Socialist Worker

Tories play divide and rule to push through public sector pay freeze

by Sarah Bates
Issue No. 2732

NHS workers protest over the Tories pay insults in London

NHS workers protest over the Tories' pay insults in London in September (Pic: Guy Smallman)


The Tories are preparing their latest attack on public sector workers. 

Tory chancellor Rishi Sunak is likely to announce a fresh public sector pay cap next week as part of new spending plans. 

Right wing think tank, the Centre for Policy Studies, said on Friday that as much as £23 billion could be "saved" through a three-year freeze.

Such a freeze on public sector wages will amount to a real-terms cut, an attack no worker can afford after ten years of austerity. 

It’s due to hit millions working in education, local government and many other areas.  It is unclear whether all those in the NHS will be affected. 

Library worker Tim O’Dell told Socialist Worker that, “Over the last year we thought it was obvious who was important in this country.

“It is workers who have looked after people, cared for people, fed people and so on. Now they’re the very people who have been asked to pay for this situation, as always.”

The government claimed to be cutting public sector pay in response to the costs of the coronavirus pandemic. 

But there is money in the system. Just this week Johnson announced he was throwing £16.5 billion at the military budget. 

“It’s quite obvious the government’s priorities aren’t to people delivering key services,” said Tim.

Cutting back on workers’ pay while pouring vast sums into the military shows the Tories’ sheer callousness towards ordinary people. 

The Tories are playing divide and rule between different groups of NHS and public sector workers.

The Daily Mail newspaper suggested only 500,000 “frontline” doctors and nurses would avoid the pay freeze. This would leave around 700,000 other health workers, including some of the lowest-paid, without an increase. 

Other newspapers speculated that the NHS as a whole would be exempt from the pay freeze. 

Played 

Leah, a nurse in Essex, says either way the Tory plans “wouldn’t be fair” as “we’ve all played a part in the crisis”. 

“It has shown how important all sorts of public sector workers are to society and keeping it running,” Leah told Socialist Worker. “We have all contributed over the last six months, which have been awful, and ultimately we all need to be treated the same. 

The NHS workers leading a grassroots pay revolt say—‘we’ve had enough!’
The NHS workers leading a grassroots pay revolt say—‘we’ve had enough!’
  Read More

“That’s why we need to show solidarity with other professions and workers. 

“It would cause a lot of anger among NHS staff because no one should be singled out and excluded.”

Even if the NHS wasn’t included in the pay freeze, that wouldn’t automatically mean health workers would receive a pay rise.

Health workers have seen their pay stagnate in “real terms”—accounting for inflation—by up to 20 percent since 2010. That’s why the grassroots NHS Workers for Public Sector Pay Equality group—which Leah is part of—organised protests during the summer to fight for a 15 percent increase. 

The Unite and GMB unions adopted their demand. 

Dave Prentis, Unison union general secretary, said the prospect of a freeze was a “kick in the teeth” for public workers who had worked throughout dangerous conditions. “It’s their courage, their dedication that’s bringing us through the pandemic,” he said. 

It will take more than outraged words from trade union leaders. They need to start the fightback now—that means campaigning, balloting their members for strikes and arguing that action is necessary.

In a cynical attempt to push through a pay freeze, the Tories’ will claim it's fair because many private sector workers have faced wage cuts and redundancies. But keeping down public sector pay will simply encourage those private sector bosses to further push down workers’ wages, in a race to the bottom. 

How will a bin workers’ pay being cut help a bar worker who has been laid off? 

Public sector workers need to unite with private sector workers. And we need a united fight against the Tories' and bosses’ attempts to make working class people pay for the coronavirus crisis. 

The Tories are vicious, but they are also weak. The government has been forced into a series of U-turns, such as the A-Levels results fiasco and its refusal to fund free school meals. 

They can be beaten over pay—but it will take a real fight. 

Support the fightback. Join the People Before Profit rally on Facebook, 7pm, Tues 1 December.

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