On Tuesday 12 September the government announced it was going to lift the pay freeze for police and prison officers, though without extra money from the government, but not for anyone else.
The government has signalled that it is weak on public sector pay. It has opened a door that the labour movement now needs to force its way through.
But despite this, and despite much hot air at TUC congress, no serious moves have been made to fight on pay. The Royal College of Nursing held a consultative ballot in May and have had a number of large rallies across the country over the summer, but no strike ballot as yet. The PCS union is holding a postal consultative ballot over September-October. No meetings of public sector unions to discuss a united approach were held at TUC congress.
The 2016 Trade Union Act has no doubt made national public sector strikes harder due to the ballot threshold demand. But approaching this obstacle by just holding postal consultative ballots to see if you can hit the threshold will make things worse. In order to get a convincing turn-out on a postal consultative you would need to throw a lot of resources at it, so why not just do a full ballot with those resources? It may be possible to beat the thresholds with some work. If they are not beaten but there is a convincing mandate for strikes why obey the law?
Unions with groups of workers with different pay bargaining units could mobilise for strikes in their strongest sections with pay settlement dates coming up, for example in the PCS. Smaller sections of workers could take action much more easily and provide a lead and inspiration for others.
Pay is not just an issue in the public sector, and with inflation rising but unemployment rates low its high time we fought back. A flurry of strikes this August-September have been about pay, from outsourced cleaners at Barts to workers at Sellafield nuclear plant.
The CWU is balloting its members in Royal Mail over pensions, job security and pay (see page 11). The union has produced a wide range of resources for the ballot, asking members to pick a side and “not sit on the fence”. The union has also been organising workplace meetings to rally members to discuss the issues and to fill out their ballot.
Unions should be proactive, and take on a “just do it” attitude. Let’s find places to start fires.