HUGE NUMBERS of council workers across England and Wales are up in arms over the pay deal agreed by their negotiators last week. It is now out for consultation among council worker members of the Unison, GMB and TGWU unions. Consultation will last six weeks.
Unison branches or branch officers have recommended rejecting the deal in Swansea, Newcastle, Southend, Islington, Plymouth, York, Southwark, Rochdale (jointly with TGWU), Newham (east London), Cornwall and Devon, and many others. Last week national union negotiators said the offer would be especially beneficial for the low paid. But only the bottom two scale points out of 45 get the full increase.
Many people on very low pay, as little as £191 a week before tax, will get just the basic 3.5 percent rise. Tony Staunton, the branch chair of Plymouth Unison, told Socialist Worker: 'The vast majority of clerical workers are not going to get the extra 1 percent that has been trumpeted as going to the low paid. And even if you look at the lowest paid, the rise is pitiful. Classroom assistants and library workers will be going to £5.32 an hour from April 2003. This is still not nearly enough.'
A GMB convenor in London told Socialist Worker, 'We stuck together to make the strike a success. We should now stick together to throw out this deal. I'd appeal especially to TGWU and GMB members to make sure there is a proper consultation of the membership and an informed discussion about how little this means for manual workers.'
Cheryl Hindle, branch secretary of Southend-on-Sea Unison, says, 'The media are talking as though this deal is done. In fact, it is still out for consultation by our members. Even the lowest paid will only get 4.5 percent this year which is simply not enough. Many members just above the lowest grades are still on low pay and they have been offered nothing extra. We are particularly angry as the level of support for our strike in July was excellent and we were expecting an even better turnout on 14 August. We know the public are behind us. We believe the trade unions should carry on with the action, as voted for by our members, and end low pay once and for all. Our branch will be calling to press on with industrial action and build on this offer to achieve a real victory for the low paid and for public services.'
Richard Searle, Unison joint convenor for Manchester housing, told Socialist Worker, 'Manchester Unison had a meeting of 150 to discuss the offer and people were spitting angry about it. Several speakers said that if the government has money to make war then it should have money for public services. Remember that National Insurance will be going up 1 percent from next year so that hacks off a big section of the rise. Not one housing office in Manchester will be supporting the deal. We did straw polls in the sections and the replies were unanimously and unprintably opposed to the offer.'
It means 25p an hour
THE DEAL is being sold as a historic breakthrough for the low paid. In reality it gives the lowest paid just an extra 5p per hour above what was already offered in April, with another 10p per hour for half the year, together worth 10p per hour over the whole year.
Union leaders made great play on 17 July of what an insult the offer of 15p per hour was. How can they now claim that 25p per hour is a historic breakthrough? Set that against our claim of £1,750 for all, or 96p per hour, and it becomes clear that the low paid do worst of all from this settlement. Under this settlement you would have to be on £50,000 per year to achieve the £1,750 increase.
Home care workers, teaching assistants, refuse workers - most of the two thirds of council workers on less than £13,000 per year - get just 3.5 percent this year. They are left with the promise of a commission to look into pay and related matters by August 2003.
The extra 1 percent from October is in reality just half a percent increase over the year for most council workers, with 3.5 percent next year. The average public sector rises quoted in Unison's stewards' briefings as comparisons were 4.66 percent with the lowest at 3.7 percent. The average for the private sector was 5.38 percent with the lowest at 3.6 percent. We are being asked to swallow just 3.5 percent.
Union leaders are spinning like government ministers on what the deal is worth over two years using the old trick of adding the annual increases together to make it sound bigger.
JOHN McLOUGHLIN, branch chair Tower Hamlets Unison (personal capacity)
What you can do
- Produce leaflets and other propaganda against the deal.
- Hold section and branch meetings to discuss the deal. Argue for rejection and a return to the strikes.
- Hold a branch ballot on the deal. Unison's consultation is based on the actual number of people voting in any form of consultation. A branch meeting cannot cast the entire branch vote against the deal. Therefore it has to be followed up by a ballot and an energetic campaign.
- Contact the other unions involved in the action and other branches of your union in your area and region. Urge united rejection of the offer.