Gordon Brown has declared war on public sector workers. The first offensive battles have broken out in what could be the biggest pay revolt for decades.
His below inflation pay freeze means an effective cut in wages for millions across Britain.
Brown is trying to impose increases of between 1.9 and 2.5 percent on some 4 million workers – postal workers, health workers, local government workers, civil service workers and teachers.
The vote for action by the postal workers' CWU union is latest expression of the growing fury.
Brown's crackdown is part of his long term strategy to restrain pay – for workers rather than bosses. Inflation stands at 4.3 percent but the real cost of living has skyrocketed beyond that.
The wealth of the richest 1,000 people in Britain increased by 20 percent in the last year, but Brown proposes no measures to tackle the extraordinary inflation in executive pay.
While talking in a slightly more union-friendly language on private equity and housing, Brown insists that on pay, he is determined to do what Margaret Thatcher, John Major and Tony Blair all tried but failed to do – slash working class living standards.
This is not a repeat of the 1980s. Unlike Thatcher, who deliberately took on workers sector by sector, Brown is so convinced that the union leaders won't fight that he is prepared to take on the entire public sector in one go. However, the rising tide of anger over pay means he is far from guaranteed to succeed.
The arrogant management gurus who run the Royal Mail have been let off the leash by the government, and are trying to provoke a confrontation.
One senior Royal Mail executive told the Daily Telegraph newspaper last week, 'This will be bloody – we have had the miners, we have had Longbridge and now we have this.'
Prepare for action
More than a million NHS staff received further disdain from Brown after he decided to implement their pay review body recommendation of 2.5 percent in two stages.
Last week the Unison, GMB, Unite, RCN and Ucatt unions all agreed to ballot for action simultaneously if there is no improved offer.
PCS civil service workers' union members have already struck twice this year against plans to slash 100,000 civil service jobs. The response from New Labour has been to push through proposals for compulsory redundancies and cut wages.
Last week education secretary Alan Johnson provoked rage among teachers after rejecting their calls, and those of their employers, for a reopening of the teachers' pay settlement.
In local government, employers have responded to a pay claim by 1.3 million union members with a derisory offer of 2.5 percent.
Workers are under coordinated attack from the government, and there needs to be a coordinated response.
So far it has been the PCS that has spearheaded the resistance – now the CWU are pushing alongside them. Other trade unions need to follow them into action.
Among the leadership of the unions, PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka is the clearest about the need for united action.
His union's national executive urgently needs to get behind him and push for coordinated action at the earliest opportunity.
There is a real potential for combined strikes. Unison general secretary Dave Prentis has written on the need for unity, and the GMB union echoed the call.
We also need pressure from the rank and file in the unions to support those in the leadership who want a fight. Those who want to dampen down the anger must be isolated.
The Labour government has been weakened by Tony Blair's early departure from office. And across the union movement there is bitterness and anger over a decade of Labour's betrayals.
The pay revolt has the potential to turn that anger into action. It provides workers in every industry with an opportunity to push for unity and solidarity.
The demonstration called by Stop the War at the special Labour Party conference to appoint Brown as Labour leader on 24 June is a place we can bring workers from across the public sector. Together we can ruin his honeymoon.
Socialist Worker readers should start building solidarity for the post workers now.
Respect groups, Organising for Fighting Unions groups and most importantly, union branches, should get speakers from the CWU, PCS and other public sector unions to address their meetings.
Everyone should use the petitions in support of workers taking action to create a climate of solidarity.
If we are prepared to throw ourselves into the pay fight, Iraq won't be the only war Brown loses.