The revolt against the public sector pay cap is growing.
Workplace meetings and demonstrations herald the start of a new push in the fight for pay. Union leaders are talking about strikes.
PCS union general secretary Mark Serwotka spoke to a meeting of over 100 people in Birmingham on Wednesday of last week.
“There’s the potential to bring three million workers out on strike over pay,” he said. “We have to put the pressure on in our workplaces and our communities.”
The PCS is set to launch a consultative ballot of its members to ask if they’re willing to strike over pay. But its members aren’t waiting to organise.
Pete works for the Department for Work and Pensions in Birmingham. He said, “We collected names of people interested in helping and we are planning to hold meetings to look at the workplaces that need support.”
Another PCS member in Manchester said, “We have taken inspiration from the CWU union’s campaign of gate meetings and photos of the postal workers voting so we’re calling a lunchtime protest.”
Last Saturday 100 people protested in Lowestoft to demand the pay cap be scrapped. Kevin Wingfield from Lowestoft Coalition against the Cuts said, “Speakers got a loud cheer when they emphasised the need to build resistance and a campaign to defeat May.”
A real mood to fight is beginning to develop. Workers are furious at year-on-year pay cuts. A recent study showed that median NHS pay has fallen by almost £2,000 over the last seven years.
Strikes have the power not just to improve wages and conditions but also pile political pressure on the Tories.
Shadow chancellor John McDonnell spoke to a meeting in Camden last week. “The opportunity is now, while people are angry about the pay cap,” he said. “It could be one of the factors that breaks the government.”
There are signs that across the public sector, workers are gearing up for a serious fight.
Firefighters in the FBU union have already rejected a 2 percent pay offer. The UCU union said a 1 percent offer from further education bosses last week “fails to address years of pay suppression”. The UCU Left, which Socialist Worker supports, said the offer was “ridiculous and out of touch”.
FE lecturers have suffered a 21 percent pay cut in real terms since 2009. A consultative ballot of UCU members in FE on pay strikes was set to end on Friday of this week.
Workers should treat the consultations as though they are real strike ballots—and vote yes to build support.
Unions have submitted pay claims in both health and local government. They should not wait until Tory chancellor Philip Hammond’s budget is announced on 22 November to begin campaigning to win them. That includes pushing for strikes.
Unions need to organise to scrap the pay cap—but they can’t stop there. We need above inflation pay increases for all public sector workers —not just the sectors the Tories feel inclined to fund.
Reballots have opened the way to bigger struggle