The Tories are trying to diffuse the anger against their 1 percent public sector cap which has cut workers’ pay by almost a fifth since 2010 after price rises are taken into account.
And inflation is expected to surge to a five-year high when official figures are released next week as rising fuel and electricity prices ratchet up the financial pressure.
But the battle for pay rises that protect and improve living standards is far from over.
Trade unionists plan to march from Downing Street to the TUC union federation rally outside parliament on Tuesday.Now is the time to pile pressure onto Theresa May’s weak government—and not accept its divide and rule tactics.
Earlier this week Tory health secretary Jeremy Hunt said that he had “scrapped” the pay cap for health workers. He did not promise any new funding or above-inflation pay rises—meaning it would still be a “real terms” pay cut.
And any pay rise would be linked to “productivity increases”—management speak for making NHS workers do more for the same pay.
However, the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) hailed Hunt’s announcement as a victory. RCN chief executive Janet Davies said, “Our members in every corner of the UK fought hard and can be proud of this achievement.
“The cap held pay below inflation and gave nurses year-on-year pay cuts—with a staffing crisis building, the government is right to lift it.”
Hunt’s announcement doesn’t solve anything, but the RCN leadership seem to see it as enough to lift a threat of industrial action. The RCN previously said it would ballot for industrial action if there was no movement over pay in the budget in November.
The response to the RCN campaign—which saw enthusiastic and large rallies and meetings——shows that there is a mood among health workers to fight when they are given a lead.
But Unison, the largest union in health, has not yet backed up its pay claim with any plan for action.
The fight in health is not over—and health workers need to fight to make sure it doesn’t drop off the agenda. The RCN and 14 other unions and staff organisations put in an above-inflation pay claim of 3.9 percent and an £800 lump sum from next April.
Civil service workers in the PCS union began voting in a consultative ballot on Monday.
The ballot, set to end on Monday 6 November, will ask PCS members if they would be prepared to strike to beat the 1 percent public sector pay cap.
The ballot should be a stepping stone towards national strikes across the civil service to beat the pay cap.
PCS activists should organise the campaign as if it were a real strike vote—and take the opportunity to build the mood for a fightback.
One PCS activist in Manchester told Socialist Worker, “There’s clearly something boiling away. My members are leaping ahead of me. Some of them seem like they’d be up for throwing up a picket line tomorrow because they’ve just had enough.”
She added, “Every time we talk to a manager they continually put their feet in it. To some extent they’re doing the work for us.
“We had our CEO come my office. I asked, why did you only ask for one percent? Why aren’t you fighting for us? She said we should be grateful—they could have asked for less. This is a woman on £120,000. It’s incredible.”
The UCU union is set to ballot workers in some colleges. Bosses had offered a below-inflation 1 percent rise.
The Further Education Committee (FEC) of the UCU met on Friday of last week and voted overwhelmingly to ballot for strikes over pay.
It follows a 75 percent vote for action in a consultative ballot.
The union’s national executive committee had previously decided that consultative ballots must achieve a 50 percent turnout in order to lead to a strike ballot.
The FEC will ballot all branches with a turnout of 30 percent or higher in the consultative ballot.
UCU activists should campaign for a big yes vote—and the union should swiftly call action.
While Theresa May’s government is in deep trouble, there’s nothing inevitable about the Tories falling. And Labour leaders have said that a Corbyn government would not give above inflation pay rises.
It’s right to fight over pay now.