sector pay is big news this summer. In fact, contrary to what the weather
forecasters might tell you, it could be a decidedly warm one. It doesn’t take a
lot to work out why either. Public sector workers are being made to pay for the
New Labour meltdown. Pay restraint is intimately tied into the government’s
finances and that means dinner ladies and civil servants footing the bill not
only for the ongoing occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan but also for the black hole
in public spending courtesy of the ex board members of Northern Rock. Alistair
Darling’s plea that the need to keep inflation under control "applies to each
and every one of us" will ring hollow in the ears of the civil servants
and other workers on the minimum wage or a marginally better pittance.
UNISON Council Workers vote to fight
UNISON national Industrial Action Committee has agreed to authorise action on
the back of the 55% vote in favour of strike action in local government. This
is a clear rejection of Gordon Brown’s pay restraint and reflects the impact
that the economic crisis is having on thousands of UNISON members. Yet the
outcome of this ballot wasn’t a racing certainty by any means. It took place in
the teeth of lukewarm support from the national union, outright opposition from
the likes of the North West Region “loyalists” and despite the fact that the
GMB decided to announce the day the ballot commenced that their local
government members had indicated that they would accept. So in fact the 55% rejection of the 2.45%
offer represents UNISON members sticking their heels in.
Backed into a corner
We have explained over
the past few months that UNISON members (and
public sector workers in general. ed.) were increasingly being
backed into a corner as a result of rising fuel and food costs. As we explained
recently: “The effects of this debacle are being felt throughout the country in
hospitals, schools and offices delivering essential services to the sick, the
young and the old. The camel’s back is bending under the weight, sooner or
later it’ll snap. Maybe over pay, maybe over cuts, it depends on events”. Socialist Appeal UNISON Special June 2008
Cuts, privatisations and
many members don’t see pay as the biggest issue. In large sections of the
health service and in local government the issue of cuts, privatisation and the
crisis in NHS funding means that people are frightened for their jobs. In that
situation pay isn’t very high up the agenda. But it’s two sides of the same
coin. Pay restraint, cuts and redundancies are all part of the same package.
When the health ballot in UNISON went down it was on the basis of a 17% turn
out. A lot of workers had bigger fish to fry.
that, in many workplaces the mood has begun to harden. The noises coming out of
(UNISON HQ) also reflect the pressure they are under. It’s no surprise that
last week’s UNISON delegate conference voted to consider taking action over
mileage allowances and likewise the possibility of re-opening the negotiations
over the health pay deal reflects the pressure building up. This also
importantly, reflects the pressure that has grown within health recently
following the decision of UNITE members in the health service to reject the
offer. In similar vein Paul Kenny of the GMB has talked of a mutinous mood and
the GMB have even voted to stop supporting anti union MPs. Now the PCS have
decided to go ahead with a ballot.
has agreed to commence balloting 280,000 members across 200 individual
departments. This comes on top of the one day strike together with the NUT and
UCU on the 24th April. As Mark Serwotka explained at the time: “At a time when the Labour government is at its least
popular it is further alienating its own workforce with its policy of
pay freezes and pay cuts in real terms.
UCU: “We are prepared to fight for
membership struck again on June 9th and the union website reports
that although the employers came back with a marginally better deal: “The offer
of 3% was the original 2.5% offer re-hashed. In trying to show they were paying
at the highest level of the current pay round, and in their ham-fisted attempts
to split the FE unions, the employers showed they are under pressure. They know
our case is just. They know we are prepared to fight for justice”. The NUT are
still in dispute as well, although because of the school holidays there won’t
be any further action until September. Reports we have received indicate there
has been very effective joint action in the FE sector and that both the UCU and
UNISON are recruiting hand over fist. The UCU reports 600 new members in London alone.
We’ve all had enough of pay
the public sector all sections is affected by Gordon’s pay restraint policy.
Even OFSTED are taking action! It has to be a favourable situation for a
co-ordinated public sector pay campaign. But, there is a great deal of combined and
unequal development going on across the Public Sector unions. Unfortunately
however, the emphasis is on the “uneven” rather than the “combined”. Some union
leaders have been verbally very supportive of the campaign against pay
restraint, but on the other hand other groups have been willing to “hold the
line”. This is particularly the case in respect of the UNISON health leadership
whose dominant faction was in favour of accepting the pay deal without even
holding a ballot.
action needs clear leadership and maximum unity. The bosses want to divide the
movement and play off one group against another – hence the sweeteners in the
health deal. The unions need an intransigent class position, fight for the full
claim in every case. Table thumping and radical noises from the leadership are
one thing, but getting the various (often competing) bureaucracies to turn
words into action is a completely different kettle of fish. Branches and
activists across the public sector should be putting pressure on their
respective leaderships to maximise the effect of the campaigns and coordinate
the action wherever possible. This is perhaps the best opportunity that we’ve
had to combat the New Labour Pay restraint policy. The mood among the members
is hardening and given the political and economic backdrop to all this there is
no reason why we can’t win. We need maximum unity and to paraphrase Paul Kenny
a Public Sector Pay Mutiny.
End Pay Restraint!
Fight for the Full claim!