Between 2008 and 2013 real wages fell by 8.2%, on average. The median worker lost £2000 a year, for many that will have been much worse.
The wage squeeze is worse for younger workers, a 14% drop for those aged 18-25, 12% for 25-29 year olds. Each decade since the 1980s real wages growth has been lower than the previous decade.
In the public sector wages have fallen by 15%, many face a pay freeze.
Overall price inflation over the past 5 years has been 19% (RPI), but the income needed for a minimum living standard has risen significantly. For a couple with a child this could be up to 33%, for others 18%.
Even nominal wages have fallen during 2014.
The public sector strike on July 10 was the first move to a fightback on pay. October 14 may involve a wider range of workers as Unison and Unite are currently balloting health workers.
Health workers’ wages have dropped in real terms between 12 and 15 per cent since 2010. This year 60% of health workers are been offered no rise, and others will get one percent.
Union leaders hope that a few “protest strikes” will nudge the government into trying to repair its popularity in the lead up to the May 2015 general election by making small concessions on pay. Some may also rely on waiting for a Labour government. Vague hopes are not the basis on which to build a serious strategy to win on pay.
Activists in health already have concerns over the strategy the union will take. Many, in local government too, may fear their union leaderships leading them into a “deal” to wind down the action.
Activists should take control of the dispute, starting with organising strike committees in the run up to strike action on October 14 to decide the strategy for the day. Strikers’ meetings on the day will give workers an opportunity to discuss the dispute and make demands on the union leadership to call more action.
14 October will be a display of the potential power of the labour movement, and will raise hopes for all workers feeling the squeeze on wages. The labour movement should bolster that hope with a strategy to win.