WOMEN across Scotland are no longer willing to put up with systemic and institutional discrimination in the work place and are now ready to fight back, according to leading trade unionists speaking ahead of the STUC Women’s conference.

Trade union activists said the two-day Perth conference, which kicks off tomorrow, would have an “electric atmosphere” as women came together to debate motions on gender-based discrimination at work less than a week after “historic” strikes in Glasgow.

Last Tuesday and Wednesday some 8000 Glasgow City Council workers – including home carers, cleaners, caterers and support assistants – went on the UK’s largest strike over equal pay.

Thousands took to the streets in an upbeat demonstration of their impatience for a settlement of the long running dispute, under which top-up payments made to men following regrading were found to be discriminatory by the Court of Session last year.

A noisy march through city centre streets was followed by a packed and emotional rally in George Square, which foregrounded the voices of women working in undervalued and low paid jobs. Others formed picket lines across the city.

Glasgow City Council leader Susan Aitken has insisted that she is committed to resolving the issue, a manifesto pledge prior to the body’s 2017 council election win, which saw the SNP take minority control over the traditionally Labour-led local authority. Talks will now resume this week.

But it was claimed that the strikes would have a “profound” impact on workers across the country, inspiring other women facing discrimination – from inequal pay, to lack of opportunities for progression or childcare and sexual harassment – to organise and lobby for change.

Motions set for discussion at this week’s conference include one highlighting the unequal pay and conditions of cleaners employed by St Andrews University, who three years ago were asked to move from day to night shifts. Promised additional payments to the workers – mostly women – have still not been paid though many other workers – in this case male – get unsocial hours payments.

Another motion is for the financial sector to publish strategies to address one of the highest gender pay gaps in the county, due to the lack of women in high paid roles. Others look at the need to redress gender disparity in public sector organisations such as the Scottish fire and rescue service.

One notes that a disproportionate number of men represented at executive board level within ScotRail, “creates a toxic culture, demanding long hours and antisocial working patterns”, with parents forced to move into night shifts.

Several motions also highlight the need for unions to throw off their macho image and ensure better representation of their female members, who now make up 55% of membership, up from 45% in 1995. Several back calls for male activists to “step aside” offering one of their positions to a woman, and supporting her in that role.

Lynn Henderson, president of the STUC, said: “I see an impatience from women that change needs to come in the workplace. I see women taking inspiration from things like this week’s strike and the way women have been so strong.

“We have come through such a difficult decade with people believing that the austerity cuts mean you can’t develop, you can’t move forward, you can’t speak up because you might lose your job but I think there’s a growing intolerance of that. That can’t go on forever.

“The centrality of women’s issues like equal pay, equal rights in the workplace and in society as a whole have never been more debated, and more demanded. That feels like the biggest breakthrough in my lifetime.

“I think the conference next week will be upbeat, positive and determined that the future is going to be different. There’s a confidence building now among women workers. That’s been reflected in the trade unions and we can collectively tackle these struggles and win better for the women workers.”

SHE claimed that though historically unions had been organised around male industrial workplaces, now the biggest unionised sectors were the public and service sectors. Women – many of whom had historic roles in the union – were now at their heart, she claimed.

“The union movement is changing and becoming feminised,” she added. “That’s not recognised by society quite yet perhaps, or the media, or even perhaps by some men in the trade union movement. But it is the case.” Yet she insisted inequal pay was still the biggest factor facing women.

In April this year analysis by campaigning organisation Closing the Gap found pay gaps of up to 60% in male dominated sectors such as construction and oil and gas. Gaps in bonuses in these sectors were a staggering 607%.

Only 5% of Scottish employers had set targets to reduce the pay gap.

For women in particular, being in a union pays, with women union members aged 16-24 securing a 27% wage premium. It is just 5% for men.

Jennifer McCarey, area organiser for Unison Scotland, said that it felt like an important time in history, noting that last Wednesday also marked the 50th anniversary of Rolls Royce factory strikes in Hillington, organised by so-called “pint sized rebel” Agnes McLean.

She said she had been struck by the number of young women contacting the union following the strikes.

“I think the atmosphere at the conference will be electric,” she said. “It will be really inspiring for women of all generations to come together at this time. This may the second or third time that some of these women will have been involved in fights for equal pay.

“Glasgow City Council women have never been paid equally – that’s quite an incredible point that is important to capture.

‘‘I think that the action taken by the women inspires others to feel confident that they can take action too. I really hope that one of the outcomes of this week’s historic march is that other women are inspired and see that this is a tool.”

She said bringing more working women’s pay in line with the real living wage – £8.75 rather than the minimum wage for 21 and up of £7.38 – would offer “profound change” for thousands of women across Scotland.

Claire Galloway, a member of the Baker’s Union and campaigner for Better then Zero, said she had watched young women, often on zero hours contracts, learn when they came together they could affect change.

Recent examples include young women from Cineworld who worked to persuade management to pay for taxis home from late shifts who are now working with colleagues in Edinburgh. Others have joined forces to raise issues with sexual harassment, victimisation or low pay.

“I think though women are now recognising that they can take back some power, and they do that by coming together,” added Galloway. “Off the back of the Glasgow strike woman are realising that they can organise. They are inspired and that is really powerful for women to realise that they can depend on one another and they can fight back.”