At TUC conference motions were passed calling for coordinated action, and use was even found for the old slogan that “unity is strength”. But behind the scenes union leaders were singing a different tune...<1--break-->
Unison’s Health group ballot on pay got a 2 to 1 vote for accepting a staged 2.5% deal. This followed efforts by full time officers to close down any campaign for a no vote. A majority of NHS workers in England will now get a rise of 1.9% this year, half of even the most conservative inflation figure.
The setback was used to try and pressure Unison’s Local Government Executive to back down from their call for a strike ballot. Fortunately that failed and the vote will be held soon. Two days of strikes are already planned for November.
We can now expect local government workers, possibly to joined by teachers, postal workers and civil servants to take action in the next few months. (The executive of the civil service union PCS has decided on a further “consultative ballot on national industrial action”. The ballot will start on 28 September and close on 22 October.)
With mortgage rates rising the squeeze on wages becomes tighter. Brown will be more determined to keep the lid on pay at 2%. To breakthrough that limit will need coordinated action across the public sector to maximise the impact of each individual action. Organising action cannot be left to the general secretaries alone.
Right now words are being turned into action only at a local level, with some revival in the activity of local trade councils which can help co-ordinated local unions. In some areas more direct contact has been established between public sector union branches, creating Public Sector Alliances. Weekly meetings to plan action, share information and discuss a joint strategy are exactly what the general secretaries should be doing. But they will have to respond to the growing number of local networks delivering solidarity on the ground.
Activists now need to:
• Organise local networks of trade union activists in support of those in struggle, and bring the idea of “solidarity” back into everyday use. The Public Sector Alliances in Leeds and Luton with teachers, local government, postal workers, civil servants, etc., coming together are good examples.
• Continue to pressurise the union leaders to make joint action a reality.
• Develop “rank and file” structures to keep disputes under local democratic control, set up strike committees and hold officials to account.
• Twin branches not yet in action with those who are, particularly in Unison where the confidence and lead of those in local government could spread and trigger wider disputes.
• Link up with broader campaigns, like Keep Our NHS Public, in local communities and the broader labour movement. Many current struggles such as in the post are in big part about privatisation; we need to make the links between pay cuts and privatisation explicit.
• Maintain a public profile with stalls and petitions to win the support of those who use public services.
• For regular updates, news and downloads on the public sector pay campaign, see http://unionsfightback.wordpress.com