Socialist Worker

Why local government workers should vote yes to a strike

by Simon Basketter
Issue No. 2071

Every one of the 800,000 Unison union members in local government who are due to be balloted from next week should vote for strikes to stop pay cuts and attacks on conditions.

Inflation is around 4 percent and the government pay offer is less than 2.5 percent. So your pay will be worth 1.5 percent less.

The latest 'final' offer from Gordon Brown's government is a pathetic 19p an hour rise for workers on the lowest pay point, giving an hourly rate of £6. It offers only 2.475 percent for all other workers.

The offer also comes with strings, including a review of conditions of employment such as leave, and a review of the 'total reward package'.

These 'reviews' are not about improvements. They are about looking for ways to cut and change conditions, just as was done with pensions.

The proposed terms of the review are that 'nothing is ruled in and nothing ruled out'.

If the employers get away with cuts this year, they will return for more attacks.

Gordon Brown has made it clear that he sees the pay curbs going on for at least three years. That's three years of reduced pay and of working harder with fewer workers.

This comes on top of the last three year deal which saw pay fall. From 2004 to 2006 average local government pay went up by 8.9 percent.

Inflation for the same period was 9.3 percent. Average earnings went up 12.4 percent.

So local government workers are already 0.4 percent behind the inflation rate, and 2.5 percent behind average pay rises. But a fightback now can stop pay heading downwards.

Bonuses for City of London fat cats have increased by 30 percent this year to a record £14.1 billion this year. The rise is twice as big as in 2006.

Workers covered by the pay claim include care home and home care assistants, housing and environmental health officers, refuse collectors, librarians and school cooks.

Almost two thirds of these – 75 percent of whom are women – earn £15,825 or under a year, £8,000 less than the national average.

Local government workers are a powerful force. This was demonstrated in March 2006 when the strike over pensions forced employers to think again.

Local government workers would not be fighting alone. Postal workers are in the middle of a crucial battle against pay cuts and to defend public services.

Civil service workers in the PCS union are voting at the same time as local government workers – and over very similar issues.

There is every reason for Unison and the PCS to coordinate strikes to make them more effective and raise the political temperature against Gordon Brown's attacks.

Branches and union members need to build for a massive yes vote, calling workplace meetings and making links with postal workers and civil service workers.

The ballot begins on Friday of next week and closes on 25 October.

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