Tory chancellor Rishi Sunak is set to announce a fresh public sector pay cap this week as part of new budget plans.
Right wing think tank, the Centre for Policy Studies, said last 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.
NHS workers are set to be excluded from the cut, and Sunak has promised an extra £3 billion for the health service.
It’s a cynical attempt to play off one section of workers against another.
“I hear from a lot of social workers and people in schools that we’ve actually been working just as hard, but we’re never recognised,” said social worker Helen.
“People don’t want NHS workers to be included in the pay freeze, but they feel we’re being pitted against them.”
Leah, a nurse in Essex, says 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 government claims to be prioritising “frontline” workers. But every worker deserves a real pay rise, not just those who the Tories deem to be worthy.
Attempts to prioritise the NHS over other services and industries is a calculated endeavour to divide and rule workers—not to reward those who deserve it.
It’s time for the unions to build the fight that can stop these attacks. Last week union leaders wrote a private letter to Sunak telling him to back off.
TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said, “I’m really conscious of the feeling out there that governments only seem to recognise the true value of labour when it’s withdrawn”.
And she asked that the government “stands by key workers and respects the contribution they are continuing to make”.
But now is the time for strikes and protests, not letters or vague hints at industrial action. 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.
Workers need to start organising to create an explosive atmosphere to make the Tories’ plans unfeasible.
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.
Public sector workers endured an eight-year long pay cut from 2010. It could have been beaten if more action had been launched.
The labour movement can’t repeat the mistakes of the past—only national action can fend off these attacks.
‘The unions have to be strong’
The Tory government is nasty. But it is also weak and can be beaten.
Teacher Chris Denson is on the NEU’s national executive committee.
Chris told Socialist Worker, “The unions have to be really strong over this.
“We’re proposing a motion to our local district on Wednesday, where we say unions should coordinate their response.”
“It’s an absolute failure of the ruling class to act that has led to workers across the public and private sectors hurting like this.
“Just like the financial crisis in 2008, we can’t be the ones to be made to pay for their inaction.”
Spending review is plan for more Tory austerity
A pay freeze isn’t the only measure Sunak was expected to announce. He’s due to cut the British international aid budget from 0.7 percent to 0.5 percent of national income.
Warnings will also be issued stating that the government will have to slash its spending.
Sunak claims “there’s absolutely no way in which anyone can say” the new plans amount to austerity.
He said the injection of cash into homelessness programmes and the promise of more NHS staff represent an increase in government public sector spending.
But the NHS money was cash already promised earlier this year. And the British Medical Association says over £10 billion extra NHS funding is needed just to tackle the backlog in care caused by the pandemic.
The governments’ new strategy involves a national infrastructure bank, with a headquarters in the north of England. Sunak boasted that his plans showed the Tories “are absolutely committed to levelling-up opportunities so those living in all corners of the UK get their fair share of our future prosperity.”
He could not be more wrong. Sunak plans equal opportunities austerity for everyone in Britain whether they live in Nairn, Northumberland or Northampton.
Take cash off tax dodgers and the war machine
The cuts to pay come just as the government has promised an additional £16.5 billion to the armed forces.
Emma Davis, a teacher in east London, said, “Six months ago they were clapping for key workers.
Now they are attacking us with a pay freeze while pouring billions into the military.
“This shows what the government’s priorities are—prioritising profit over human life.”
Workers are rightly seething that there’s cash for bombs, but none for those who provide essential services.
HMRC worker Charlotte told Socialist Worker the plans “make me furious”.
“Rishi Sunak’s big thing was the furlough scheme. Tax office workers went over and above to make it work.
“Now they’ve been kicked in the teeth.
“The money is there if you look at the tax avoiding companies like Amazon. They can exploit loopholes.
“That’s down to a lack of political will to make them pay up.”
Emma said, “We need to link the fights for pay and jobs together.
“If there’s billions for the military, why isn’t there money for jobs and pay?”