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Strike together to smash the pay freeze

Millions of us have suffered a huge drop in our living standards as the bankers, bosses and Tories have made us pay for their crisis. Jeremy Dewar explains why we need to go beyond one-day protests if we want to stop the government’s attacks

Over the past five years workers across Britain have witnessed their pay and benefits shrink remorselessly in the face of rising prices.
Local government workers have had their pay frozen for three of the past four years and received a miserly 1 per cent “rise” last year.
Once inflation is taken into account, this amounts to an 18 per cent drop in “real” pay.

One million council workers – two-thirds of the total – now earn less than £21,000 a year; half of these are on less than the living wage.
Yet if their pay had merely kept up with prices since 2010, they would be earning £1 an hour more than they currently do.
Seething anger at this injustice is intensified by the thousands of cuts in services and jobs that have been part of this bosses’ offensive.
Taking on the work of colleagues made redundant, cuts to benefits that many staff rely on, slashing car allowances and overtime rates, holidays and sick pay, unpaid overtime… have piled on the resentment.

Whose recovery?
How this contrasts with the sight of Chancellor George Osborne, grinning like the Cheshire Cat, as he announces growing profits, stock market prices and GDP, claiming to have engineered a recovery.

And yes, it’s real – for some. The Sunday Times Rich List boasts that the wealth of the top 1,000 people has risen 15.4 per cent to an incredible £518.975 billion in the last 12 months. Britain’s 100 billionaires (another new record) own over £300 billion between them.

This really is the 1 per cent that Occupy protested against.

Thomas Picketty, a French economist, has done the working class a real service by publishing Capital in the 21st Century, an analysis that proves that capitalism, left to its own devices, does not lead to a “trickle-down” of wealth, but concentrates it among the very rich.

OK, Picketty is a reformist; he supports tax reforms to redistribute wealth. But revolutionary socialists know this is not enough, and that Labour will not meddle with the power of the rich.

That doesn’t mean that we have to accept what little Labour may do for us if elected; by mobilising our own strength, by utilising effectively the methods of class struggle, we can recover our share of the wealth we produce.

There is growing enthusiasm for the public sector pay strikes that are being lined up for 10 July. The teachers’ union NUT already has a mandate for action and has committed to calling its 300,000 members out. They are likely to be joined by 900,000 local authority workers in Unison, GMB and Unite, who are balloting to strike in support of their claim for a £1 per hour increase across the board. They have been offered an insulting 1 per cent.

Others, with their own disputes, are also showing signs that they could join in, notably the civil service union PCS, the firefighters’ union FBU and Doncaster Care UK workers in Unison. This could result in the mid-week day of action over falling pay that the TUC promised in September but did nothing to deliver.

Even Unison’s timid leaders have pencilled in a two-day strike for September if the employers do not budge – which they won’t after just one day.
The Royal College of Midwives is the first of the NHS unions to call for strikes, though Unison and Unite are likely to follow, after Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt blocked the pay review body’s 1 per cent recommendation. Unite’s head of health Rachel Maskell said,

“There is growing anger across the 1.3 million workforce at the way Jeremy Hunt continues to treat dedicated NHS staff over pay.”

This is all well and good – though if promises of action were actions we would have defeated austerity and wages freezes two years ago. We need to employ the old rank and file motto: “Watch your leaders!” We have, after all, been here before.

The public sector pensions dispute led up to a two million-strong strike in November 2011, but within a couple of weeks the union leaders had called off the action and retreated into sector-by-sector secret talks.

The result was for most workers little better than the original offer, and for others abandonment in the field of battle.

Rank and file control
This betrayal has to be remembered and its lessons learned if we are to fare better this time round.

• One day’s action will not be enough. We need to lead workplace discussions about the next steps now. The date for a two-day follow-up strike should be announced now and we should force our leaders to commit to escalating action, up to and including an all-out indefinite strike.

• No pulling out of the action. Form joint union committees in every workplace to link the disputes from below. An injury to one is an injury to all – no one must be left behind to fight alone. If necessary, we must continue the battle by issuing a unity call from below and picketing out those whose leaders let them down.

• Demand Ed Miliband and Labour support the strike and condemn them if (or rather, when) they do not. The main union leaders no doubt see this campaign as a fillip for the Labour’s election campaign in May 2015, which has to be completed long before the polls so that party leaders are not “embarrassed” by strikers. We say, don’t wait for Labour, who will only act for the working class if we force them to.

• Finally, but most importantly, fight for rank and file control. We are the ones who are making the sacrifices and whose families are being driven into poverty. We should settle for nothing less than a £1 an hour increase. Elected strike committees at local, regional and national levels have to take charge of all negotiations and decide when we are to strike and for how long.
If we do all this, then we can win.

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