Some 375,000 council and school workers across England and Wales began voting on whether to strike over pay as Socialist Worker went to press.
Members of the Unison union are gearing up for a major battle after council bosses offered them a pay increase that’s well below inflation—effectively a pay cut.
It comes after more than a decade of similar pay cuts and freezes that have left low-paid council workers struggling. Unison activists are pushing to get a high turnout in the vote, which began on Wednesday of this week.
Jon Woods is a council worker and branch chair of Portsmouth City Unison branch. He told Socialist Worker, “The most important thing is making sure people vote. I’m convinced the majority will vote for strikes.
“When you talk to people there’s a real mood around pay—especially when you link it to the Tory corruption scandals. Think of Tory MP Geoffrey Cox sitting on a beach in the Caribbean giving so-called legal advice.”
Bosses at the Local Government Association—the umbrella organisation of councils in England and Wales—offered a 1.75 percent increase, or 2.75 percent for the lowest paid, in 2021.
But the RPI rate of inflation is currently 6 percent. And, as Unison points out, the price of some essentials, has risen even more.
It adds that the value of local government pay is a quarter lower than a decade ago. “That means, in effect, local government workers work at least a day a week for free, compared to 2010.”
Jon said that four out of five people in his Unison branch who voted in a recent consultative ballot backed strikes. “That’s pretty consistent with the rest of the country,” he said.
But Tory anti-union laws say that unless 50 percent of people take part in a strike ballot, strikes would be unlawful.
“The key thing is hitting the thresholds,” said Jon. “We’re organising phone banking, but we’re also speaking to people in workplaces.
“I’ve been through the whole of the Civic Offices to put up 60 posters.
Jon added that organising now, involving workers, can also help to prepare the union for the fight,
“The very fact we’re doing this stuff can build shop floor organisation,” he said.
The ballot is set end on Friday 14 January.
The GMB union is also holding a consultative strike ballot that closes on 13 December.
Council workers are preparing to fight again in a long running battle for equal pay for women.
Some 97 percent of people voted for strikes in a consultative ballot by the Unison union at Glasgow City Council.
It comes after council bosses are delaying and backtracking on an equal pay settlement that workers won in 2019.
Some 14,000 council workers—predominantly women—have fought for more than 14 years against a discriminatory pay scheme.
A 48-hour strike in 2018 brought the council to its knees and forced bosses to agree compensation payments that for many were worth tens of thousands of pounds.
But more than two years later, many women still haven’t had their payments. And now the council wants to exclude some workers from the deal.
Glasgow City Unison is asking the union to ballot its members to strike.
Unison branch officer Lyn Marie O’Hara said, “Thousands of workers, overwhelmingly women, were paid out in 2019 because their pay was unequal.
“Nothing has changed since then, it’s still unequal. The same jobs in the same unequal pay scheme.
“Yet the council is now refusing to pay up and trying to exclude many jobs.”
She added, “Our clear demand is don’t dump the 2019 deal. The council should be under no illusion that if they continue with their current approach, that strikes will once again be coming to their door.”
The GMB and Unite unions are also consulting members on action.
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Another year of inaction from our rulers