Teachers to strike – will local government workers join them?

The question asked in the title of this post is likely to be asked quite a bit in the next few days…

For starters:

Members of one of the biggest teaching unions in England and Wales have voted for a one-day pay strike on 24 April.

The National Union of Teachers says its ballot ran three to one in favour of what would be its first national stoppage for more than 20 years.

Voting was 48,217 (75%) in favour and 15,884 (25%) against on a 32% turnout.

As the Financial Times notes,

The much bigger threat, however, comes from 1.5m local government workers, including refuse collectors, school meals workers, social workers, administrators and other professional staff, who are demanding a pay rise of at least 6 per cent this year.

Unison, GMB and Unite, the local government unions, are due to resume pay talks with local government employers on Wednesday. Union leaders responded angrily after the prime minister at his monthly press conference warned that public sector pay rises must be kept in line with Treasury’s 2 per cent inflation target as measured by the consumer price index.

Brian Strutton, national officer of the GMB, said: “If Gordon Brown is trying to pre-empt local government pay talks and cap [rises] at 2 per cent, GMB can tell him it will lead to a strike.’’

Heather Wakefield, national secretary at Unison, the largest public sector union, said: “It’s just not on the prime minister calling for pay restraint. Many of our members are among the lowest paid in the public sector and they are struggling to make ends meet faced with spiralling costs of housing, food and fuel.

“The pay talks are at a crucial stage. Having rejected 2.2 per cent we do expect an improved offer.”

Unison said that pay agreements covering 2004-07 provided “an increase of 11.4 per cent over three years, during which inflation rose by 12.5 per cent and average earnings by 13.4 per cent.”

This week’s Socialist Worker has a lot on the 24 hour day of action planned for April 24, which will hopefully give Brown a bloody nose. (Perhaps he will be sufficiently shamed by the show of force he will declare himself a keen socialist, in the manner of his desperate friend Wendy Alexander?)

Simon Basketter sums it up:

Up to half a million workers are set to strike on 24 April – “fightback Thursday”. The action will bring together thousands of teachers, lecturers and civil service workers in united action over pay.

Other groups are already planning strikes on that day, including some 20,000 Birmingham council workers.

United action will bring whole towns and cities to a standstill. Rallies, demonstrations and pickets can become a focus for everyone angry at Gordon Brown’s pay restraint and neoliberal policies.

The strike will have a huge political impact – it comes just one week before the elections to the London assembly and councils across England and Wales. […]

The success of the day will depend on union members ensuring that in every workplace people are drawn into planning action for the day.

Teacher Kiri Tunks explained, “In east London we set up an action team to get out to schools to ensure that everyone knows about the strike. We have started building towards the 24 April with posters publicising the march in London.

“It’s important that as many people as possible take part in the protests and rallies because being part of mass action gives everyone strength.”

Gerald Clark, an NUT rep in Camden, north London, told Socialist Worker, “We know our strike will have a massive impact on the government. If every association around the country has a protest on 24 April it will be amazing.”

Some 50,000 further education lecturers in the UCU union are currently balloting to strike on 24 April.

Donna Rebouse, a UCU rep at Castle College in Nottingham, told Socialist Worker, “People are really angry over pay – though they recognise that this dispute is about more. We are approaching other unions to organise a joint rally on 24 April.”

In the civil service there are a number of large departments in dispute and a growing pressure on them to come out on 24 April.

The PCS civil service workers’ union national executive voted last week to “call on groups in dispute over pay to convene group executive committee meetings with a view to holding coordinated strike action alongside the education unions on 24 April”.

Over 80,000 workers in the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) and over 10,000 workers in the Department for Transport (DfT) look set to join the strike.

Dave Owens, a PCS DWP group executive committee member, told Socialist Worker, “Many of us will be pushing at our group executive next week for us to call action on 24 April.”

Other groups of workers are already piling in to join the action.

London Underground workers were set to strike next week, and could take further action on 24 April.

Workers at Metronet on the tube are balloting for action and could also strike on 24 April.

Education workers at Glasgow Metropolitan College have called a strike on the day.

In Leeds, refuse workers in the GMB are set to strike that week over single status pay cuts at the council.

In Birmingham, council workers across the Unison, Unite, Ucatt, GMB unions are set to strike for three days including on 24 April in an ongoing dispute over single status pay cuts.

The potential exists around the country to bring together workers from different unions and workplaces, alongside students, parents, anti-war campaigners and everyone who is fed up with Labour pandering to big business.

Unity is important as Brown’s pay policies are an attack on all workers, not just one section of them.

Last year, under pressure from members, a number of unions called for united action – but it failed to break through into joint strikes. Some trade union leaders held back the potential for a united fight out of loyalty to the Labour government.

But the groundswell of pressure for united action has continued to grow. This process has led to the planned strikes on 24 April – the concrete chance to organise the mass united action that many have been hoping for.

Every group of workers – whether in the public or private sector – should do something on 24 April. The best way to support the resistance is to strike alongside half a million others.

Every local government union branch should have delegations at pickets and rallies as part of the build up to their fight against attacks on pay.

NHS workers facing cuts and privatisation and awaiting the result of their pay review body should join them.

Postal workers, facing attacks over their pensions, should throw themselves into making the most of the day.

United action can transform the political landscape of Britain.

It would be the best possible build up to challenging Labour at the elections on 1 May.


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