THERE’S nothing like a bit of industrial action from public sector workers to bring chaos to a city.

Take Glasgow: primary schools across the city are currently in shut down while care services are being severely disrupted after thousands of female workers downed tools in protest at the local authority’s apparent lack of progress towards honouring an equal-pay settlement they were promised would be made by the end of this year. Caterers, home carers and cleaners have all walked out for 48 hours, with 8,000 of them taking part in what is being dubbed the largest equal-pay strike ever to take place in the UK.

While it is clear that the women have widespread public support, much of the debate around the strike has centred on why their trade unions - the GMB and Unison - have chosen to help them stage their walk-out now. With the first equal-pay claim against the council being lodged 13 years ago, the suspicion is that the Labour-supporting unions are out to make trouble for the SNP, which has committed to resolving the issue after inheriting it from Labour following last year’s local elections.

It is an easy case to make. After all, the unions could have helped organise a walk-out 10 years ago, when it was clear that a new pay structure adopted by the then Labour-run council valued male-dominated jobs more highly than those done mostly by women. Or at numerous points since, as Labour politicians persisted in mounting what now seems obvious was an unwinnable legal challenge to the council’s equal-pay obligations.

Claims from the trade unions, which are by nature deeply political organisations, that there are no politics at play here are a little hard to swallow, especially as one of the GMB’s most vocal equal-pay campaigners - regional organiser Rhea Wolfson - is standing as a Labour candidate at the next General Election. The SNP made settling equal pay a key plank of its Glasgow manifesto, which helped win Susan Aitken, a self-professed feminist who speaks eloquently about supporting her city’s female workers, her role as council leader. Likewise, helping to organise a strike that will undoubtedly be painted as the ground on which this battle was won, will do Ms Wolfson’s political ambitions no harm.

Yet compelling as these arguments are, the problem with focusing on political machinations is that it risks ignoring the real driving force behind the industrial action: the women themselves. For them this strike isn’t about scoring political points or furthering political careers, it is about showing that they will no longer take being discriminated against because they are women, regardless of the form that discrimination takes.

Indeed, while at its heart this dispute is about the iniquity of supposedly feminine jobs being deemed less valuable than masculine ones, it is also about the lack of options female workers have for staging a protest. While a strike by refuse collectors or gravediggers would be viewed as nothing more than an inconvenience, it has historically been seen as beyond the pale for carers or classroom assistants, whose jobs demand that feminine traits like empathy and compassion be on display at all times, to engage in such actions.

Home carer and Unison member Amanda Green spoke movingly on that point yesterday when she told BBC Radio 4’s Women’s Hour programme that the women of Glasgow have been made to feel that because of the type of jobs they do they do not have the right to go on strike. Viewed like that, perhaps the reason the women have not taken action before now has less to do with the unions not wanting to go up against the Labour Party and more to do with the workers themselves feeling duty bound not to walk out on the people they tend to on a daily basis.

Now they have taken action, the question is where do things go from here. While the strike has allowed the women to finally take a stand - and has ensured their plight is known well beyond the confines of Glasgow political circles - from the council’s point of view it will not make any difference to the way their settlement is handled. Making the authority’s case on Women’s Hour, Ms Aitken stressed that the action “won’t change the outcome” of negotiations between the two sides, with the council preparing to pay a fair settlement “very soon”.

Yet unless all parties can get round the table to have the “meaningful negotiations” the women’s representatives have been calling for, that process will stall and the claims - all 13,000 of them - will end up back in the Employment Tribunal to be settled on a case-by-case basis. Given the length of time that would take to complete, such an outcome can be in nobody’s interests.

The strike has allowed both sides to flex their muscles, with the women demonstrating that they are prepared to do whatever is required in order to be treated on a par with their male counterparts and the council showing that it will hold its ground regardless of the cost. Now everyone knows where they stand, is there any reason this matter can’t be settled once and for all?