On January 2nd the Guardian ran a feature under the headline ‘Fight for equality that could put jobs at risk.’ They interviewed Rosaline Wilson who had engaged a no-win-no-fee firm of lawyers to pursue an equal pay case against her employers, the local council.
She was awarded £32,000 and ended up with £18,000 for herself. Not surprisingly, she was critical of her union. "The union said we were rocking the boat. They told us they would sort it, that we’d lose our jobs [if we went ahead] but they never did sort it."
The GMB responded that they were just, "living in the real world where it is not always possible to get everything you want when you want it." If the unions carry on with this attitude, workers like Rosaline understandably won’t see any point in joining. The issue is about back pay. If female workers have been discriminated against for years, then they are entitled to back pay to right the wrong.
No-win-no-fee lawyers take 25% plus VAT if they win a case. That’s a lot of money. Rosaline ‘lost’ £14,000 of her award to the lawyers. And they’re basically piggybacking on a principle that was established by the union in the first place.
Ron Graves writes of the Carlisle health workers’ equal pay victory, potentially worth £340 million, "The supporters of the magazine ‘Socialist Appeal’, who formulated and processed the case from start to finish, recognise that the result threatens to drive a coach and horses through Agenda for Change as well as Single Status in local government. The question is whether or not activists will now take up the Carlisle case as a beacon in the campaign for real pay rises in the public services. I think we all need to publicise the result in Carlisle and put pressure on our unions, regionally and nationally, to demand equitable settlements throughout the NHS and the rest of the public sector."
These deals like Single Status in local authorities and Agenda for Change in the NHS are intended to be cosy deals with management that introduce equal pay (which we all support) as an ‘affordable’ parody of a real equal value pay system. In effect they take management’s word as to what capitalism can and cannot afford, rather than demand an objective evaluation of jobs and any resulting pay rises. In doing so they are selling out some members’ interests. Unions must fight for the best deal for every worker.