850,000 members of UNISON in Local Government will be receiving ballot papers over the next few weeks to vote on strike action over pay. Having already rejected an improved offer of 2.45% the union is calling for a yes vote for action to win an award in line with inflation.
If successful a strike across local government would blow a hole in the public sector pay “freeze”— four years of pay restraint, only offering 2%. Any award less than inflation, currently 3.8%, is in reality a pay cut. And a general increase in prices for even the basics like transport, energy bills, childcare affects the low paid more than the rich.
It’s against that background and the drive by the government to drive down wages and reduce working rights that the vote takes on added significance. With postal workers, civil servants and prison officers all engaged in ongoing disputes, a cross sector campaign on pay is a real possibility.
The last strike in local government over pensions was a great success in terms of turnout and support. Unfortunately that action was not used by the leadership to win a better deal, and historic rights were lost.
A yes vote this time round must include planning for local branches and strike committees to take control of the dispute and remaining resolute in fighting for their goals. By linking up with other unions in local public sector alliances the strength and confidence of strikers can be increased. Vote Yes for action and a chance to turn the tide on Brown’s attacks on pay.