Street sweepers, school cooks, refuse workers, teaching assistants and the hundreds of thousands of other people doing vital jobs in local councils in England, Wales and Northern Ireland are gearing up to take on Gordon Brown’s pay curbs with two days of strike action on 16 and 17 July.
Unison, the largest public sector union, has 600,000 members in local government. It announced the dates of the strike last week after workers rejected a below-inflation 2.45 percent pay offer.
Some 40,000 Unite union members in local government will also join the action.
The workers are demanding a rise of 6 percent or 50p an hour, whichever is higher.
The strike will not just hit local government services. Civil service workers in the PCS union across 18 departments are also set to join them on strike.
Over 250,000 council workers earn less than £6.50 an hour. All council workers are feeling the effects of spiralling prices.
Susan is a case worker for Herefordshire council’s home-improvement agency and has worked in local government for 12 years. She told Socialist Worker, “It has come to the crunch point now.
“When you take into account the rising cost of groceries, fuel and utility bills, a pay rise of less than 2.5 percent would leave me worse off next year.
“We’ve had 10 years of below-inflation pay rises and now I’m having to look for a second job just to keep things ticking over.
“My job means I have to drive around a lot and I’m now spending £200 a month on fuel with no extra allowance.
“Over the past six months I have begun to feel more and more demoralised – I feel quite angry about it now and I think I’m worth a little bit more. That’s why I will be striking.”
A care assistant told Socialist Worker, “I work as a home care assistant in North Yorkshire. I’ll be striking because, alongside every nursery nurse, social worker, teaching assistant, care home and home care assistant, I work hard to provide the essential services that people rely on.
“Despite my hard work, council bosses think I can survive on the miserly 2.45 percent pay increase they have offered this year.
“This comes nowhere near to covering the increases in mortgage payments and gas and electricity rises that I have to cope with.
“I spent winter juggling the red bills and economising on food. I’m angry that next year it looks as though I’ll be doing the same.”
Karen, a teaching assistant in London, told Socialist Worker, “I’ve been at the top of my pay scale for a number of years, so a pay award below the rate of inflation means my wages are going down.
“Our daughter is at university and it has been a struggle to support her. I want to go on strike. All we want is to feel valued and maintain a decent standard of living.”
The hypocrisy of government demands for workers to pay for the crisis is angering council workers.
Stephen, a council worker in Leeds, told Socialist Worker, “It is no wonder people want to strike.
“With fuel costs spiralling, many of us who use cars to do their work are effectively subsidising employers.”
Alex, a council worker in Brighton, told Socialist Worker, “The government has the money. There have been £4.5 billion of efficiency savings over the past three years which would easily pay for what we are asking for.”
Up and down the country local government workers were meeting this week to organise rallies on the strike days.
Workers in other unions can help build solidarity with the council workers – and momentum for their own struggles – by joining workers on the picket lines and bringing delegations to the rallies and marches.
When teachers struck on 24 April, many teaching assistants refused to work on health and safety grounds. Teachers will need to do the same this month when teaching assistants in Unison are out on strike.
Striking can win decent pay for local government workers. It can also give confidence to all those struggling to get by under Labour and strike a blow against Brown’s pay limits.