There’s a chance to give new life to the battle over pay in the public services. But it will take a big push from ordinary workers.
The Unison union announced last week it is recommending its members reject the Tories' latest pay offer for local government workers in England and Wales. Unison is by far the largest union in local government.
Its national joint council (NJC) voted against the offer of a 2 percent increase in April 2018 and a further 2 percent in April 2019.
Unison members will now be consulted on the offer.
Two percent means in reality a pay cut for people at a time when the RPI measure of inflation is over 4 percent. Workers on the lowest pay grade would get more than 2 percent, but that’s partly because the minimum wage is due to increase in April 2018.
Unison’s decision follows pressure from activists and moves from the Unite union to reject the local government offer. Unite, and another local government union, the GMB, are also asking their members’ views.
The Unison consultation opened on Monday and closes on 8 March. It is not a formal strike vote, but could lead to one.
The NJC will consider the resposnes to the consultation at a meeting on 16 March.
Jon Woods, branch chair of Portsmouth City Unison, said “It’s the right decision to reject the offer, despite Unison’s head of local government Heather Wakefield trying to talk it up.
“We have to mobilise and campaign to not only reject it, but get a huge turnout, and strive for the 50 percent threshold laid down by the anti-union laws. If we don’t then the union leaders may say there’s no mood to fight.
“There’s a battle going on and we need to treat this as an opportunity to build the union and get a new layer of activists. People’s views aren’t static and where we put the work in, people will vote to reject.”
The ballot comes after years of below-inflation pay rises and cuts to services. Ameen Hadi from Salford City Unison said workers have “lost 20 percent in real terms since 2010.
“By 2020 councils are projected to have lost 75 percent of their budget since 2010. We need to reach every union member through workplace meetings and develop a social media campaign to get a high turnout.”
Scandalously the Tories are saying they won’t give local authorities any more cash to fund the new pay offer. Ameen says, “We cannot wait for a future Labour government to save us when there may be little left to save.
“We should encourage Labour councils to join us in a campaign for better pay and better services, with the increase to be fully funded.”
And it’s not just local government workers that could fight back. Health unions have put in a claim for a 3.9 percent rise plus a lump sum of £800.
Civil service workers in the PCS union are set to have pay day protests at workplaces on 31 January and 14 February. The union has a strong consultative yes vote for action over pay that should be the basis for a formal strike vote.
EIS union members are fighting for a 10 percent pay rise for Scotland’s teachers. EIS general secretary Larry Flanagan said that in the last decade, “Teachers’ pay in Scotland has declined by at least 20 percent in real terms”.
Most trade union leaders have been very slow to encourage resistance over pay. Now activists everywhere must fight to win the ballots and demand action.
The TUC demonstration on 12 May calling for a "New Deal for Working People" has to be militant and linked to strikes.