The living standards crisis sweeping across the UK is having an immediate and life changing impact on our lowest paid workers. Perhaps the worst government decision has been the unilateral cut to Universal Credit which has been a lifeline to millions. The rapid rise in energy bills and food prices is already being keenly felt. Next year’s National Insurance hike will see the highest tax bills for workers in 40 years. A decade of pay austerity is now feeding through into a change of mood amongst working people.
A Winter of growing militancy
This explains the rise in anger amongst public sector workers who are returning huge majorities in favour of taking action in union ballots on pay. The long campaign for pay justice for NHS staff will now continue over the Winter months. GMB is balloting its members for industrial action to reject the 3% offer and will know the result by 15th December. UNITE is balloting only certain branches where there was a majority showing support for action but as yet, there is no timetable. The RCN and UNISON are having an indicative ballot of all their members following a consultation where members overwhelmingly rejected the 3% offer. Both these unions will know the outcome by the end of November and should immediately proceed to a formal industrial action ballot. It is critical that the four unions coordinate their action once all the ballot results are known going into the New Year.
Likewise, UNISON members in local government and schools have rejected the latest insult of an offer of 1.75% for next year by an overwhelming majority of 79%. UNISON represents 400,000 workers in this sector so an industrial action ballot would have a massive impact. The value of their pay has fallen by 25% since 2010 and as inflation rockets, it is overdue that the union start a serious fightback.
The University and College Union (UCU) has also balloted members for strike action over both pensions and pay with around 75% voting for action. This follows on from the action UCU members took in 2020 around the so-called ‘Four Fights’ issue which was cut across by the pandemic. Strikes are taking place at 58 different campuses from 1st December for 3 days but are likely to continue into the new year, whilst other UCU members are balloted for further action.
Coordinated struggle vital
Although all these struggles are now at different stages, it is clear that union members are returning big majorities, when asked, to challenge pay austerity and are showing a willingness to struggle for more. Union leaders must match this mood with determination and militancy to give members the confidence to take on the Tories. Despite the numerical majority the government may enjoy in parliament, they remain very weak. Since coming to power, Johnson has executed over 40 U-Turns and can once again be forced to retreat over pay whilst his administration is mired in corruption and sleaze, a point that is not being lost on workers everywhere.
Socialist Alternative is calling for:
- Vigorous and well organised national campaigns in favour of strike action across the whole of the public sector
- For no compromise on the need for immediate and ‘substantial’ pay rises across the board; no more pay freezes!
- For union leaders to coordinate any strike action across all sectors which could lead to a public sector-wide strike