By Sarah Bates and Alistair Farrow
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Pay strikes could ‘break the government’ says John McDonnell

This article is over 6 years, 8 months old
Issue 2573
They only listen to industrial action, John McDonnell speaking at a union meeting in Camden, north London, last night
“They only listen to industrial action”, John McDonnell speaking at a union meeting in Camden, north London, last night (Pic: Unite the Resistance )

Labour’s shadow chancellor John McDonnell urged unions to coordinate industrial action to break the Tories’ public sector pay cap last night, Wednesday.

Speaking at a union meeting in Camden, north London, McDonnell said, “The demonstrations and marches are important, but the only thing they listen to is industrial action.

“Coordinated action is the way to win.”

McDonnell’s call to arms came as pressure mounted on the Tories’ to scrap the 1 percent pay cap for public sector workers.

According to the bosses’ think tank the Institute of Fiscal Studies (IFS), the government is stuck between a “rock and a hard place”. The IFS itself reluctantly joined the growing calls to lift the cap on Tuesday.

The Tories know that there is anger and a mood to fight around pay. Theresa May is hoping that partially lifting the cap with small, below-inflation increases for some groups, such as the police and prison officers, will be enough.

There has to be a push not just for scrapping the cap, but for inflation-busting pay rises for all workers.

At a meeting of over 100 people in Birmingham last night, PCS union general secretary Mark Serwotka said, “The time is no longer for resolutions.

“There’s the potential to bring 3 million workers out on strike over pay, we have to put the pressure on in our workplaces and our communities.”

PCS is holding a consultative ballot of all its members on taking industrial action in the run up to the budget in November. Serwotka told Socialist Worker, “We’re using this as a platform to have a full ballot, hopefully with other unions, as soon as possible.”

“We will use the consultative ballot as a catalyst for others to join us.”


The UCU union is also holding a consultative ballot of its members in further education. Firefighters in the FBU union rejected a 2 percent pay offer.

And 14 health unions, including Unison, Unite and GMB, put in a pay claim of 3.9 percent and an £800 lump sum last week. They should back up their words with action and ballot their members for strikes.

Chancellor Philip Hammond is likely to announce some concessions in the budget in November. The unions must not accept any attempts by the government to divide the opposition, or a lifting of the cap without real pay rises.

As Roger McKenzie, Unison union assistant general secretary, told the Camden meeting, “Lifting the pay cap is not enough, our members have lost thousands of pounds.

“We want that money back, so we need to build a movement strong enough to win that too.”

The pay rises should be fully funded by taxing the corporations and the rich, not slashing public services’ budgets elsewhere. 

As McDonald’s striker Shen told the Camden meeting, “If Theresa May has enough money to subsidise businesses she has enough money to lift the pay cap. T

“The magic money tree should be used for to nurses and teachers, not the DUP.”


Activists need to hold workplace and union meetings to build support for strikes over pay.

The TUC union federation is holding pay rallies across Britain and one outside parliament on 17 October. And the march on the Tory party conference in Manchester on 1 October is another opportunity.

All this can put pressure on the union leaders to back up their words with action that can win.

Strikes have the power to not only break the pay cap, but break Theresa May’s car crash government. As McDonnell said, “The opportunity is now, while people are angry about the pay cap.

“It could be one of the factors that breaks the government.”

Go to for coach details. For rallies see

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