Brown says: billions for shareholders, pennies for workers

Submitted by martin on 23 January, 2008 - 7:18 Author: Gerry Bates
Pay cut

For the shareholders and potential buyers of Northern Rock, the Government is all smiles and graces. Another few billion pounds? Yes, sir, of course!

For millions of public sector workers, it is a different story. The Government is insisting not only on a limit of around 2% on pay rises - which, with inflation at 4%, means cuts in real wages - but also on locking that in with settlements lasting three years.

A first blow against that policy is possible on 31 January, when members of the PCS civil service union in the Department of Work and Pensions may strike against a three-year below-inflation deal imposed on them in November 2007.

PCS members in HMRC (Revenue and Customs) may be striking on the same day; they are currently ballotting for action on the issue of job cuts.

On Thursday 24th the Executive of the National Union of Teachers meets, and may decide to ballot teachers for strike action against their real-wage-cut settlement, announced recently and due to be imposed from September 2008.

The Government is trying to build on its victory in 2007, when, despite millions of litres of talk from union leaders about "coordinated action", it got more or less what it wanted with only piecemeal and half-hearted resistance or (from some unions) with no resistance at all.

Public sector unions should:

* Mobilise to resist, and build solidarity around the sections that take action, rather than using "coordination" as an excuse to postpone action into an ideal future;

* Demand pay agreements guaranteeing that wages beat inflation;

* Fight for a minimum wage of at least £8 an hour in the public sector, including for "contracted-out" workers; organise the unorganised;

* Insist on the right to negotiate wages freely (instead of having settlements imposed by the Government, as with teachers and health workers) and refuse multi-year deals;

* Aim for common settlement dates and "levelling-up" across the public sector.

A DWP union activist writes: "We are now heading for a one day strike on 31 January. At the time of writing we don't know whether the strike will go ahead.

This is because the union executive in the Department (dominated by the Socialist Party) is desperately signalling to management that it does not want to go ahead with the action.

It asked that the Department agree to go with the union to ACAS, and in return they will call the strike off. That did not work, so now the union leadership has written to the DWP Secretary of State, Peter Hain, asking for the ACAS meeting.

DWP might agree to meet PCS. If so the strike will not take place. Or DWP bosses may calculate the current SP tactic of one or two day strikes separated by a month or months of no action will not hurt them enough that it worth even going through the formalities of a meeting in order to head it off.

Either way the current tactics are highly unlikely to win rate of inflation pay awards for 2007 and in the coming years. Gordon Brown has set his stall out. To break his three-year wage-cut policy requires different tactics,. including selective action in areas with economic clout and more effective overtime bans (many parts of the DWP are run on overtime)".

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