Socialist Worker

Join the revolt against low pay

Issue No. 1808

UP TO 1.2 million workers plan to strike next Wednesday in what will be the biggest strike action since Tony Blair was first elected in 1997. The strike is by workers in almost 500 local councils across England, Wales and Northern Ireland. The workers are fighting against low pay. It is a battle everyone should support.

Wednesday's strike will see town hall workers and street cleaners, classroom assistants and housing workers, meals on wheels workers and refuse collectors, and many, many more unite. There could be picket lines at council offices, manual depots, schools and libraries in every neighbourhood. Members of all three council workers' unions-Unison, the TGWU and the GMB-are to strike together.

It is the first time all the major council unions have ever struck together nationally. If the council workers win it will be a huge boost for all the other public sector workers gearing up for a fight over pay.

Firefighters, teachers, teaching and admin staff in further and higher education, air traffic control workers and London tube workers are just some of those who could be thrown into battles over pay in the coming months. Everyone sick of the gulf between what ordinary workers have to put up with and what the fat cats stuff in their already bulging wallets should try to join the council workers' picket lines.

One in five council workers earn less than £5 an hour, and two thirds get paid less than £13,000 a year. Some council workers take home as little as £7,000 a year, equivalent to an hourly rate of £3.64-which is below the legal minimum wage. No wonder that seven in ten council workers say they have considered quitting in the last year, according to an NOP survey. Many would be better off working in McDonald's.

They work in the public sector because they care about the services they provide, yet many are punished by poverty pay. The council employers are offering just a 3 percent pay rise, which works out as little as 15p an hour extra for some workers.

Council workers across the country have soundly rejected their bosses' measly pay offer. Unions are rightly demanding at least double that, or a £1,750 a year flat rate rise, which will benefit the lowest paid workers the most. Elayne Hibbert, a TGWU union member in an east London council, says: 'Managers and directors get paid loads of money in councils, but the workers who do the real work are on low wages. Some are not getting £5 an hour. We have to make a stand. We all need to fight together.'

What a pay insult

THE COUNCIL chiefs who refuse to give council workers a decent pay rise are stuffing their own pockets. Council leaders have grabbed an average 60 percent rise over the last year. Contrast that with the 6 percent council workers' unions want for their members. Council chief executives grab an average £160,000 a year while they push through privatisation and service cuts.

Wigan Labour councillor Brian Baldwin is the head of the council employers' organisation which oversees pay negotiations. He had the cheek to tell workers their demand, which will mean a rise of as little as 30p an hour, was 'exorbitant'.

Capital 4 action

IN LONDON council workers are combining the national one-day strike with their fourth day of strike action to win higher London weighting. That is the allowance many workers get for the extra costs of living and working in the capital.

The London council workers want their annual weighting allowance increased from as little as £1,404 a year to £4,000 a year. This modest claim would still be less than the £6,000 a year plus free travel that the police get.

The workers' claim was given a boost last week when an official report for the Greater London Assembly recommended that public sector workers in the capital needed pay rises of up to 37 percent.

Action plans

  • Council workers should set up inter-union strike committees in every office, depot and school.
  • Organise meetings to build the strike and effective pickets on the day.
  • Visit other local workplaces and invite them to join the council pickets.
  • Other workers should organise delegations to council picket lines in every area.

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Article information

Sat 13 Jul 2002, 00:00 BST
Issue No. 1808
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