More than one million public sector workers could strike on Thursday 10 July. Workers across local government, education, the civil service, the fire service, and other public sector workplaces and industries are likely to launch coordinated strikes over pay.
Some unions, like the National Union of Teachers (NUT), the Public and Commercial Services union (PCS), and the Fire Brigades Union (FBU), have live ballots from ongoing sectoral disputes which will allow them to strike on 10 July. The PCS is currently consulting its members over participation in a mass strike. Transport for London workers in the RMT, TSSA, and Unite unions could also join the strike. Other unions, like Unison and GMB, are balloting their membership, with Unison’s ballot set to conclude on 23 June.
Local government and NHS employers have offered 1% pay deals. Across the public sector, workers have faced years of pay freezes which, coupled with rising inflation, amount to pay cuts. Low pay is endemic, with the shocking rise in the use of food banks evidence of just how hard working-class people are finding it to get by. The 10 July strike could be a spark that helps ignite a wider fightback.
The strike will be the largest set-piece conflict between the government and the labour movement since the 2011 public sector 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. 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. 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 almost certainly be necessary to push the government back. Workers in every sector should formulate clear demands for their disputes.
The overwhelming vote by University and College Union and Unison members in Higher Education to accept a 2% pay offer shows that there are still areas where workers lack confidence. That confidence can be rebuilt if workers across the public sector feel ownership and control over their disputes, and are able to direct it and its demands.
One million workers striking will be, if nothing else, a reminder of the potential power of organised labour. The labour movement, often so lacking in visibility as a social force, will reassert itself. Whether that reassertion is a brief token, or the beginning of an ongoing industrial and political campaign to rebuild working-class self-confidence and confront the government, depends greatly on what revolutionary socialists and other rank-and-file militants in workplaces do over the next weeks.
Using the prospect of the strike to build workplace meetings and local committees could ensure that 10 July is the start of something, rather than an end in itself.