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Unions will need to fight to beat the pay cap

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Issue 2559
council workers striking for higher pay in 2014
Council workers striking for higher pay in 2014 (Pic: Guy Smallman)

Unions representing more than 1.6 million local government workers are demanding a 5 percent pay rise to break the Tory public sector pay cap.

The Unison, Unite and GMB unions, which represent council and school workers across England and Wales, submitted the claim last Wednesday.

They also want the living wage of £8.45 for the lowest paid workers.

Unions shouldn’t bemoan a lack of strikes—but get organising them
Unions shouldn’t bemoan a lack of strikes—but get organising them
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Ameen Hadi from Unison’s Salford City branch told Socialist Worker, “The leadership now needs to show it’s serious.

“We need to move now with a real sense of urgency.”

He added, “As soon as the employers say they are not willing to meet our claim we want to ballot members.

“That way we can get out on strike to win our pay campaign for April.”

Meanwhile health unions including Unison and the BMA doctors’ organisation have called for a “clear change in direction”.

They are also demanding an end to the 1 percent pay cap for health workers.

The unions’ demand follows eight years of a government-imposed pay curb, which has frozen wages or held them to a 1 percent increase.

This is part of a much bigger fight because wages are falling across great swathes of the working class.

Figures out last week showed average regular pay growth slowed from 1.8 to 1.7 percent in the year to April.

Total pay growth, which includes bonuses, slowed from 2.3 to 2.1 percent. These are the figures before inflation is taken into account.

In fact, inflation outstripped both regular and total pay growth in the three months to April. As a result, regular pay fell 0.6 percent in real terms while total pay fell 0.4 percent.


The figures are likely to worsen next month because inflation reached a four-year high of 2.9 percent in May.

Matthew Whittaker, chief economist of the Resolution Foundation, warned about the impact on wages.

He said, “In the five decades leading up to the financial crisis in 2008, growth in real weekly earnings turned negative in just 51 months.

“Yet new figures mark the 72nd month of negative growth in the nine years since, with more on the cards throughout 2017.

“Today’s figures leave average pay more than £800 below its 2008 peak. We’re on course for the weakest decade of pay growth since the Napoleonic era.”

It’s good that the unions have put in a serious claim.

There needs to be a strategy to win it as the first step towards reversing the years of pay cuts.

A victory for a big group of workers would inspire others.

To win 5 percent will require campaigning and strikes.

If unions are to meet the ballot requirements of the new anti-union laws, that means strengthening union reps and shop stewards networks and union organisation everywhere.

Talks must not be allowed to drag on. There is a feeling of momentum after the election—it has to be grasped.

At the Unison local government conference in Brighton this week delegates clearly did not want a business as usual approach.

They were looking for the leadership to lay out a real strategy that can win.

Esther Rey, a delegate from west London, said, “Words don’t put food on the table.”

She insisted, “We cannot just have a one-day strike and see the leadership accept a 1 percent pay rise again.”

Labour’s manifesto called for an end to the public sector pay cap.

Labour at every level should fully support a big pay rise for local government workers, health workers and others—and encourage strikes to win it.

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