Council pay: unions must move now
The local government unions (Unison, GMB and Unite) have rejected a 2% offer in response to their claim for 10% and £10 per hour starting salary (as well as an extra day’s leave, a two-hour reduction in the working week, and action on workplace stress).
The unions’ claim is based on recognition that local government workers have lost 22% on real wages since 2009. The GMB on its website helpfully explains that since 2009, teaching assistants have lost £4000 a year on average, nursery workers £5900, refuse collectors £4800, social workers £9,800.
But the claim was submitted on 24 July. How can it be acceptable to wait for months? Unison has had no update on the pay campaign page on its website since 24 July.
We are yet again in a situation that the employers have taken over six months to respond to our claim without any pay campaign being launched by the national unions to demand they respond.
Council workers are desperate to receive the pay increase due in April, and only now find that the only offer is a less-than-inflation 2%.
Other groups in the sector have been offered better pay deals: teachers in England and local government workers in Scotland.
Unison, GMB and Unite members need to coordinate to force their leadership to fight for the 10%/ £10 minimum pay offer, to build a serious campaign, and to ballot for action now.
This fight seems quite a challenge in a union where turnouts in elections and strike ballots are historically low and getting worse. We should take strength from the UCU strikes, from the strike ballots of postal workers, and from student climate strikers.
The leaders of our unions will lament the lack of interest from the grassroots, but they have offered little leadership in this fight over pay and over council cuts in the last 10 years.
Maybe some had illusions that a Labour government would have brushed aside ten years of cuts and restored members’ pay levels.
But now the hard work needs to start. Fight for a reversal of pay cuts, fight every job and service cut. Unions should ballot members now, alone or jointly, and demand Labour and Labour Councils give them full backing.
Free Our Unions
The Free Our Unions campaign continues to plan further activity against the threat of new anti-union laws. Following a meeting on 11 February, discussions are ongoing about a range of actions including demonstrations and rallies.
The campaign is also continuing to promote its pledge for Labour leadership candidates, calling on them to publicly commit to supporting Labour conference policy for the repeal of all anti-union laws, not only the most recent. Thus far, only Clive Lewis MP publicly supported this policy, prior to dropping out of the race.
Aslef ballots on the Tube
Aslef has announced a ballot of its members on London Underground, over pay and conditions. The ballot opens on 28 February, and closes on 9 March.
Aslef is a minority union across LU as a whole, but a majority amongst drivers. One of its key demands in pay negotiations thus far has been for a driver-specific salary increase, to bring LU drivers’ pay in line with that of mainline train drivers. Along with all other unions organising in LU, Aslef has also demanded a reduction in the working week.
An Aslef statement said that the union could not “accept a sub-standard offer that gives our members no guarantee of a pay rise for the next two years and does nothing to reduce the working week or close the pay gap with other train operating companies.”
TSSA has already accepted LU’s latest offer, for a RPI+0.2% pay increase each year from 2019-2023. RMT and Unite remain in dispute.
Aslef’s ballot asks a pointed question of RMT, which has held back from balloting thus far. Tubeworker believes RMT should have balloted months ago; delaying has only made the challenge of delivering ballot thresholds across a large membership harder. But that challenge must now be met.
RMT reps from across London Underground are meeting on Wednesday 26 February to discuss the way forward. Supporters of the Tubeworker bulletin will be arguing strongly for an immediate ballot.
Drivers on London Underground’s Bakerloo Line are set to strike from 21-24 February, in a fight to improve working conditions.
Two strikes are due to take place across four days, from 21-22 and 22-24. The drivers, who are members of the RMT union, are demanding the replacement of a timetable which has seen times between trips become so tight that many drivers report not having enough time for a toilet break.
CWU reballots from 3 March
Postal workers’ union CWU has announced it will ballot its members in Royal Mail from 3 to 17 March.
Over 100,000 workers were previously balloted last year, in a vote that returned a 97% majority for industrial action on a 75% turnout, unprecedentedly high for a national ballot. Royal Mail bosses succeeded in blocking strikes by obtaining a High Court injunction, invoking anti-union legislation to claim that the CWU had “interfered” with the balloting process.
The dispute covers a range of issues, including Royal Mail’s failure to honour a previous agreement to reduce the working week. Postal workers are also resisting the planned separation of Royal Mail into a courier-style parcel delivery service and a regular postal delivery service.
The planned restructure threatens jobs and conditions.