(Views expressed are my own)
NHS staff across Scotland, and indeed across Britain, have been taken for granted for far too long, and with the added pressures caused by the COVID-19 pandemic over the past two years, the already overstretched NHS is falling deeper into crisis.
To add insult to injury, the Scottish Government have submitted their final NHS pay offer for 2022/23 (which came months late), of just 5% – well below RPI inflation which currently sits at 11.7%. The Scottish Government thinks it appropriate to reward NHS staff with a round of applause every Thursday evening during the lockdowns, and a real terms pay cut.
UNISON took the first steps towards industrial action and put forward a ballot to 35,000 NHS staff across Scotland and recommended that we vote to reject the Scottish Government’s pitiful pay offer and also vote to take strike action in the coming months. The ballot opened on July 11 and will close on August 8.
Cost of living crisis
The NHS pay claim will see an increase of just £1,080 annually for those on the lowest pay band – while these workers, in general, are set to see the largest increases in spending due to inflation. This is because workers on lower pay are more likely to be renting their home, often spending more on energy costs due to poorly insulated accommodation, and taking public transport to work. These will all be impacted by inflation while those with a mortgage on a fixed-term rate will be somewhat protected in the short term.
The graph above shows that, in 2021, those living in privately rented accommodation had over double the percentage expenditure on housing and utility costs than those who owned their own home. Not only this, but the gap between the two has been steadily widening since 2005. While homeowners experienced a decrease of 1% in percentage expenditure (2005-2021), this jumped from 28% to 42% for those who rent privately.
Can the government afford fair wages for all?
While the UK Government spins divisive rhetoric around which industries within the public sector, if any, deserve an above-inflation pay rise, the Scottish Government is patting themselves on the back over their paltry pay offers. It is clear that both governments, however, are not prepared to offer all public sector workers a pay rise which meets or goes beyond inflation.
Indeed, under their current budgets, this would not be feasible. However, the COVID19 pandemic has shown us that the government can increase spending when they are forced to. In fact, they can do just about anything if backed into a corner – and we, the workers, have the power to do so if we stand united.
Scotland’s public sector workforce increased by 30,000 (7.5%) in the last 5 years, mostly due to the pandemic. This was during a period when funding from Westminster fell (in real terms by 5.2% in the last year). The reason that the SNP government refuse to pay front-line workers a living wage is not that their hands are ‘tied’ by Westminster, but they lack the will to mount a real fight against the Tories and their big-business backers.
More money could, for instance, be found by taxing the rich. The wealthiest 10% of households own 43% of all private wealth in Scotland. The least wealthy 50% own just 9%, less than the top 1% alone! But there is no reason to leave control of the economy and Scotland’s future in the hands of these profiteering parasites.
Taking the wealth-producing energy industry, finance sector and other key sectors of the economy into public ownership under democratic workers control would free up even more resources, enabling us to guarantee a decent wage for everyone, and providing the means to plan for green growth and to guarantee affordable, safe and decent homes for all. But this will take a determined struggle, led by the workers movement with an empowered rank-and-file.
Strike, coordinate, escalate!
Strikes are breaking out across the country, with the recent RMT strikes being prepared in the coming weeks, BT staff striking over pay, NHS staff being balloted over pay, and many more. These strikes will be important for workers as we show those in power that we will not accept low pay and poor working conditions in the face of the cost of living crisis. However, this is just the beginning for workers.
As we strike over pay and make wins for our class, we must recognise the deep-seated inequality in our society. While we fight for better pay as our rent, energy and food bills skyrocket, the capitalists are making record profits. The ruling class has been waging war against us for far too long and we must unite across industries and build a coordinated fightback.
The workers have the power to bring this exploitative system to a halt and when we do, we can make demands to end the cost of living crisis, as a step towards bringing a stop to this exploitative system based around profit and for socialist change.
Build coordinated strike action across industries for fair pay, nationalised energy, affordable housing and an end to the cost of living crisis! When we fight we win!