The equal rights lawyer who represents many of the women at the centre of the Glasgow Council Equal Pay row has said trade unions refused to deal with him for years after the dispute began.
Stefan Cross told The Times newspaper that the GMB and Unite unions only came on board with his Action4Equality group 18 months ago, around the time Labour lost its grip of the local authority.
Cross, who set up Action4Equality group with Mark Irvine, told the newspaper: “Instead of backing the women the first thing they would do was run off and get a dodgy deal with the employers. The women remember this. A lot of them lost out as a result. As we carried on the fight and won stage by stage and demonstrated that what we were doing was the right thing, slowly but surely different trade union officials have thawed and talked with us.”
He added: “They literally wouldn’t sit down with me, … Now, in Scotland though not yet in England, the unions have come on board; first Unison then, in the past 18 months, the GMB, and finally Unite.”
Cross made the claims in an interview with The Times newspaper. Speaking of the early days of the dispute with the then Labour controlled council, he said : “If you go back to 2005 in Glasgow it was a very hostile environment,” he says. “I was in the middle of litigation against the trade unions, demonstrating that they were discriminating against their female members – the exact opposite of the position they were seeking to portray.”
Throughout the period when Labour ran the local authority, trade unions refused to have anything to do with Action4Equality. In one email the head of GMB Scotland, Gary Smith, insisted Cross and his partner Mark Irvine were motivated only by money.
In June 2017, Smith emailed GMB members, saying: “These solicitors are driven by profit. They make money from the claimants they represent. The private solicitors will take money from any settlement.”
Cross and Irvine also claimed the GMB and other trade unions never once threatened strike action to bring the pay of the City’s Council’s largely female workforce into line with the much higher pay of their bonus earning male comparators. The two solicitors also accused the trade unions of working with Glasgow Council officials in order to protect the earnings of people in male dominated jobs.
The actions of the GMB during Labour’s tenure is in stark contrast to its behaviour after the 2017 local elections which saw the SNP take over running of the council. Threats of industrial action were made by GMB official Rhea Wolfson within months of Labour losing power.
Suspicions of political opportunism grew when it emerged Wolfson was herself a Labour party candidate. Months after Wolfson’s strike threats, her GMB trade union donated £12,000 to the Scottish Labour leadership campaign fund of then candidate Richard Leonard.
Leonard was also an official with the GMB during the period when Labour negotiated the pay structure that led to the current dispute.
According to the Scottish Labour website, “In 1996 Richard took up the role of an organiser for the GMB union representing workers in manufacturing, commercial and public services across Scotland.”
Speaking in February this year, Leonard admitted Labour owed the women an apology.
The Scottish Labour leader said: “I am pleased that we are now on the right side of the argument with equal pay in Glasgow City Council.
“Many equal pay claims were settled under Labour in Glasgow, but there was too much resistance, too much legal obstruction and for that I think we owe those women an apology.”
Despite the admission, no such apology has been made to the women council workers.
Earlier this week, lawyer Ian Smart claimed it was Leonard himself who advised the GMB to insist on the deal which led to the dispute.
Smart, who is a former President of the Law Society of Scotland, tweeted: “The reason there was a strike in Glasgow today was because, in 2006, the GMB insisted on a deal with discriminatorily terms in favour of their male members. Advised by the GMB’s then research officer, @LabourRichard”
Some critics have raised suspicions that trade unions are looking for opportunities to foster industrial unrest in order to help their former colleague.
Another trade union, the EIS, is currently threatening industrial action if its members aren’t awarded a 10% payrise.
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