Socialist Worker

We must win national public sector strike votes

by Sadie Robinson
Issue No. 2120

Civil service workers in the PCS union will be balloting for strike action from Wednesday of this week to fight a series of below-inflation pay deals across different government departments.

Some 270,000 civil service workers – including coastguards, job centre and passport workers, and driving examiners – will take part in the ballot.

Meanwhile 250,000 teachers in the NUT union will ballot from 6 October for national, discontinuous strike action over pay.

A sign of the growing anger over pay in the public sector was shown last week, when PCS members in Revenue & Customs voted by 83 percent to reject their below-inflation pay offer in a consultative ballot, with 81 percent voting to back industrial action.

Activists in Revenue & Customs are building on this result to try to ensure a yes vote in the national ballot.

Anna Owens is the PCS branch organiser in Euston Tower Revenue & Customs in central London. She told Socialist Worker, “The looming recession means that people may worry about how willing people will be to fight. But this result tells me that there’s a lot of confidence out there.

“We need to build local links in every area. People are inspired by the idea of coordinated action over pay.”

Activists in both the NUT and PCS are organising to turn out yes votes in the ballots.

Some 25 teachers came to a union meeting in Hackney, east London, on Monday of this week and voted unanimously to back strike action over pay.

The union is producing a newsletter to be sent to every teacher in schools across Hackney explaining why people should vote for action and build the ballot.

Ealing NUT has set up a reps training day for Tuesday of next week, which will be a key opportunity to discuss building the ballot.

Teachers have invited a bus worker from the local bus garage to speak to the meeting about the campaign for decent pay on the buses.

Some 31 NUT members came to a union meeting in Tower Hamlets, east London, on Monday, including some new union reps. The meeting decided to distribute the new NUT tabloid, Champion, to all schools in the borough.

In Wakefield, schools that did not join the strike action in April have requested campaign materials for the ballot this time.

It’s clear that there is huge anger among workers as they see bankers being bailed out while their pay is held down.

But it is by no means automatic that people will vote to fight.

“It will be a battle for us to win a vote for action – but it’s a battle we can win,” said Paul McGarr, an NUT member in east London.

“We’ll need detailed planning in every school to make sure that every member is spoken to. People want to fight but some are also scared about the impact of the recession.

“We have to make sure we put the arguments to people about why we have to fight back.”

The recession means that bosses and the government will try to make workers pay for the crisis.

Attacks on pay are just one part of this. But a victory over pay would send a signal that workers are not prepared to pay for the crisis.

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