Eleven years ago we were told by a newly elected Labour government that the old Thatcherite days were over. There was a new way – a Third Way – that would lead to social justice and wealth redistribution.
These hopes have been dashed, and the promises of a more equal society have been exposed as New Labour spin and lies.
The gap between the rich and poor has in fact grown even wider under New Labour. There are more homeless people and more people living below the poverty line.
Local government workers are in the forefront of the fight against social exclusion – but they are often themselves living close to or below the poverty line.
The employers’ current pay offer would deliver wages as low as £6.20 an hour – only 70p per hour above the statutory minimum wage.
Local government workers have the lowest minimum rate of pay in the public sector.
This is simply unacceptable. Workers in the public sector are being attacked by this government as part of its response to the credit crunch and impending recession.
Gordon Brown says we have to accept pay restraint as part of the battle against inflation, and thereby help the economy.
But we are not the cause of inflation, we are the victims of it.
The other argument being put forward is that the government cannot afford to pay public sector workers properly. But this just depends on political priorities.
If we can afford £55 billion to bail out Northern Rock, £76 billion to replace Trident nuclear missiles, £6 billion on the war in Iraq and Afghanistan – then we certainly can afford a decent pay rise for public sector workers.
Our members are suffering the same rises in petrol, gas, electricity, housing, rail fares and food as everyone else. All these costs have risen way above the insulting 2.45 percent pay offer. The current RPI rate of inflation is 4.3 percent.
Every month prices rise while we are expected to “tighten our belts” – which in reality means we have to go without.
It’s just insulting to be lectured by the wealthy about how we should sacrifice our standard of living because of their failed economic policies.
And they certainly aren’t tightening their belts – some £12 billion was shelled out in City bonuses last year.
If you take into account the current rate of inflation, our pay offer means workers on £10,000 a year are effectively getting a £200 a year pay cut.
Workers on £20,000 a year will get equivalent of a £400 pay cut. All this comes on top of similar pay cuts in real terms last year.
The employers already have an eye on a pay offer for the next two years in line with the below-inflation pay deals for health workers and teachers. They also want to review our conditions of service.
Enough is enough – we have to take a stand now.
A successful strike will drive back the employers and the government, deliver us a decent pay rise, and protect all public sector workers against future attacks on their wages.