by Daphne Liddle
PUBLIC sector unions reacted angrily last week to an announcement from Prime Minister Gordon Brown that he intends for the next three years to impose a limit each year of two per cent on pay rises for six million public sector workers.
Globally there is a mighty economic storm brewing and the ruling classes have decided, as usual, that the workers must bear the burden.
Economic storms, unlike the weather, are entirely created by human beings – by the capitalist economic system that runs on insatiable greed for profit at the expense of the workers who produce the wealth that ends up in their bosses’ bank balances.
For the last decade or more the British economy has been carried forward on the back of consumer deficit spending – of workers spending wages they have not yet received and running up huge personal debts – mortgages, credit card debt, bank loans and so on.
This has sustained demand and kept the capitalists in business while the workers have been forced into ever longer hours, exhaustion, debt and depression to meet the bills.
Now they face rising interest rates, rising fuel bills, rising food prices – and the prospects of unemployment through cutbacks in the public sand private sectors.
To then expect public sector workers to accept a pay cap so low that it effectively a pay cut for the next three years is outrageous.
The public sector trade unions have reacted angrily – including the Police Federation and the Prison Officers’ Association, which are both preparing for battle on the right to strike because they are so angry over shabby pay deals. raw edge
If all the public sector unions fight together they can be unstoppable. But this is the raw edge of the class struggle and the ruling class will be out to divide and corrupt the union leaders. Can the rank and file hold their leaders to the task in hand? It depends on how hard they are prepared to fight for their right to fair pay.
Commenting on the three-year pay cap, GMB national secretary for public service Brian Stratton said: “There are four fundamental problems. The first is that the argument that public sector pay has to be controlled to manage down inflation is economically flawed and socially unacceptable.
“The second is that different parts of the public sector have different needs from pay negotiations and whereas for some a period of stability makes sense for others there is a desperate need for change.
“The third is that any sensible negotiator will want to see a premium for sacrificing future negotiating rounds and that would mean any long-term deal having to go above Retail Price Index – and that isn’t the Government’s intention.
“Perhaps most importantly of all is whether they can be trusted. After all, the Government has reneged on most recent pay review body awards and who’s to say they would honour a three-year deal? Their track record says otherwise.”
Tony Woodley, joint general secretary of Unite, said: “Below inflation pay rises are pay cuts whether they are over one, two or three years. Let’s put a proper value on this key group of workers who deliver for us all day in day out, receiving the praise and goodwill of the British people but are slapped in the face by ministers who do not seem in touch with their staff.” driving down
PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka said: “We suspect that these proposals are about driving down the pay of hardworking staff who deliver the everyday things we take for granted.
“The Government have to recognise, as an Income Data Services report shows, that civil and public servants aren’t fuelling inflation and that they are real people with bills and mortgages to pay.”
Civil servants and teachers are already preparing to ballot for strike action. On the opposite side the Government is preparing new laws to hamstring the unions. Secretary of State for Justice Jack Straw last week announced the reintroduction of a ban on prison officers going on strike.
If he succeeds he will probably try to extend the ban to other public sector workers.
The Prison Officers’ Association (POA) said last night it was a betrayal of a Labour pledge in opposition to scrap a Conservative anti-union ban imposed in 1994 by Michael Howard as home secretary.
Unison announced it is holding a pay summit this Thursday to draw up tactics to beat the Government’s two per cent pay limit this year on behalf of workers in local government, the NHS, further education, schools, transport, British Waterways, police staff and meat hygiene.
The union leaders have made their statements. Now it is up to the workers to put on the pressure to hold them to their word in the coming battle.