Local government workers in the Unison union took a major step towards a strike over the public sector pay cuts this week when their service group conference voted overwhelmingly for coordinated action over pay.
At the Unison local government service group conference in Brighton an emergency motion was passed with only one vote against.
It said that 'only a substantial campaign of industrial action, wherever possible coordinated with other unions, is likely to produce a successful outcome to this pay campaign'.
Proposing the motion, John McLoughlin from Tower Hamlets in east London said, 'Today we are uniting to reject 2 percent or 2.5 percent. And we are moving to an industrial action ballot.
'We have to have coordinated action across the public sector. Pay is not the only issue we face, but it sums up all our experience and anger.
'In 1997, New Labour said that things could only get better. But for many workers things only got worse. In reality 2 percent or 2.5 percent is a pay cut. For instance, my rent has gone up by 6 percent.
'We are not the creators of inflation, we are its victims. Why is it that our members working in the sewers or on the bins aren't allowed bonuses, but the bosses can't pay themselves enough of them?
'Fighting on the pay issue can unite us across the public sector. Mark Sewotka, general secretary of the PCS union, is right when he says that for far too long unions have told their members what they can't do. Let's tell our members what we can do.
'Gordon Brown is watching and our members are watching. We can forge a unity that can deliver on pay.'
The motion was backed by Irene Stacey from Unison's local government service group executive. 'This motion identifies other workers facing pay cuts,' she said.
'It is essential that we co-ordinate with other unions to maximise our impact. Let's get the biggest yes vote the union has ever has ever seen. Let's get a vote for hard-hitting action.'
Pat Jones from Kirklees branch said, 'I represent social services workers who are some of the lowest paid.
'For them 2 percent is worse than an insult. They are fully expecting a fight. And there is that feeling right across the council.
'At this conference, I'm staying at the Brighton marina and there are people there with two houses and yachts. It's another world.
'We should be inspired by the one million workers in South Africa who are fighting so strongly. If they can stand up to mass sacking and intimidation, we can too.
'There is a real mood of resistance now. We need meetings with different unions and pay rallies in every area.'
Tony Barnsley from Sandwell said, 'Gordon Brown is restricting us to 2 percent yet he can find money to cut corporation tax. If he can spend £76 billlion on Trident and spend billions on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, he can afford decent pay for us.
'The post workers have always supported us, we need to support them. Going to visit workers at the sorting office boosts them and us. Together we can win.'
The conference saw a growing confidence from delegates to push for a fight.
There was intense anger over the running of the local government pensions dispute.
Delegates repeatedly overturned the standing orders committee recommendations to keep an emergency motion that sought to change the recommendation in the ballot over the latest local government pensions offer off the order paper.
A motion was passed which expressed 'a lack of confidence in the service group liason committee' that ran the dispute and condemned the union for dropping the campaign to keep the rule of 85 for pensions.
'It's been a hell of a year – and I believe we're stronger than before,' was Unison general secretary Dave Prentis's message to delegates.
He noted that the union had a 'huge responsibility' dealing with 'massive issues', including 'equal pay for our women members, a decent pay increase and pensions'.
He called for united action across the public sector saying, 'It is only right we come together to form alliances.'
Prentis repeated his call to work together with the PCS civil service union.
He also condemned the government's 'obsession with the market' and lack of vision. To applause from the floor, he held up a copy of Defend Council Housing's latest bulletin.
He asked, 'What is so wrong with councils building their own social housing?' before saying that 'the denigration of our members has to stop'.