End the pay freeze! Build 10 July public sector strike

Submitted by Matthew on 18 June, 2014 - 1:48

Senior bosses in the NHS have enjoyed an average pay rise of 6.1% over the last two years.

Some have also received bonuses of up to £40,000, more than double the annual salary of many frontline NHS staff.

A Daily Mirror study showed the overall increase in non-basic pay (bonuses, overtime, and other perks) for senior NHS staff in 2013 was 36%. Meanwhile, Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt has refused to follow the advice of the NHS Pay Review Body and give frontline workers a pay increase. The Review Body was recommending just one per cent. Even that was too much for a government committed to driving down working-class living standards.

The announcement should give added impetus to the developing public sector pay dispute. Unison, the biggest public sector union, meets in Brighton this week (15-20 June) for its Local Government sector and National Delegate Conference, where a fightback on pay will be discussed. Its local government members have already been balloted for strikes, with results due back on 23 June. Members of the GMB, Unite, PCS, NUT, and FBU across the public sector are expected to join a mass strike on pay on 10 July.

Unison’s May 2014 Health sector conference also voted to ballot for strike action on the issue. The union has dragged its feet on preparing the ballot and cannot now bring NHS members out to join the 10 July strike. Activists in the NHS should push for that ballot to take place as soon as possible, and organise local actions such as lunchtime rallies in support of the 10 July strike.

NHS bosses are far from unique in the public sector. The Chief Executives of some local councils are paid nearly £300,000 per year, more than 16 times what a council worker earning the “London Living Wage” rate of £8.80 an hour would earn.

Transport for London Commissioner Peter Hendy is paid more than £650,000 per year, 4.5 times more than the Prime Minister, 22 times more than a London Underground Customer Service Assistant, and 35.5 times more than a cleaning worker. When Tube unions proposed cutting senior management pay as a way to avoid the alleged necessity to close ticket offices and cut staffing levels, they were told by bosses that TfL and LU management pay wasn’t high enough!

The low pay crisis is a key terrain of class conflict in the Tories’ austerity Britain. Workers face the longest wage squeeze since records began in 1964. Politicians of all political parties pay lip service to backing the “Living Wage”: even Boris Johnson’s City Hall proclaims its commitment to the idea. But their words ring hollow when the Tory government blocks even meagre pay increases for NHS staff, and Labour leaders can’t bring themselves to back national strikes for decent pay.

As huge pay hikes for top bosses further expose growing inequality, the labour movement must make 10 July the beginning of an ongoing fightback against low pay. The knowledge that our bosses receive more in bonuses than many of us earn in an entire year is a powerful impetus for protests and fights.

Up to a million workers may be on strike on 10 July. The strike could include Unison, GMB and Unite members in local government, the National Union of Teachers, the Fire Brigades Union and Public and Commercial Services union (PCS).

This is no small thing, either in numbers or significance. This will be the first time there has been a large scale public sector strike involving more than one sector since the 2011 pensions dispute. That battle ended in defeat, and activists in public sector unions will need to organise to ensure this strike does not meet the same fate.

In 2011, workers were mobilised for one-off strike days, separated by months of inactivity and relatively little communication between unions and members about developments in negotiations.

In some unions this pattern continues until this day. The remedy to that is not merely to strike for more days, converting one-day protest strikes into two-day protest strikes, but to make strikes part of ongoing programmes of action (including selective action as well as all-out strikes) directed by local strike committees and discussed by members.

Strike funds should be levied at both local and national level to ensure the lowest-paid workers are supported in taking the sustained and escalating action that will be necessary to push the government back.

Workers in every sector should formulate clear demands for their disputes.

On the strike day activists should work to ensure the maximum participation of members, so they are not merely the foot soldiers of the union leaders.

In 2011 activists in some cities successfully held strike day members' meetings prior or after rallies. At these meetings members can discuss the dispute, the tactics, and what to be done next.

Socialists and trade unionists should use the opportunity of up to a million workers being mobilised for strike action to build confidence, win the argument about why and how we should fight, and start to organise local disputes so members are not demobilised between national strike days.