Socialist Worker

Local government unions enter dispute with bosses - Let’s build the fight over pay

by Raymie Kiernan
Issue No. 2391

Demonstration like this against the Tories’ cuts agenda show widespread anger

Unions built mass demonstrations and coordinated strikes in 2011 (Pic: Geoff Dexter)


Pressure is growing on trade unions to fight for real wage increases. The Tories talk of a “recovery”.

Yet workers in both the public and private sectors are struggling to make ends meet after years of below-inflation pay deals.

Local government unions Unison, GMB and Unite began an official dispute with bosses in England, Wales and Northern Ireland over pay this week.

Unions want a £1.20 an hour increase for 1.5 million workers in councils and schools. Yet bosses have so far failed to make any pay proposals for this year.

They are refusing to offer anything to the unions’ National Joint Council (NJC) until the minimum wage increase is announced in April. This suggests bosses will see the minimum wage as the new benchmark on pay.

John McLoughlin is branch secretary of Unison in Tower Hamlets, east London. He told Socialist Worker, “This shows the contempt of Tory-led employers towards local government workers. 

“We’ve had a decade of decline in our pay and it’s got sharper since 2008.”

Pay for local government workers has fallen by 18 percent in real terms under the Tories. It was frozen for three years, then increased only by a below-inflation 1 percent last year.

Capped

Chancellor George Osborne has capped the budget increases for public sector pay at just 1 percent. And any increase in the national minimum wage would come out of this. He is trying to set the lowest paid workers against the rest.

GMB national secretary for public services Brian Strutton said such a “measly” offer “will infuriate our members”.

Over one million workers covered by the NJC earn less than the government’s official low pay threshold. This is over £5,500 less than average earnings. And half of these earn less than the “Living Wage” of £7.65 an hour. 

Ameen Hadi, branch treasurer of Salford City Unison, told Socialist Worker, “Accepting low pay is not a way to save jobs. The fight to save jobs has to be linked to fight against Tory austerity.

“We have to ensure that any action we take is meaningful. We have to coordinate with other groups of workers going into dispute at a national level to strengthen our fight.”

John added, “It’s time the unions drew the line. We have to take serious action to beat the Tories.”

Slashed

The Tories argued that private sector growth would make up for slashed jobs in the public sector. But instead of creating jobs, bosses are squeezing workers more.

A survey of personnel managers this week showed the number of firms in Britain looking to hire workers has fallen to its lowest since 2010.

The real story is falling wages and increasing use of workers without fixed hours. The car industry in Britain shows the dangers of delaying action.

The Financial Times newspaper reported, “A sharp rise in agency staff and temporary contracts has meant the average wage for almost a third of the industry’s workforce has fallen in real terms over the past four years.”

Meanwhile bosses at the six largest carmakers in Britain have pocketed an average rise of 19 percent.

The latest government figures show that real wages in Britain have fallen consistently since the economic crisis, as earnings failed to keep up with inflation.

No wonder four out of five people do not believe they are sharing the benefits of the “recovery”.

Average living standards in Britain remain bleak. Household incomes are at their lowest in almost a decade.

And the richest 10 percent now have nearly twice the income of the poorest 50 percent.

It’s clear that there’s no recovery for us. That’s why workers are right to fight Tory austerity.

Only hard-hitting strikes can stop the onslaught on pay, jobs and public services. 

Workers spoke in a personal capacity

 


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