Local govt workers will strike against wage cuts

After the GMB’s local government workers voted to accept the pay offer, the good news:

UNISON VOTE FOR SUSTAINED STRIKE ACTION

UNISON’s local government members in England, Wales and Northern Ireland have voted by 55% to 45% for a programme of sustained strike action over a 2.45% pay offer, the union announced yesterday.

‘We are proposing initially a two-day strike in July, and then we will go from there, because the employers are refusing to go any further,’ UNISON Head of Local Government Heather Wakefield said.

UNISON added that its negotiating team will decide today what action to recommend to the national strike committee that meets on Friday 27 June.

UNISON General Secretary Dave Prentis said: ‘This is a solid vote for action and a clear message to the local government employers that our members are willing to fight for a decent pay rise.

‘They are fed up and angry that they are expected to accept pay cut after pay cut, while bread and butter prices go through the roof.

‘Most of them are low paid workers, who are hit hardest by food and fuel price hikes and they see the unfairness of boardroom bonanzas and big city bonuses.

‘Other local government workers who have to use their cars for work are being hit hard too by spiralling fuel costs and they end up subsidising their employers.’

Wakefield stressed yesterday: ‘There’s an awful lot of people who simply can’t afford this offer that is way below inflation. In fact it’s a pay cut, not a pay rise.

‘The employers should be in no doubt, the members have voted for a programme of sustained and escalating strike action because they are sick of being treated as the poor relations of the public sector.

‘Their case for a realistic pay increase is indisputable.

‘We are, of course, willing to meet with the employers at any time, but we will decide tomorrow what recommendations to make to our national strike committee.’

Almost 250,000 council workers earn less than £6.50 an hour. Seventy five per cent are women.

The unions’ pay claim was for 6% or 50p an hour, whichever was the greater.

Nearly 600,000 workers were balloted; they include social workers, housing benefit workers, rent collectors, binmen, dinner ladies, teaching assistants, cooks, cleaners, architects and surveyors.

Unite’s Derek Simpson yesterday spoke out against the Chancellor’s call for wage restraint:

The joint leader of the country’s biggest trade union has piled more pressure on the Government by describing calls for pay restraint as “unrealistic”.

Derek Simpson, of Unite, called on ministers to focus on the “real culprits” of the credit crunch rather than target low-paid workers.

In an interview with Union TV, Mr Simpson said the current economic difficulties proved that the finance and banking industry should be regulated more tightly.

“The finance industry was left to its own devices and displayed such staggering irresponsibility that we are now experiencing a world economic crisis.

“Their attempts to drive up profits coupled with rising food and energy prices means that the government now wants to drive down the wages of hard-working families, but they never had the nerve to reign in the unrestrained excesses of the boardroom.

“The wages of hard-working families are not the cause of inflation. We have a credit squeeze, falling real incomes, rising food and energy costs, a shortage of affordable housing and a higher proportion of taxation falling on the lowest 90% of earners than the top 10.

“Ministers have been silent as boardroom pay has run riot. Why should those with the least have to tighten their belts first? It would be irresponsible of us as trade unionists not to represent our members at the negotiating table in forthcoming pay rounds.”

As the RMT’s general secretary Bob Crow has said:

It is funny how it is always working people who are asked to exercise restraint. Bosses have been raking in huge profits and dividends and the gap between rich and poor continues to grow, yet it is the unions who are being told to keep their members’ wages down. We shall not be paying any attention to wage restraint.”

Labour MP and Unison member, John McDonnell has commented on his blog:

The underlying reason for this vote for strike action is a genuine feeling of unfairness that lower paid public sector workers are being asked to carry the burden of the economic downturn.

Ministers, earning over £100,000 per year will barely notice their pay freeze, but for many local government workers it will mean real hardship.

Respect MP George Galloway has offered his backing for Unison’s strike action:

“We in Respect fully support Unison in its battle for fair pay. It has come to something when low-paid classroom assistants, refuse workers and admin staff are having to strike, probably for two days.

“The reasons why are familiar to anyone who is finding it difficult to pay a gas bill, put petrol in the car, do the weekly shop or otherwise make ends meet.

“Inflation is bearing down on everyone from council workers to tanker drivers to cleaners on London Underground in the RMT, who are due to strike this week, to the women who are turning up to my consituency surgery and reporting that their family’s rice bill has doubled to £50.

“This is not simply a question for public sector trade unions – though coordinated strikes by those unions is vital and long overdue – it is a fundamental social issue affecting all working people here and, even more so, in countries such as Bangladesh and Egypt where food riots have returned.

“The true rate of inflation is at least double the government’s preferred, massaged figure. Even the Bank of England has accepted that it is not the pay of teachers, council workers, and others that is causing price rises. People are putting in for pay increases, and some are fighting to win them like the Shell tanker drivers, as a result of inflation. “With the threat of recession this government should be investing enormously in housing, to ease the gathering respossessions crisis and cut housing waiting lists; it should be ensuring decent pay, controlling the prices of essential goods, and levying a windfall tax on the energy companies and supermarkets which are raking in billions.

“New Labour is in love with big business and the failed policies of neo-liberalism, so it won’t do that voluntarily.

“Respect, however, will be advocating these measures and working with others to try to bring them about. We will do all in our power to support this action, as we did the recent strikes by teachers, lecturers and civil service workers.

“There will be insults and lies about the council workers from the billionaire-owned press, from the Tories and from government ministers. But I believe that if their case is properly made and explained, if it is made part of a popular revolt against profiteering by the likes of Shell and Tesco, if it is at the centre of a movement to change this government’s wretched policies, then not only will it get the support of working people in all walks of life, but it can play a powerful role in winning some change for the better, rather than leaving it to the Tories to gain from the disillusionment sown by Gordon Brown’s failed administration.”

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