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Frontlines in the new pay war

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Socialist Worker maps out the battle lines in the campaign to beat back the Tories and bosses over pay
Issue 2815
A graphic in the style of a Second World War poster shows a woman in 1940s clothing and a CWU union badge. The slogan beneath reads, 'Come on, join the fight!' in relation to pay battles of 2022

It’s time to march into battle over pay

An important shift is taking place within the class struggle. Over 80,000 rail and BT workers are preparing strikes next week in two important battles against the Tories and cost of living crisis.

And over 40,000 rail workers plan two further strikes next month. More could be coming. Around 115,000 Royal Mail workers have delivered a thumping vote for strikes after the bosses tried to push through a below-inflation pay deal.

The Tory imposition of pay cuts on health, local government and school workers could see their unions move towards strikes in the autumn. Other groups, such as firefighters, are ­rejecting below-inflation offers.

This new mood in the working class could help to build big votes for strikes—and smash through the turnout thresholds in the Tory anti-union laws.

Every socialist, trade unionist and campaigner needs to throw themselves into building solidarity for the rail and BT workers. Do a workplace collection for the strikers and go down to the picket lines with workmates and your union banner. Push for solidarity ­protests and rallies on a strike day.

Activists have to fight to spread the action to their own workplace and sector—and to keep up pressure on the union leaders. The RPI inflation rate hitting a 40-year high of 11.9 percent last week underlines that union leaders shouldn’t accept any below-inflation pay increases

After the rail and BT strikes this summer there is a large gap before any potential action if the other ballots are successful. The union leaders shouldn’t move at the usual snail’s pace of consultative ballots, weeks of talks, statutory ballots and then more talks followed by a one-day strike.

And, while they’re still balloting for strikes, unions could call for protests, marches and rallies to mount pressure on the Tories and build the yes votes. There is a huge opportunity to hurl back the Tories’ and bosses’ assaults on working class people. Let’s seize it.

Live pay disputes

Rail workers

Around 50,000 rail workers in the RMT, Aslef and TSSA unions are fighting over below-inflation pay offers, job cuts and working conditions.

Union: RMT

Who? 40,000 rail workers at Network Rail and 14 train operating companies

When? Wednesday 27 July, Wednesday 18 August and Saturday 20 August

Union: Aslef

Who? 6,000 Aslef train drivers’ union members at eight companies

When? Saturday 30 July

Union: TSSA

Who? The TSSA union—which represents managers and admin staff—held successful ballots for strikes at Network Rail and 10 train operating companies. But, so far, it has only called action at one. 

When? TSSA members on the Avanti West Coast line will strike on Wednesday 27 July.

BT Group workers

Union: CWU

Who? 40,000 CWU union members at BT and Openreach delivered huge votes for strikes after the bosses imposed a below-inflation pay increase. Workers at EE—also part of the BT Group—overwhelmingly backed strikes but fell eight votes short of the turnout threshold in the Tory anti-union laws.

When? Friday 29 July and Monday 1 August.

Legal services 

Union: Criminal Bar Association 

Who? Criminal barristers are striking “as part of a push for the government to uplift rates by 25 percent”. 

When? The first walkout began on Monday 27 June. It has escalated each week, culminating in a five-day walkout from Monday to Friday this week. The action will then resume on 1 August with a five-day walkout. Barristers will walk out every other week. 

Royal Mail

Union: CWU

Who? Around 115,000 Royal Mail workers delivered a thumping vote for strikes. The CWU union members backed strikes by 97.6 percent on a 77 percent turnout in their fight against bosses’ imposition of a 2 percent pay increase.

When? The CWU hasn’t announced strike days yet. It has launched another ballot over attacks on conditions.

Further education

Union: UCU

Who? Workers at 29 colleges in England have voted in favour of strikes by 89.9 percent on a 57.9 percent turnout.

It comes after the bosses refused to improve a pay offer of 2.5 percent. They will be joined by four other colleges in the north west of England and six across London, which were balloted separately.

When? Strikes could take place in the new academic year in September, but no days have been named yet.

Strike ballots

Civil service

Union: PCS

Who? PCS union members across all government departments are demanding a 10 percent pay increase and a minimum wage of at least £15 an hour.

When? The ballot is set to begin on 26 September and run for six weeks until 7 November.

LSE university strikers on the picket line in London . They hold placards highlighting disability and race pay gaps

LSE university strikers on the picket line in London earlier this year (Picture: Guy Smallman)

Higher education

Union: UCU

Who? Tens of thousands of workers at universities across Britain could strike in the autumn after vice chancellors failed to make an improved pay offer this week. The UCEA bosses’ group said 3 percent was its final offer at a meeting with the UCU, GMB, EIS, Unite and Unison higher education unions.

When? The UCU was due to release a timetable for the ballot in early autumn as Socialist Worker went to press on Tuesday.

Union: Unison

Who? Unison union members across 94 universities are balloting for strikes over pay.

The UCEA has made a paltry pay offer as inflation soars. It includes 3 percent for most higher education workers and between 9 and 3 percent for those on pay points 3 to 19.

That’s a real terms pay cut for every grade. Unison says, “We can’t afford less than an inflation busting pay rise of at least RPI+2 percent.”

When? The Unison ballot In Scotland closes on 19 August. In England and Wales, the ballot closes on 26 August.


Union: NEU

Who? Teachers across schools in England will be consulted on strikes in the autumn. The Tory government wants to impose a 5 percent increase on teachers after recommendations from the School Teachers’ Review Body.

When? NEU joint general secretary Kevin Courtney said the union would consult members on strikes in the autumn with “the largest ballot of teachers for a generation”. Meanwhile, the NASUWT union has previously said it would hold a national strike ballot if the Tories failed to “deliver pay restoration for teachers”.


The Tories want to impose a real‑terms pay cut on NHS workers in England. Over one million NHS staff, including nurses, paramedics and midwives, would receive a pay increase of £1,400 a year under their plans.

That would amount to real terms pay cuts—equivalent to £200 a year for porters, £1,100 for nurses and £1,500 for paramedics. The main health unions are the Royal College of Nursing (RCN), Unison, GMB and Unite.

Meanwhile, dentists and doctors would get a 4.5 percent increase after a recommendation from the review body.

Union: RCN

Who? Nursing staff in England. 

When? The RCN national executive council held an emergency meeting on Tuesday and voted to move straight to a statutory strike ballot. Usually, union bureaucrats prefer to hold a consultative ballot and only then an official one. 

Meanwhile, RCN Scotland is holding an indicative ballot on the Scottish government’s 5 percent pay offer. The ballot, which closes on 4 August, also asks whether RCN members are willing to take action up to and including strikes.

“It’s great to see the nurses in the RCN union have decided to go straight to an industrial action ballot, rather than having a consultative one first” said Becca Bryson, an NHS occupational therapist and Unison member in a personal capacity

“It shows the union is serious about the fight. I think all the health unions should do the same. Having a unified strategy makes people more confident. We had an RMT rail striker at our branch meeting last month, and they changed the whole mood.”

Union: Unison

Who? Health workers across England, including nurses, ambulance workers, admin workers and support staff.

When? An emergency meeting of the Unison health service group executive on Tuesday night agreed to encourage members to reject the offer and to hold a ballot.

It’s yet to decide whether it will move straight to a statutory ballot or hold a consultative one first. Meanwhile, Unison in Scotland is holding a consultative ballot over the 5 percent offer and strikes, which closes on 8 August.

Union: BMA

Who? Junior doctors—who include almost all qualified medics below the grade of consultant—in England.

When? The BMA union says that action is now “inevitable”, but hasn’t announced a timetable for balloting. BMA members last month voted to fight for a 30 percent increase over the next five years.

Union leader Professor Phillip Banfield has since said junior doctors want the 30 percent increase to be “immediate”. Junior doctors are set to stage a protest in London on Monday.

Local government

Union: Unison

Who? 400,000 local government workers in England could ballot for strikes.

When? The bosses were expected to make a below‑inflation pay offer on Monday, and unions were set to meet on Wednesday this week.

Jon Woods from the Unison local government service group executive told Socialist Worker in a personal capacity, “We’re expecting to go straight to a strike ballot, not doing a consultative first. A consultative ballot can confuse people as they can think they’ve already voted for strikes.

“There’s a sense that we want to get on with it, there’s a real feeling that now is the time we’re going to hit the threshold and get out on strike. It’s a disaggregated ballot. In my workplace, we’re going lunchtime meetings and asked the RMT for a striker to speak.

“We’re asking union members to become workplace pay contacts—people who want to fight over pay and talk to their colleagues and get them to vote.”

The other local government unions Unite and GMB haven’t officially said whether they’ll ballot for strikes. Meanwhile a strike ballot of 25,000 local authority workers in Unison Scotland closed as Socialist Worker went to press.

The Unite and GMB unions in Scotland are also balloting local government workers. This comes after bosses’ body Cosla made a 5 percent pay offer.

Fire and rescue

Union: FBU

Who? Firefighters

When? The FBU union’s executive council voted unanimously to reject a 2 percent pay offer from fire and rescue employers.

It had not called a ballot as Socialist Worker went to press. But it says the executive council agreed “that plans should be urgently prepared to develop our campaign for decent pay, including the need to prepare for strike action”. 

The union says, “The employers’ proposal would mean a further cut to our real wages and further hardship for our members and their families. That is unacceptable in the face of the cost of living crisis.”

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