Monday, 2 March 2015

North Lanarkshire Update

No word as yet from North Lanarkshire's HQ in Motherwell, but things are moving behind the scenes apparently. 

So let's hope we hear something positive very soon.

NLC Update (01/03/15)

A number of readers from North Lanarkshire have been in touch to ask what will happen if the Council fails to sign-off on the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) next week?

Well the answer to that is very simple - without a binding legal agreement (which has been under discussion for months now) all of the equal pay cases will go back to the Employment Tribunal.

Same as before. 

NLC Update (28/02/15)

My sources in North Lanarkshire tell me the Council is making arrangements next week to seek approval for the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) which has to be agreed before there is any resolution of the long running equal pay dispute.

So, who knows?

If the North Lanarkshire dots all the i's, crosses all the t's and formally signs off on the MOU, then in the next few days we might be able to say that final agreement has been reached. 

In which case a brief joint statement will be issued to signal an end to hostilities and soon thereafter detailed letters of explanation will be sent out to all equal pay claimants.

Now I make a point of never counting chickens before they're hatched and as we've been here before it's definitely a case of 'fingers crossed'.

So watch this space.

Greeks v Germans

Here's something to cheer-up the Greeks - a Monty Python football match in which a Socrates-inspired team of Greek philosophers beat their German rivals.

Top Gear Vote

Image result for top gear + images

Rod Liddle agreed with my own observation about the wisdom of the Labour Party picking a needless fight with Jeremy Clarkson and the BBC's Top Gear programme.

I didn't realise Michael Dugher acted as Labour's communications spokesperson, but on this form he should definitely stand down and make way for someone else because he's a huge embarrassment.

Labour loses the Top Gear vote

Labour’s exciting election strategy of estranging every single voter in Britain is gathering momentum. Now that only four people in Scotland are likely to vote Labour in May, the party has turned its guns on another vast constituency — people who enjoy the television show Top Gear.

The man who’s in charge of Labour’s “communications”, Michael Dugher MP, slagged off both the programme and its main presenter, our very own Jeremy Clarkson.

“I mean the guy is basically an idiot,” Dugher averred, before dismissing the entire presenting team as “a bunch of old blokes wearing jeans and sports jackets” and suggesting that the programme was “not remotely representative” of motorists.

No, Michael, it’s not meant to be. It’s a hilarious entertainment, like your election strategy. Anyway, that’s another 5m or so votes down the swanny.

Flat Earth Labour (01/03/15)

Image result for flat earth + images

The Times reports on a public spat between Jeremy Clarkson and Michael Dugher, but if you ask me the Labour MP lost the argument by saying that he had 'no time' for Clarkson before going on to admit that he has never watched the BBC presenter's  successful Top Gear programme. 

Now whatever you think of Jeremy Clarkson and Top Gear, that's a dumb position to take - a bit like insisting the earth is flat or the behaviour of people who denounced Salman Rushdie for writing a book, The Satanic Verses, which they had never even read while calling for the author to be put to death for insulting Islam.  

Clarkson ridicules Labour MP for wearing a pink tie

Jeremy Clarkson risked adding the House of Commons to the list of places he may not be welcome

By Gabriella Swerling - The Times, Photo - 
Alpha Press

He is fast becoming more famous for his sharp tongue’s ability to stir up controversy than for his love of cars.

Jeremy Clarkson risked adding the House of Commons to the list of places he may not be welcome after criticising the fashion sense of a Labour MP.

The Top Gear presenter traded online insults with Michael Dugher, the shadow transport secretary, ridiculing him for wearing pink ties after Mr Dugher had branded him an “idiot”.

The spat erupted on Thursday after Mr Dugher’s interview with the website Politics Home, in which he said that he had “no time” for Clarkson. “I mean, the guy is basically an idiot”, Mr Dugher said.

Although he admitted that he did not watch the BBC Two show, Mr Dugher dismissed Top Gear as “a bunch of old blokes wearing jeans and sports jackets”.

Never one to shy away from an argument, Clarkson, 54, posted a message to his 4.4 million Twitter followers, saying: “Labour’s transport spokesman says he doesn’t like Top Gear. Good. We don’t make it for people who wear pink ties. ”

Mr Dugher, 39, who has 15,700 followers, replied: “Obviously I wear red ties a lot. But what’s wrong with the occasional pink one!? What on earth might someone be implying . . . ?”

The row continued yesterday as the two traded barbs over the mansion tax, which the presenter strongly opposes.

“I’m sure you can afford to chip in an extra few quid,” Mr Dugher tweeted.

Andy Wilman, the executive producer of Top Gear, said of Mr Dugher: “He must be Mystic Meg if he knows what we do without watching the show. If he bothered to watch it, he would know that we take as much pleasure out of celebrating a £1,500 estate car battling its way across Africa as we do from a Bugatti Veyron running at top speed.”

This week Mr Clarkson also become embroiled in a spat with the Liverpool Echo after comments about the city. Last year the Top Gear crew had to flee Argentina after a row over the Falklands. Clarkson also caused controversy last year over claims that he used an offensive word while reciting a nursery rhyme during filming, which he denied.

Guardian Journalists

Guardian journalists like Owen Jones are great supporters of women's rights so long as the good causes they support do not conflict with their political outlook which tends to revolve around a romanticised view of trade unions and slavish support for the Labour Party. 

Which is why you seldom hear a Guardian journalist say anything about equal pay since this  would require an honest appraisal of the role played by Labour councils across the UK for many years where traditional male council jobs, for example, have been hugely better paid than their female colleagues.

And this was going on, of course, despite a landmark equal pay agreement in 1997 (1999 in Scotland) which promised to sweep away this widespread pay discrimination by introducing new (Single Status) pay arrangements which rewarded employees on the basis of their responsibilities and skills.

The exception in The Guardian to prove this general rule is Zoe Williams who wrote an piece some time ago entitled 'Sisters with Solicitors' which I must find and re-post because it gets to the heart of the issue and speaks plainly about the shameful role of the trade unions. 

Why more men should fight for women’s rights

By Owen Jones - The Guardian

To end the harm inflicted by aggressive masculinity men must embrace feminism – without stealing it
Men march in Istanbul for women’s right to be free from violence after the murder of Özgecan Aslan. Photograph: Emrah Gurel/AP

Özgecan Aslan was a 20-year-old psychology student with dreams, fears and aspirations who was tortured and murdered by a man. She could have become just another statistic in a global pandemic of male violence against women, but in Turkey and neighbouring Azerbaijan she has become an icon.

Across Twitter, Turkish women have responded by sharing their experiences of harassment, objectification and abuse. But something else happened: men took to the streets wearing miniskirts, protesting at male violence against women and at those who excuse it or play it down.

Before assessing how men can best speak out in support of women, it’s worth looking at the scale of gender oppression. The statistics reveal what looks like a campaign of terror. According to the World Health Organisation, over a third of women globally have suffered violence from a partner or sexual violence from another man. The UN estimates that about 133 million girls and women have suffered female genital mutilation, and believes that nearly all of the 4.5 million people “forced into sexual exploitation” are girls and women. In Britain, about 1.2 million women suffer domestic violence a year, 400,000 are sexually assaulted, and 85,000 are raped: again, misery inflicted by men against women on a mass scale.

And then there’s the economic side of it. The International Monetary Fund’s Christine Lagarde describes “an insidious conspiracy” against women through laws, varying in scale across the world, that prevent women from working. Women are disproportionately concentrated in the lowest paid, most insecure and often most demeaning forms of work; they also do the vast majority of unpaid housework and childcare. The oppression of women is comprehensive indeed.

But how do men speak out about a form of oppression from which they benefit? Take this column. It is inherently problematic. There is no shortage of men offering their opinions on, well, everything. It is mostly men representing the nation and passing laws: about 80% of MPs are men. A study in 2012 found that male journalists were behind 78% of all front page articles, and 84% of those mentioned or quoted in lead pieces were men. The national debate is shaped by men; issues are prioritised by men and the prism through which they are analysed is decided by men. What a farce it would be if men began to dominate the debate about men’s oppression of women.

Indeed, there can be a perverse irony involved in men speaking out in support of women. As the US sociologist Kris Macomber has put it, men are “members of the dominant group; they have access to social and institutional power that women lack”. In other words, their support for feminism is useful for the very thing feminism is struggling against – their power. Feminists have often expressed their frustration to me that men are applauded for saying what women have said for generations.

And then there are the men who elect themselves “feminists” as a way of granting themselves a certain type of coolness, or making themselves more attractive to women: “Look how sensitive and caring I am – I’m even a feminist!” Sexism is rife on the left – as it is everywhere in society – but the danger is that leftwing men may decide they cannot possibly be sexist, even as they interrupt a woman to assert their feminism. One leftwing feminist tells me she can work out a man’s attitude to women in five minutes: “Do they interrupt you? Do they listen to you? Do they presume they know more than you?”

So what is the role of men in all this? The liberation of women is down to women, after all, and the great advances that have so far been made are down to the struggle and sacrifice of women: some known, some airbrushed from the history books. The women’s movement has changed men for the better: they are more likely to have female and gay friends than they once did, to talk about their feelings (though not enough), to have a greater role in raising children, and so on. Men are so accustomed to various privileges – such as automatically being taken more seriously – that they are not even aware they exist. That’s why it is so crucial that men listen to women and their experiences, and learn.

Yet men will only stop killing, raping, injuring and oppressing women if they change. That means tackling attitudes within their ranks that make possible the objectification of women, for instance, or which normalise violence against women. The White Ribbon Campaign is one example, attempting to transform men’s attitudes towards such violence. Unless men speak out, such attitudes will persist and the terror against women will continue.

And while men are not oppressed by men’s oppression of women, some are certainly damaged by it. Gay men are a striking example: we are deemed to be too much like women. But some straight men suffer because of an aggressive form of masculinity too. The boundaries of how a man is supposed to behave are aggressively policed by both sexism and its cousin, homophobia. Men who do not conform to this stereotype – by talking about their feelings, failing to objectify women, not punching other men enough – risk being abused as unmanly. “Stop being such a woman,” or “Stop being such a poof.” Not only does that leave many men struggling with mental distress, unable to talk about their feelings; it also is one major reason that suicide is the biggest killer of men under 50. This is one of the key arguments made by the HeForShe campaign championed by Emma Watson, which attempts to encourage men to support women.

So, yes: this column is problematic. I’m yet another of the men who dominate the opinion pages of newspapers. Women’s voices are not heard enough. And when they are heard, they are taken less seriously than men.

We have to be humble: to listen and to learn. But unless men speak out, the pandemic of violence against women will continue.

Sisters with Solicitors (22/09/14)

I noticed that this post from the blog site archive has a lot of hits recently.

So I thought I'd publish it again because it is one of the few examples I've seen of a Labour leaning commentator coming off the fence and getting stuck into the subject of equal pay. 

Unlike, for example, the Scottish Labour leader Johann Lamont who is a self-styled feminist and gender equality champion, of course.

Sisters With Solicitors (28 November 2013)

I think this is a good time to publish a previous post from the blog site - one from April 2010 which features an article written by Zoe Williams a regular contributor in the Guardian newspaper.

I heard Zoe the other night on some TV programme and she has lost none of her edge or her ability to call a spade a spade.

To be sure the trade unions have a terrible track record on equal pay and - in certain parts of the country - they have lost all credibility whatsoever.

Sisters With Solicitors (29 April 2010)

Here's an article on equal pay by Zoe Williams from the Guardian newspaper - the sections in bold have been highlighted by me - but you can read the full story on-line at:

"On equal pay, sisters with solicitors must do it for themselves"

"The Birmingham case shows just how much Labour and the unions have let women down.

The news about Birmingham city council is in its way as big a deal, as cataclysmically bankrupting, as Greece. Unlike Greece, it has a massive, Erin Brockovich feelgood factor. I feel sure we'd be talking about it much more if it weren't for bigot-gate.

The tribunal's finding is this: women employees have been systematically underpaid and discriminated against by this council, for as long as the Equal Pay Act has been in force. Female staff on the same pay grade as men (cleaners versus bin men, for instance) could expect to earn much less, to start with, and go on to be paid much less in bonuses. The starkest example given was one case of a refuse collector taking home £51,000 in one year, while women on his level received less than £12,000.

Paul Doran, of the firm Stefan Cross that successfully brought this case, told me: "The bonuses were a sham, there was no monitoring, they were paid simply for men turning up to work, doing their jobs properly." The council plans to appeal (of course it does), and there are appeals due to be heard in September from Sunderland and Bury councils, fighting similar cases. But if it proceeds according to the judgment as it stands, this will lead to payouts worth £200m. It is, in short, a wonderful day for equal pay, better than any manifesto promise: legislation has shown its teeth, and there isn't a council in the country that can afford to ignore it.

Nevertheless, the abiding sense I'm left with is not triumph but outrage, not least at the GMB union, which, solicitors say, was just as culpable as the council in maintaining this exploitative status quo. The GMB had the unbelievable brass neck to put out a press release yesterday morning claiming this as their victory. Technically, in terms of representing the litigants, this may be – but historically it's quite a different case.

Female staff, attempting to right the iniquities in the pay scale, weren't just poorly represented by their union, they were systematically bullied (this is all documented in the Allen v GMB appeal of 2008, which found against the GMB and which the GMB, brazenly, never mentions).

Doran recalls: "The Equal Pay Act was enforced from 1975. In spite of that, councils started paying bonuses in the 70s and 80s, which was driven by the unions. The bonuses are paid to male-dominated groups. The councils quickly realised that the bonuses would have to be scrapped, so the unions, rather than fight for equal pay for the women, spent a lot of their time preserving the bonuses for the men."

This included actively encouraging women to settle for pitiful sums (£2,000 to £7,000 in cases where the claims were for as much as £50,000) and publicly briefing against the women on the basis that their claims would lead to job losses or would bankrupt the council. Socialism and feminism aren't synonymous, and we all know that: but the misogyny of the left is almost more poisonous, more depressing, than the rabid materialism of girl power. I remember people saying this about Thatcher: that one of the reasons why she was rarely hauled up on those of her policies that were actively bad for women was that she had, at least, smashed the unions: and that was worth quite a lot of free milk.

I suppose if there's an ancillary point here, it's that unions can fight and win some quite improbable battles, at least for a time; so it's worth joining, as long as they are on your side – not just taking your money and stamping on your face.

By coincidence, yesterday's ruling was made on the same day that Harriet Harman and Theresa May faced off at the Fawcett debate, What About Women? Harman is a wonderful speaker; she took May apart, and I say that without agenda (I was rather taken with Lynne Featherstone, the Liberal Democrat MP for Hornsey and Wood Green). But "Sisters!" she cried, talking about an extant 20% pay gap between the sexes. "Do we really think we're 20% stupider than men, less able, more lazy?" Everybody clapped. She talked about mandatory pay audits, and how they would ensure that bad employers have nowhere to hide. It was all incredibly inspirational, except for the fact that this government has already been in power for three terms, and we are standing here, gasping in amazement that anyone's managed to enforce some equality legislation that was passed in 1970.

It makes you think: first, that the Labour party, for all its big talk, is not necessarily the best for women. Of Harriet Harman's personal commitment to equal rights, I am in no doubt. But the forces working against her, in her own party or certainly their cohorts, the unions, are just as powerful and destructive to equality as anyone painting poor old Theresa May into the corner where she has to argue the married man's tax allowance until she's pink with embarrassment.

Second, maybe we don't need more legislation, at the moment, in this area. Maybe we do not need the Equality Act, until there is proper, rigorous implementation of the Equal Pay Act. And lastly, a moment to congratulate the solicitors: they don't campaign or (I doubt) call anybody "Sister". But they get it done."

Stefan Cross QC (02/0313)

BBC 2 is screening 'Made in Dagenham' tonight - a hugely enjoyable film but one with a serious message about the fight for equal pay in the late 1960s - one which still resonates today, of course.

So this seems like as good a time as any to share some good news with regular readers of the blog site and the many thousands of clients of Action 4 Equality Scotland (A4ES).

Which is that my fellow campaigner and co-collaborator, Stefan Cross, has just been appointed as a Queen's Counsel (QC) in recognition of his contribution in advancing the law on equal pay in the UK.

Now becoming a QC is a very big deal in legal circles - in fact some folks I know would 'throw their granny off a bus', so to speak, just to be able to put such impressive letters and credentials after their names. 

But in this case the appointment is very richly deserved because Stefan has, quite simply, changed the legal landscape in relation to equal pay.

By providing access to justice to many thousands of low paid women workers who could not rely upon the employers or trade unions to protect their rights when the chips were down. 

Welcoming his appointment Stefan said:

"I am absolutely delighted with this unexpected appointment as a QC. During the last ten years I have campaigned for equality in the face of determined opposition and many detractors. I continued to fight these equal pay cases to the highest courts because I cared passionately about the rights of low paid women who had not been well served by their trade unions. I am very pleased that I have been able to make a positive and lasting contribution to advancing the law in equal pay."

Now I can testify to that myself and not just because Stefan has offered to buy me a drink to celebrate his success. No, the reason I take my hat off to Stefan is that every word of his statement is completely true.

The reality is that until Stefan Cross and A4ES came along low paid council workers in Scotland (most of them women of course) had been left high and dry, with nowhere to turn for support, because the council employers and trade unions had no intention of honouring their obligations on equal pay.

But we did appear on the scene just in the nick of time, as it turned out, and the fight for equal pay continues to this day - with major cases against Glasgow City, North Lanarkshire and South Lanarkshire Councils still underway.    

So eat your heart out 'detractors' and 'equal pay deniers' because we've just added another string to our bow - and it's one with a very long reach.   

Made in Dagenham (16 November 2011)

In case you missed it at the cinema - Made in Dagenham - a film about the fight for equal pay in 1968 is now showing on the Sky movie channel.

Here's what I wrote about Made in Dagenham when it was released last year - but it is truly incredible that the same fight is having to be fought out all over again - 40 years on.

And do you know what - the issues are exactly the same - employers and trade unions bending over backwards to deny women workers equal pay.

How is it possible - in Edinburgh for example - for the council to argue that a social care worker, or a catering manager or a classroom assistant - was not entitled to the same rate of pay as a refuse worker.

If anything, these female dominated jobs should all have been paid more - but the council and the trade unions - turned a blind eye to what was going on for years.

The employers and the trade unions - should be thoroughly ashamed of themselves.

Made in Dagenham (September 17th 2011)

A new film is to be released next month which tells the story of the struggle for equal pay in 1968 - by a group of women at the Ford car plant in Dagenham.

An inspiring story - by all accounts - it tells the tale of 187 women machine workers who walked out of the Dagenham car plant in 1968 - when their work was downgraded as 'unskilled' - and their demand for the same pay grading as the men in the factory was refused.

Directed by Nigel Cole of Calendar Girls, the film has a great British cast - including Sally Hawkins, Bob Hoskins, Rosamund Pike, Rupert Graves, Geraldine James, Miranda Richardson and John Sessions.

The idea for the film came about when the women behind the original protest - appeared on Radio 4's The Reunion programme.

Made in Dagenham stars the award winning Sally Hawkins as Rita O'Grady - who is the catalyst for the 1968 strike - which took place only two years before Equal Pay Act was introduced in 1970.

Working in poor conditions and for long hours, the women at the Ford Dagenham plant finally laid down their tools - in protest at their second class treatment compared to their male colleagues.

With humour, common sense and courage they take on their corporate paymasters, an increasingly belligerent local community, and finally the government of the day.

The leader of the women's struggle is fast-talking, no nonsense Rita whose fiery temper and occasionally hilarious unpredictability - proves to be a match for any of her male opponents.

I imagine the film will be a hit with everyone who has been involved in the struggle for equal pay some 40 years on - with Action 4 Equality Scotland.

The same battle that was waged in 1968 has essentially had to be fought all over again - only this time on behalf of low paid council workers in Scotland.

The trade unions never led this fight because they were part of the problem - doing deals that favoured traditional male jobs - and shamelessly betraying the interests of their women members.