Socialist Worker

Brown might talk tough, but we can win over public sector pay

Issue No. 2067

Gordon Brown's determination to hold down workers' wages continues despite growing anger against below inflation wage offers in the public sector.

The prime minister came under renewed pressure last week when prison officers took unofficial strike action against a government decision to stage their pay offer.

The strikes forced the government into immediate talks. But Brown is still trying to take a hardline stance. 'Staging of pay awards is an essential part of the economy to ensure we have stability and so that can continue,' he said. 'We will not do anything to put that at risk.'

The central claim here is that keeping wages down will keep inflation down. But this is nonsense. Last month's dip in the headline rate of inflation was entirely unaffected by wage rates.

It is bosses who decide the prices of the goods they sell. Workers are the victims of inflation, not its cause.

The prospect of a coordinated pay revolt across the public sector has forced Brown to try and head off strike action by offering severely limited concessions.

And though he might talk tough, Brown is looking for negotiations and revised offers to stop strike action. The potential is still there for anger over pay to blow up in his face.

In local government the Unison union has agreed to hold a strike ballot over the latest miserly offer of 2.475 percent. The ballot will run from 3 October to 24 October with the strike action set to start on 14 November.

This week the PCS union executive is likely to set out plans for a ballot and further strikes of civil service workers.

In the health service, Unison is balloting members over a revised offer that is still below the rate of inflation. The ballot closes on 13 September.

Unfortunately, it seems some union leaders will take the slightest hint of a general election as a signal to show loyalty to Brown rather than to their members.

Instead of seeing Brown's nervousness as an opportunity to win real wage rises for their members, some union leaders seem keen to accept anything to avoid a strike that would embarrass Brown.

Local government workers need to mobilise for the largest possible vote for strike action. Health activists need to keep pushing to reject the below inflation offer and push for strikes. Activists need to keep up the pressure for coordinated strike action over pay to force Brown to back down.

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Tue 4 Sep 2007, 18:44 BST
Issue No. 2067
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