Anger at the public sector pay cap has opened up rifts at the top of the Tory party.
Prime minister Theresa May and chancellor Philip Hammond had to fend off calls even from senior ministers to lift the 1 percent pay cap.
May resorted to claiming that scrapping it would bankrupt Britain, after foreign secretary Boris Johnson said he “strongly believed” that the pay cap could be lifted.
This week the Tories confirmed they would keep the cap for teachers. This comes on top of weeks of chaos, which began with a rumoured review of the policy followed by rapid back-tracking.
The likes of Johnson are the same Tory ministers who have imposed and defended the pay cap. But their manoeuvring shows up the scale of the Tories’ crisis.
The unions must use this to organise action to break the pay cap.
Karen Reissmann, a health worker on the Unison union’s national executive, spoke to Socialist Worker in a personal capacity.
“The Tories are floundering. People can see it and are asking why aren’t we doing something now,” she said.
“The pay cap really strikes a chord with people. At work people who don’t always come on demonstrations are talking about marching on the Tory conference in Manchester in October.”
The Unison, Unite and GMB unions have said they will put in for a 5 percent pay claim in local government.
The UCU union voted last week to hold a national ballot of its members in further education. The ballot, expected to take place in the autumn, is for a 3 percent pay claim plus inflation.
Sean Vernell, UCU further education committee vice chair, told Socialist Worker, “The UCU is now the first national union to throw its hat in the ring to have a national ballot and try to beat the new thresholds in the Trade Union Act.
“It will be difficult to do—but it is possible to do it.”
He added, “Everybody knows now that the money’s there after the Tories gave £1 billion to the Democratic Unionist Party.”
But more unions need to match their rhetoric with action.
Unison has said that breaking the pay cap is a priority and is promising both an industrial and a political campaign. It is likely to organise rallies mainly in marginal seats.
The surge in support for Jeremy Corbyn has encouraged many working class people to think it’s possible to win against the Tories and bosses.
Karen said, “If all the unions together rallied around the pay cap and fighting for £10 an hour with Jeremy Corbyn we could fill football stadiums.
“It would motivate people to fight the pay cap, just as the rallies during the election motivated people to go out canvassing.
“It would put pressure on the Tories—and they could collapse.”