Hundreds of thousands of workers who aren’t accepting rubbish pay offers are set to strike in April and May. Teachers in England and civil service workers across Britain could soon be back on the picket lines.
It’s welcome to see big strikes planned. But union leaders have not set up a united day of strikes, and they aren’t shifting strategy to action that can win.
NEU union joint general secretary Kevin Courtney urged tens of thousands of teachers on a Zoom call on Monday night to reject a pay offer. He said it had emerged from “six long days of intensive talks”.
It means just an extra £1,000 one-off bribe for 2022-23. Next year it would be a 4.5 percent pay uplift, less than half the present rate of inflation. And only 0.5 percent of that 4.5 percent would be funded by new government money, so 4 percent would come from school budgets.
The NEU thinks that would mean serious cuts at up to half of schools. The government said the offer would be withdrawn unless unions balloted on it with a positive recommendation. That isn’t happening.
Joint general secretary Mary Bousted said that the negotiators had told the government, “We’re not miracle workers,” and they couldn’t ask teachers to accept it.
Much of the general secretaries’ presentation highlighted the slightly better deals on offer in Wales and Scotland. It would be a big mistake to see these as the target in England. They too are well below inflation, let alone enough to eradicate years of falling real terms pay.
Socialist Worker supporters on the NEU national executive argued the deal was so dreadful that it should be rejected without a ballot. But the majority said it should be put out for a members’ vote
If the deal is thrown out, which is highly likely, the NEU will notify strikes on 27 April and 2 May—although this wasn’t discussed on the Zoom call.
That won’t be nearly enough. It’s no escalation from the action that has already happened. The only way to break the government is to cause a crisis. Otherwise, the best that will be on offer is wholly inadequate deals.
On the same day the PCS union announced that more than 130,000 of its members across the civil service and public sector will strike on 28 April. This would be combined with sectional strikes by around 3,600 workers in six departments such as the Passport Office, the British Museum and Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency. PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka said, “Our members are not backing down in this dispute.”
Socialist Worker supporters on the PCS executive called for more national action than this. But they were told that this would split the union and endanger the re-ballot that is taking place now.
In fact, the biggest danger in all these disputes is a loss of momentum and workers’ lack of belief in a strategy to win.
Sarah Ensor, a Socialist Worker supporter on the NEC, told Socialist Worker, “My colleagues have responded to news of a new strike really enthusiastically. One of them said it’s their birthday the next day and they’d have birthday cake on the picket line.
“Someone else had been away for the last strike, and is glad not to be missing this one.” She said the reason for that was that the experience of previous days of combined strikes had been a success. “The rallies that happened around the country were really good,” she said. “We got 3,000 people on our rally in Manchester on the last strike.”
But, she added, “The strategy will take more days of strikes across the civil service. We have to be honest with people that this is going to cost us. We know just one or two days isn’t going to make the government fall over.
“A lot of people on the NEC say people can’t afford all this. But it’s possible to campaign and fundraise. We can appeal to local union branches for solidarity donations. Labour Party branches have donated money.
“Some ask what happens if it’s just us striking on our own. We’re 130,000 people—why can’t we strike on our own?”
It’s possible to win, but not without escalating. It will be six weeks from the 15 March action by half a million workers until the NEU and PCS strikes. It’s too slow and too limited.
Mark Serwotka told the PCS executive that there was a meeting at the TUC union federation last Friday to discuss developments. But that hasn’t produced the joint strikes that could break this rotten government.
Union activists have to chuck out bad deals and push for more action.
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