Some 375,000 council and school workers across England and Wales are set to begin voting on whether to strike over pay.
Members of the Unison union are gearing up for a major battle after council bosses offered them a pay increase that’s well below inflation—effectively a pay cut.
It comes after more than a decade of similar pay cuts and freezes that have left low-paid council workers struggling.
John Mcloughlin, Unison branch secretary at Tower Hamlets council in east London, told Socialist Worker, “We’ve already had our pay cut 25 percent over the past ten years.
“People are feeling the pressure—not just with the increase in inflation, but in core needs such as energy.”
Bosses at the Local Government Association—the umbrella organisation of councils in England and Wales—offered a 1.75 percent increase, or 2.75 percent for the lowest paid, in 2021.
But the RPI rate of inflation is currently 6 percent. And, as Unison points out, the price of some essentials, has risen even more.
It adds that the value of local government pay is a quarter lower than a decade ago. “That means, in effect, local government workers work at least a day a week for free, compared to 2010.”
Unison, the GMB and Unite are calling for a 10 percent rise. Workers already rejected the offer by 79 percent in a consultative ballot earlier this year.
Now, John says the task is to make sure enough people vote to beat the 50 percent turnout threshold demanded by Tory anti-union laws.
“The key thing is to involve as many people as possible in building a big turnout,” he said.
“Have big rallies to launch it. Get people to do what they can, whether that’s phone banking or just talking to their workmates. One of the most effective things is when people get their ballot paper, they talk about it to others—whether that’s physically in the workplace or in an online Teams meeting.”
John pointed out that many council and school workers aren’t working from home—meaning activists can leaflet workplaces and organise meetings. “School workers are in, all manual workers are in,” he said. “Plus there are jobs such as social workers.
“In schools, you’ve got the staff room and a possibility of holding a meetings. In other places such as bin depots there are places where people gather for their lunchbreaks.”
The ballot is set to begin on Wednesday of next week and end on Friday 14 January
The GMB is holding a consultative strike ballot that closes on 13 December.
Cleansing workers in Glasgow could head back to picket lines in December.
The members of the GMB union took eight days of strikes as the Cop26 climate conference went on earlier this month.
The leader of the Glasgow City Council (GCC) Susan Aitken said she would review pay rates for workers on the lowest pay grades—who earn less than £20,000 a year.
Aitken also said the council would look into improving working conditions which were such a big part of why cleansing workers were pushed to strike.
But the council rejected a call by the GMB for a “Glasgow Payment” which would give a lump sum to the lowest paid council workers.
The GMB sent out two consultative ballots to members last week. The results showed that three‑quarters of GMB members were unhappy with what GCC has proposed.
And in addition four-fifths were willing to strike again.
The union has also said that a large number of its members who work for GCC in education, social work and care homes would also be prepared to take industrial action.
Cleansing workers have consistently pushed for more strikes and action, even when their union wasn’t always completely behind them.
Only more strikes will force GCC to make the desperately needed changes that the Glasgow cleansing workers deserve.
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