Socialist Worker

Strikes can beat poverty pay in local government

by Raymie Kiernan
Issue No. 2424

Refuse and recycling workers in Southwark, south London, striking on 10 July

Refuse and recycling workers in Southwark, south London, striking on 10 July (Pic: Guy Smallman)


Hundreds of thousands of local government workers in England, Wales and Northern Ireland were set to strike on Tuesday of next week. 

The Unison, GMB and Unite unions are in dispute with Local Government Association (LGA) employers over pay.

Workers have had three 

consecutive years of pay freezes, followed by a below inflation rise in 2013. 

Their pay has been cut by almost 20 percent since 2010. Over half a million earn less than the Living Wage of £7.65 per hour.

On 1 October local government officially became a minimum wage employer, after the 19p an hour increase raised the National Minimum Wage to £6.50 an hour.

The case for striking is clear. Workers have rightly rejected the 1 percent public sector pay freeze imposed by the Tories. They showed their willingness to fight by walking out on strike on 10.

Yet some union leaders seem prepared to settle for even less than 1 percent. They want to call off the action before a formal offer is even made. 

National Joint Council (NJC) union negotiating committees have been considering a lousy proposal—not a formal offer—aimed at derailing the action. 

Issues

The proposal does nothing to address the central issues as “the majority of Unison members would get less than 1 percent” this year, Unison’s head of local government Heather Wakefield confirmed.

Unison’s NJC rejected the proposal. But in an update to GMB members, the union’s public services national secretary Brian Strutton said the employers’ move “amounted to a completely new proposal”. 

Commenting on the impact of the proposal on the 14 October strike he said, “we would obviously want to suspend that strike” to consult on the lousy offer.

But the LGA’s head of workforce Sarah Messenger confirmed how rotten the proposal was. 

She said the package constituted “a saving of £12,857,978 (or 7.8 percent) in the current financial year, compared to the existing pay offer” of 1 percent.

Kirklees Unison branch chair Nick Ruff told Socialist Worker in a personal capacity, “Why is 1 percent from the Tories unacceptable but less than 1 percent from the LGA with a Labour Party majority OK? 

“If the strike is suspended it will demoralise members and seriously undermine the union’s ability to fight locally. 

“There seems to be too many people putting energy into getting the strike called off rather than strengthening our fight for pay and building the strike.”

As Socialist Worker went to press all unions confirmed the strike was on. Workers are right to strike and can give confidence to everyone wanting to see a fightback against the rotten Tories.

Union leaders should be focussed on leading a real fight to defeat local and national government attacks on pay instead of the fight to get Labour elected next year.

 


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