Socialist Worker

How to make the most of new opportunities at work

Issue No. 1819

THERE IS a massive potential for a serious fight to tackle low pay. The strikes and ballots called by trade union leaders we report on these pages are a reflection of a deep anger among ordinary workers. The immediate battles are concentrated among workers in public services.

There are millions of other workers, in the public and private sectors, who would respond with enthusiasm, solidarity and action of their own to a real fight on pay. It would be a mistake to leave the pay battles in the hands of the trade union leaders. In many cases the action or ballots for action they have called do not match the mood among workers.

And many union leaders are not committed to the kind of hard-hitting and united action which could take on New Labour - and it is the government which in the public services holds the purse strings. The national pay fight by council workers this year showed both the possibilities for a fight and the limitations of some union leaders.

A one-day strike on 17 July saw up to a million council workers across England and Wales out, and members of all three council unions united in national action for the first time. It should have been the start of a fight that won decent pay rises for all council workers.

Instead union leaders have managed to end the fight by settling for an offer that was only marginally better than the one originally on the table. What activists do in the coming weeks is the key to ensuring that the potential in the battles now beginning is not wasted.

In every ballot activists need to organise to ensure the biggest turnout and the biggest possible strike vote. Activists also need to build links between different workplaces. Through all the official union structures, and through unofficial links, they need to build pressure on union leaders to call the kind of hard-hitting action that can win.

And they also need to build the pressure for the different fights to be united. Every time there is a strike, other workers should visit picket lines and rallies, and organise the maximum solidarity. And across the unions the feeling for united action needs to be built on. In London, for example, union leaders look like they could call council workers, teachers and college workers out on strike over the same issue on different days in November.

It is good that these strikes are likely to happen. It would be much better if activists were able to push for them to be united in a major show of anger and strength.

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What We Think
Sat 28 Sep 2002, 00:00 BST
Issue No. 1819
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