This is our truth, tell us yours
I grew up in a time of industrial disputes to which women were central – the miners strike for instance.
As is traditional at Bank Holiday time, when it’s a slow news day, the Lose the Lads Mags campaign is to the fore. It’s a well run campaign, but I can’t help feeling it’s inconsequential, about symbols not reality.
So, here’s my leadership challenge tester for the weekend. It’s based on a real life problem right now, and, in a workshop, would have a series of phases, that would test the ability of delegates to react.
Imagine, not that you’re campaigning to put Jane Austen on the back of a banknote, but that you’re responsible for the union side of pay negotiations that will decide how many Austens each worker has to spend at the end of the month.
Now, since you’re a feminist at my workshop, I can’t assume you would automatically support the idea of a pay rise for public sector workers. You might be Louise Mensch, or any of the LibDem feminists who are busy propping up the current government.
So, for the purposes of the challenge, you have to assume that you’re one of the subset of feminists who give a shit about public sector pay, and who are active in a public sector trade union. Remember, these are not pejorative comments; they’re just the background to the rules of the game.
The context is important. Real pay has declined by 9.5% in the last four years. Your members are reporting increased levels of poverty pay. Many of your members aren’t even earning the basic living wage. Getting all your workers above poverty pay levels by securing a living wage for all your workers outside London is a key priority. For the worst paid workers outside London that would require a 15% pay rise. Do you agree?
At this point in the workshop, after you’ve answered that little question, you’ll be handed two summarized documents. One is the history of how your union secured equal pay for work of equal value across the workforce. The other is the summary of legal advice from your in house team that says, briefly, that you risk a legal challenge if you compromise the structure of the equal pay system by narrowing differentials at the bottom of the pay scale.
To help, the person role playing the chief negotiator explains the background to equal pay. Women’s work used to be systematically undervalued. It took twenty years to negotiate a job evaluation scheme that redressed the balance, but women are also beneficiaries of a scheme that says X’s work is of more value that Y’s.
Then, just in case you’re mistaken, someone hands you the stats for the number of union members reporting increased problems paying their debts or feeding their kids. They’re increasing, rapidly, and two thirds of the members involved are women.
What are your thoughts now? What would you do or recommend?
There are different phases to this game. It’s not a game about media manipulation, although, if you opt for a straight 15% increase to bring the worst paid onto the living wage, you’ll be handing the best paid workers a £150 a week increase, and the media will have fun with that.
So what do you do? Do you go for a straight percentage increase, and offend the media? Do you favour the low paid workers and destroy the equal pay system you fought so hard for?
I don’t know the answer. My workshop isn’t designed to develop an answer. It’s designed to help the delegates discover some facts about what matters to them.
Next time someone assumes leadership of a campaign to lose the lads mags, ask yourself how they would address these issues.