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Unite and strike against the pay freeze

By Rebecca Anderson

The government has tried to impose a 1 per cent pay cap on public sector workers after two years of pay freezes. If they are successful, then many public sector workers will lose more than 10 per cent of their pay in real terms over a four year period.

Teaching unions NUT and NASUWT were the first to announce their intention to ballot, but many others have followed suit. Unions in higher education have submitted a pay claim of 7 per cent to make up for pay already lost through freezes and to keep up with inflation. The general union GMB (representing support staff in higher education), lecturers’ union UCU and Scottish teachers’ union EIS have all announced ballots.

Unison, another general union representing support staff, got a ballot result of just over 50 per cent in favour of strikes, but the leadership has not yet said whether this small majority will make them will withdraw from co-ordinated action. In contrast, 82.5 per cent of NUT members voted for strikes, but all their leadership have announced so far is action short of a strike that began on 3 October.

September’s Trades Union Congress (TUC) voted to co-ordinate action over the public sector pay freeze, and Mark Serwotka of the civil servants’ union PCS said that a “sense of urgency” was needed.

PCS is arguing that strikes should start soon after the TUC demonstration on 20 October, but the massive Unison and GMB unions have said that in most sectors they are waiting for pay negotiations with the government in the spring before balloting. PCS have not yet said whether they would strike alongside the education unions if they take action this autumn.

After the debacle of the 2011 pensions strike, where the TUC co-ordinated one day of action before letting it all fall apart, we cannot simply wait for the TUC. Nor can we wait for those unions that broke off joint action last year and subsequently sold their members down the river. It was absolutely right for PCS to bring a motion to the TUC calling on that body to co-ordinate action, but now we need to put pressure on them to do it and be prepared to act without them if they prevaricate.

The demonstration on 20 October should be the launchpad for strike action across the whole working class, bringing together the issues of pay, pensions, job cuts and all the other attacks that the coalition is mounting against us. Rather than allow the momentum to be lost, the education unions, PCS and all other unions in favour of autumn action should set a date and demand the TUC’s support. We should demand that ballots to begin immediately in the public sector as a whole.

This essential step will not happen without the pressure of ordinary reps and members of trade unions, and would almost certainly require them to organise together in their unions and across unions to lobby their leaderships, and prepare to take action without them if necessary.

Raise the minimum wage
Unite’s union leader Len McCluskey has said that he would support calls for “co-ordinated industrial action” on pay and other issues, and that there is “a real chance” of such action, “if not this winter then certainly early next year”.

But to unite public and private sector workers in common struggle, we need to fight for demands that address their common concerns. A call to raise the national minimum wage to £10 per hour for all workers, to undo a decade or more of rising inequality and falling living standards for the least well off, could be the starting point for such a fighting unity.

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