On October 14, local government workers in Unison, Unite and GMB unions will strike over pay. They may be joined by health workers in Unison, Unite and the Royal College of Midwives (RCM) who all have ballots under way. If civil servants in PCS union join the strike this will be a very large and important action against the huge cuts in pay public sector workers have endured since 2009.
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. Real wages for all workers have dropped by 12-14% since 2008 and the start of the recession.
A serious revolt over pay is urgently needed and 14 October could kick-start this. But we need to take stock.
Unfortunately, the 5 September executive meeting of the National Union of Teachers (NUT) voted 26-12 against calling action on 14 October. This is a step backwards. Teachers will be confused, demoralised or angry about this decision. That's why activists should call meetings in schools and local areas to discuss how to support striking school support staff. School groups should collectively refuse to cross picket lines and attempt to shut schools by refusing to do work without the assistance of support staff.
Teachers will soon be hearing the outcomes of the first year of “performance related pay”; many will find themselves not getting the pay increment they expected. The NUT's live ballot means those teachers can organise action in their schools to fight this.
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 be stalling action because they are waiting for a Labour government. Vague hopes are not the basis on which to build a serious strategy to win on pay.
In 2011 several unions fighting to preserve public sector pension rights settled on terrible terms. That could happen again and that is what we have to fight against. Activists should push their unions to name further strike dates, and commit their union to be prepared to go alone if other unions in “the coalition” pull out.
It is important that activists work to build action on 14 October, having arguments in workplaces about the necessity of strike action to move the government. This may not persuade everyone, but it puts onto the agenda ideas of working-class militancy and ways to address the economic inequality that is rife in society.
14 October will be a display of the potential power of the labour movement, and will be a beacon of hope for all workers feeling the squeeze on wages. We must ensure that it is not merely a beacon, but the start of a concerted battle.