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Local Government Pay Deal No Answer To Poverty Wages
LOCAL GOVERNMENT workers in UNISON, TGWU and GMB trade unions will be bitterly angry that the proposed strike action on 14 August has been called off; especially when they see the facts and figures of the deal.
Roger Bannister, UNISON National Executive Council (NEC) personal capacity
They will feel that, following the highly successful stoppage on 17 July, the union negotiators have wasted a golden opportunity to strike a real blow against poverty pay.
The unions were asking for 6% or £1,750 a year. The latest proposals from conciliation service ACAS, which are now going out to consultation among the branches, in reality offers way below what members went out on strike for. And for those not on the lowest pay scales it offers only a 0.5% increase this year on what was offered before the strike.
This proposed two-year deal must be rejected and branches should call for strike action to be resumed at the end of September for the full 6% claim.
Although the window dressing of the current offer says that increases for the lowest paid range from 7.7% to 10.9%, the proposals still only increase the lowest paid's wages by 52p an hour over the next two years. At the same time those just above the lowest paid will effectively see their wages driven relatively closer to low pay levels.
Another issue in the proposals from ACAS is for a commission on pay and related issues. In reality this is a coded recognition that the local government Single Status agreement - which Socialist Party supporters always opposed - has not been effective in sorting out pay anomalies.
Even though many workers and branch union activists will now be on holidays, and it could be difficult to recapture the momentum that had been building, a campaign has to be mounted to ensure this offer is rejected.
A growing mood of confidence amongst local authority workers had been evident after last month's successful strike when one million workers took action. As the second strike day approached, an opinion poll published in the Guardian showed that the public-sector strikes enjoyed overwhelming public support. There are clear indicators still that the New Labour government faces major problems ahead, now that the realities of privatisation, poor public services and low pay, are becoming clearer.
The local government employers were playing for time and hoped that the strike would crumble, despite all indications to the contrary. But now it seems the union negotiators are willing to ignore the mood of their own members and offer the employers a reprieve.
Yet, whatever happens with the national dispute, councils could still be facing additional strikes in the Greater London area over the London Weighting dispute. UNISON's national Industrial Action Committee is meeting on 19 August to consider further moves in the London Weighting dispute.
Restart the strike - hit the privatisers!
IF THE national offer is rejected and the dispute resumes in September, it is essential that it is spread beyond the local authorities. Up till now church schools have been exempted, because of their legal status outside the negotiating bodies. This has created confusion and should now be reconsidered.
Even more crucial are the former council workers transferred to private employers by the Tories or New Labour. Pay claims based on the national claim should be submitted to these employers now, so that these workers can be balloted to strike from September onwards.
This will serve two purposes; it will spread the strike, hitting the pockets of big business privatisers. Equally important, it will deny the option of future privatisation as a guarantee against strikes, to the government or councils.
And if the dispute resumes, it should be given a national profile that ordinary strikers can be part of. UNISON and the other unions should organise a national demonstration on a Saturday in September, so that branches can organise as many members as possible to attend.
Let the government and the employers see the anger of council workers at their treatment, and the amount of public support they have.
The local government unions should also approach other public-sector unions with pay disputes, such as the PCS, PROSPECT, the London NUT, RMT and the FBU with a view to co-ordinating a day of action in September when all such groups take strike action together. This will enable workers to appreciate their collective strength, as well as putting pressure on the New Labour government - the paymaster of the public sector - to take action to settle the strikes by putting sufficient funds into the public sector.
In The Socialist 9 August 2002: