ANGER AT low pay exists across the public services. That’s why other groups of workers as well as the firefighters are taking action. On Tuesday tens of thousands of teachers and council workers in London struck for a rise in the allowance they get for living in London, with its spiralling housing and transport costs.
In Glasgow hundreds of low paid admin and clerical staff are on an indefinite unofficial strike to win a living wage. University and college lecturers have been involved in battles over pay. Bitterness over ‘modernisation’ exists in the private sector too. Workers in the Amicus union at four Jaguar car plants were set to hold mass meetings this week.
They are protesting at management’s attempts to introduce performance related pay and compulsory unpaid overtime of an hour a day.
All these workers know they are facing the same hard-nosed Blair government. They know that a victory for the firefighters will be a victory for all of them. That is why there is an overwhelming feeling of solidarity for the firefighters. All of them deserve the support of workers and trade unionists.
‘I WORK as a nursery nurse at a special needs school. I’ve been doing the job a while and get £15,000 a year. We don’t feel valued for the work we do. In this society in many ways you are valued by the amount you are earning. There are many people who do the dirty work, but they don’t get a just reward. They talk about not having the money, yet how much are they spending on warships?’
Nursery nurse, east London
‘IF FIREFIGHTERS open the floodgates for low paid nurses, teachers and others to get the wage rises they deserve then I will be proud of that. Don’t let them split off public sector workers. We are not a special case. All public sector workers provide the most important things in life. Where do we get the money? Well, for a start let’s not bomb innocent civilians. Let’s not bail out the privatised industries.’
Linda Smith, firefighter for 17 years and regional treasurer London FBU
‘I AM a low paid health worker, and I support the firefighters. They shouldn’t have to have second jobs to survive and struggle to pay their bills. I think we should be on strike with the firefighters. If we all come out together the government would have to listen.’
Beverley Richards, health worker
‘I WORK in the Cash Handling and Distribution division in the Post Office. We have just defeated privatisation, partly because the firefighters were striking. Our job now is to support the FBU. The government talks about ‘flexibility’ and moving forward, but our experience is that it means more work, harder work, more pressure, calls for cost-cutting and job cuts everywhere. There’s more bullying by management to get more work out of you. Black workers and women workers get picked on especially.’
Mike Harrison, postal worker, London
‘THE GOVERNMENT is trying to ‘modernise’ the health service. That means unscrupulous private companies getting their hands on our public services and screwing them for a profit. There are staff cuts, more pressure, more stress, shifts that deny you the right to see your children, and an inferior service for the elderly and sick. This is old fashioned inequality. I’m hoping that the firefighters get what they deserve. We should all stand together.’
Brenda Borthwick, nurse, Bedfordshire
OVER 300 mainly women low paid hospital workers in Glasgow are on an indefinite unofficial strike against their appalling wages. The clerical and administration workers are part of a gathering revolt in the health service.
In Glasgow last week strikers defied threats by trust bosses and pleas by their union leaders to return to work, and voted to continue their action. The strikers see their dispute as part of a general fight against low pay. ‘I’m all for the FBU strike,’ said one striker.
‘A lot of strikers have been going down to their local fire stations. The solidarity has been tremendous.’ Another striker told Socialist Worker, ‘This government is attacking the firefighters and the hospital workers. This is an attack on all decent union members. The Labour Party seems to be adopting the same attitude as Margaret Thatcher, going all out to try to beat the unions. We have to let them know how angry we are.’
The workers’ Unison union branch banner was well received at the Glasgow FBU rally last Saturday. There has been tremendous support from other hospital workers. These included doctors, and health workers employed by giant firm Sodexho who won a victory against the multinational when they struck earlier this year.
For more on the Glasgow strike click here
SOME 40,000 teachers in London struck on Tuesday to demand a rise in their London weighting allowance for the extra cost of living and working in London. They are demanding a rise in London weighting to £6,000 a year. The police get £6,111 a year and free travel for working in London – double what teachers currently get.
Teachers have already taken one day of strike action in March, including a vibrant and lively demonstration. Des Barrow, the NUT union rep at Clapton School in Hackney, east London, says, ‘There is a great sense of solidarity. Firefighters are striking because they don’t get paid enough, and we are striking because we don’t get paid enough. Teachers at my school immediately made the link. We decided to twin our NUT group to the local fire station, and invited the firefighters to come and lead our teachers’ strike march. We made a banner for the march saying ‘Hackney teachers and firefighters unite’.’
NURSES, MIDWIVES and health visitors are also demanding a decent pay rise. Their unions have said workers should get a 15 percent rise. Last year the vast majority of nursing staff got just 3.6 percent. A newly qualified nurse starts on £16,005 a year. After three years in the job a staff nurse will get £17,670 a year.
Healthcare assistants in the NHS start on £9,735 a year. The government’s ‘modernisation’ in the NHS has meant cuts. The latest swathe of PFI privatisation schemes have slashed nursing staff by up to 28 percent.
As one London nurse put it, ‘Everyone working in the NHS feels overworked and undervalued. I say good luck to the firefighters. If you win we will all be lifted.’
TENS OF thousands of council workers also struck on Tuesday to demand an increase in London weighting to £4,000 a year. Those on strike include low paid workers like care assistants in elderly people’s homes and educational assistants who work in our schools. Some care assistants get as little as £10,000 a year.
Rosemary Garwood works in a care home in west London. She says, ‘I’ve done this job for ten years, but I only get about £12,000 a year. ‘By the time I’ve shelled out £420 a month for my flat, paid £80 a month for my travel and paid off my bills there is barely enough to get by on. I can only do it because I have a partner who works full time. Some of those I work with are divorced or widowed. Some have two jobs. The elderly have to pay through the teeth. Some have to sell their homes and furniture, yet they get a second-rate service because staff are hard pressed. I’d like to see us all come together as public sector workers to demand we are all given the full recognition and the wage we deserve.’
LOCAL AUTHORITIES estimate that the deal with the firefighters the government blocked would have cost £41 million. This is around the cost of just one of the 67 US Apache helicopters that the government has ordered. They will not be in use until 2007.
TONY BLAIR claimed that there was no blank cheque for the firefighters on Monday morning of this week. In the afternoon the defence minister Geoff Hoon announced more spending on the military to prepare for a war in Iraq.
This includes making the failed Challenger 2 tank ‘desertised’. It ran into trouble during the recent Saif Sareea exercise in Oman because its sand filters didn’t function adequately.
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