The growing campaign against Gordon Brown’s war on public sector workers took an important step forward this week after local government workers rejected their employers’ pay offer and moved to ballot for strike action.
Some 54.9 percent of workers, who are members of the Unison union, voted to reject the local government employers’ derisory 2.45 percent “pay rise” in a consultative ballot.
The ballot paper made it clear that a vote against the pay offer was a vote in favour of striking.
Following the ballot Unison’s NJC negotiating committee voted 15 to 12 to reject the offer and ballot for strike action.
The ballot is set to start on 27 May and end on 13 June, with the first possible day of strike action being 8 July.
The day could become a focus for everyone who is angry with the government’s neoliberal agenda.
John McDermott, a member of Unison’s national executive, told Socialist Worker, “Unison is sometimes referred to as one of the ‘big battalions’. Well, this gives a big battalion the opportunity to get stuck into the employers and the government over their outrageous pay policy.
“The NUT, UCU and PCS unions have laid a platform with their action on 24 April. Now we need to build on it. If the other local government unions join in, we could have 1.5 million council workers out on strike in support of a decent pay rise.”
Unison activists in local government now need to start campaigning for the biggest possible yes vote in the strike ballot. And there are already opportunities to start building a mood for united action.
On 9 June the TUC has called a lobby of parliament over public sector pay. Turning that into a real mass lobby could be an important staging post for all public sector workers.
Jess Edwards is a young teachers rep in Lambeth, south London. “Teachers need to throw themselves into building the lobby,” she said.
The NUT union executive met last week to reaffirm the union’s commitment to holding a ballot for discontinuous strike action. The timetable for action will be outlined at the next executive meeting on 22 May.
Nick Grant, an executive member of the NUT, said, “The NUT executive meets on 22 May and can decide to synchronise action with Unison. This could then lead to other unions, such as the NASUWT, joining the strike too.”
The NUT has also launched a national petition calling for fair pay that teachers can use in their schools and is organising lobbies of MPs over pay.
The national officers of the UCU lecturers’ union in further education met on Friday of last week to discuss the next steps in their pay campaign. This follows an initial offer of 2.5 percent from the employers, which was rejected by all six education unions.
The Further Education Committee (FEC), which meets on Friday of this week, will finalise the next steps.
UCU national negotiators will be recommending a package of action to the FEC, starting with a one-day national strike on 9 June.
A ballot of over 600,000 health workers in the Unison union opened this week. The poll will ask members if they are prepared to accept a three‑year below-inflation pay offer.
Jim Fagan from Tower Hamlets healthcare Unison told Socialist Worker, “Our branch is against the offer. We have produced our own leaflet advising our members to vote no.
“When thousands of other workers are taking strike action against low pay, health workers should not be signing up to a three-year pay cut.”