More than a million people employed by local authorities could take on the government in the growing battle over public sector pay.
The giant Unison union has already agreed to ballot its 800,000 members for strike action. Now the GMB and Unite unions have said that they too are moving towards action.
Almost two thirds of those considering strikes earn less than £15,825 a year – that’s £8,000 less than the national average income. This army of low paid but essential workers is overwhelmingly made up of women.
Council bosses have offered workers just 2.45 percent, with a paltry £100 a year extra for the lowest paid. If that offer were accepted workers on the lowest bands would receive just £380 a year extra, and that is before tax deductions.
The employers say that their offer is reasonable despite the Consumer Price Index (CPI) running at 3 percent. The more accurate Retail Price Index (RPI), which includes some housing costs, rose to 4.2 percent in April.
In reality both measures of inflation woefully underestimate the rising cost of living for working class people. A family that spent £100 a week on food last year is today forced to find £119.10 – that’s a whopping £993 extra a year.
Unison was set to finalise its ballot plans on Thursday of this week, and is likely to name Tuesday 27 May as the opening day of voting – with the first possible day of strike action being Tuesday 8 July.
General secretary Dave Prentis said, “We want to make sure that we get a huge turnout in the ballot so that the wishes of our members are absolutely clear.
“I would urge all local government members to make sure they vote in the strike ballot. It’s their pay and it’s their vote that will decide the action.”
While Unison gears up for a fight in local government, unions representing millions of other public sector workers are preparing their own battle plans.
Among them are the leaders of the teachers’ NUT union, who were also set to meet on Thursday to discuss the next steps in their pay fight.
Spread the mood
In Scotland, workers in local government are covered by a separate bargaining arrangement.
Last week 80 percent of Unison members there voted to reject their offer, and they too are preparing to ballot for strike action, with action expected later in the summer.
Union activists in every part of the public sector must use the growing anger over pay to ensure massive yes votes in their strike ballots. Union meetings that invite workers from other workplaces will help spread the mood of solidarity.
We should also organise to lobby MPs and local councillors over the issue. This will allow members of a variety of unions to come together to make political and economic demands.
Gordon Brown’s government is weak and vulnerable. A series of public sector strikes could break his pay barrier in spectacular style, opening the possibility of decent pay rises and a challenge to his policies of cuts and privatisation.
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