It’s a shame that halfpennies were abolished twenty or so years ago, because that’s all that the Local Government employers think we are worth. That’s right 0.5% or a halfpenny in the pound, that’s what hundreds of thousands of UNISON members are to be offered in this year’s pay round. But as though that wasn’t enough, we are reliably informed that they intend to withdraw the offer if we don’t agree to it by June 1st.
So if you are a low paid worker on £7.00 per hour then if you save up for a week you would get £1.29 extra for a 37 hour week, or £67.34 per year before tax. Frankly it’s an insult. But there’s more to it than that. We are being pushed into a corner, simply to help balance the government’s books. Why should low paid workers suffer while the likes of Fred Goodwin swan around with their millions in pensions that they acquired while smashing up the banking system and threatening millions of workers’ pension funds?
We are fully aware that the Tories have a big say on the employers’ side in these negotiations and this is a clear indication that we will be in the firing line if they come to power. Labour is in opposition in huge swathes of the country and that means that UNISON members are under attack. Doubtless the Tories will be lining up a new Ridley plan to take on the public sector unions sooner or later. After all, think how much money they could make for their rich friends if they privatised all local authority services?
But it’s insufficient to simply blame the Tories. The Labour leaders are just as much to blame in terms of under funding services and poor wages. How many thousand more UNISON members will be forced onto means tested benefits to feed and clothe their families?
There is a sense of disbelief and anger among many members. However, it’s clear however that it will be a hard struggle to fight and defeat this paltry offer. The experience of the last couple of years has been that we seem to have been in constant pay negotiations with virtually no gap in between. Many are still waiting for the back pay we “won” through arbitration. Last year’s pay campaign was hampered by the effect of the crisis in the economy, and things are if anything worse. But there is a limit to workers’ patience. Sooner or later something will give. In Ireland there has been an enormous response to government attacks on the workers, with a huge movement against the pension levy and a near general strike. Britain has witnessed occupations and unofficial action on a scale not seen for decades. It could just be that this “pay offer” is the spark that lights the blue touch paper. The key to that however is the response of the union activists and the amount of pressure they can bring to bear on the trade union leaders. One thing is for sure we can’t afford the halfpennies, and sooner or later UNISON will have to fight back.