ between the USA and the UK, is near the top of the list.

It was disgraceful that a British PM ran hot foot to the White House to beg Trump to undertake a State visit. It says something that even the Queen finds Trump so odious that she baulked at that prospect.

When asked in the Commons about Trump’s detention of children her response was anaemic. An appropriate response would have been to cancel his visit.

This week, May has the opportunity to tell Trump some home truths. I’m not holding my breath. Trump is dangerous. He should not be appeased or pandered to. He should be condemned.

On Friday and over the weekend, thousands of people will join people’s protests against Trump. These protests are not anti-American. We stand shoulder to shoulder with all Americans who fear Trump as much as we do and who are actively resisting: the Women’s March; Black Lives Matter; Planned Parenthood; progressive trade unions; the Human Rights Campaign; and many other groups and individuals from the political left; from industry, sports and the media.

The STUC and unions will be prominent in these protests. It is our responsibility to defend democracy at home and abroad.

Democracy is about more than putting a vote in a ballot box on Election Day. Political institutions need to be influenced and held to account by wider civic society of which unions are a central part.  We have a crucial role to play in defending fundamental human rights and civil liberties. Building union membership and organisation has never been more important not just to improve rights at work but to stand up for democracy.