Link to this page: https://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/828/19470
We can beat the pay freeze!
The national vice president of the PCS civil servants' union, John McInally, spoke to the Socialist about the 13-15 October strikes and the strategy needed to defeat the public sector pay freeze.
Why are public sector workers striking?
Workers from across the public sector are striking over a period of 72 hours from 13 to 15 October as part of a week of coordinated industrial action for fair pay. The government has reduced real terms pay by 20% for many public sector workers over the last four years. In actual fact many public sector workers have been effectively on a pay freeze for between six and eight years.
Many of our members are on very low wages and are really feeling the impact. Some Tory politicians are saying the freeze should last to 2016 and beyond. We need effective coordinated strike action across the public sector in order to defeat it. Trying to get settlements within the pay constraints set down by the government can only lead to spiralling poverty amongst public sector workers.
Who is involved?
PCS, GMB, Unison, Unite, UCU and others are involved. These unions represent the workers who keep our country going. Civil servants, local government, education and health service workers are all taking action. RMT members on London Underground will also be striking against job cuts.
How is the action being coordinated?
This strike follows on from the successful day of action on 10 July. PCS has argued for coordinated action across the public sector to stop government attacks not just on pay, but on pensions and terms and conditions. PCS has brought this demand to successive TUC congresses and has won support on each occasion.
In reality, while the action in October is coordinated in the general sense, it would be more accurate to describe it as cooperative action. This is because there is not an overall linking of demands and a planned coordinated strategy for after October.
We have consistently called for the fullest possible coordination among all public sector unions. These attacks stem from the same source and can only be defeated by fullest possible solidarity and unity in action, including coordinating strike action.
It is important too to coordinate our demands. PCS is calling for an end to the pay freeze but other unions are seeking to reach settlements at sector level within the constraints of the pay freeze. It is our view that we need to defeat the pay freeze and that should be the demand across the public sector unions.
The government's attacks are not just confined to pay though. They are also about, jobs, pensions and privatisation. PCS argues that rather than fighting separately we all need to be fighting together.
What are the next steps after the October strikes?
This action in October is very important and union members will want to see a stepping up of the action and for a fight on all the issues that are leading to the destruction of terms, conditions and services.
PCS will be pressing other unions to more closely coordinate their action in order to put more pressure on the government. This should clearly involve more national action but also coordinated targeted action across different public service sectors.
PCS itself is building for targeted action across the civil service and has set up a levy for that purpose. We will also continue to take action at departmental group level where it is necessary and this will be coordinated across the union.
Are these strikes just aimed at the coalition government or will they continue if Labour gets elected next year?
Labour shadow chancellor Ed Balls and leader Ed Miliband have made it absolutely clear they will stick to the Tory spending plans. For our members and workers generally that can only mean more cuts, privatisation and relentless austerity.
We fought the Labour governments under Blair and Brown when they cut and privatised and we will fight Labour if it continues on that course if it wins the election. Of course nobody wants to see the Tories returned but neither do people want to see a continuation of the same austerity policies and that is why we need an alternative.
The trade union movement must be an independent voice fearlessly representing workers' interests whoever is in power. Labour is no longer interested in representing the interests of workers, it is wholly in the grip of corporate interests. Effective 'no-strike agreements' have existed under previous Labour governments and some Labour-affiliated unions.
Any such attempts to dampen union struggles under a Labour government pursuing austerity policies will lead to a fundamental revolt against affiliation itself and leaderships who put affiliation to Labour above the interests of their members.
How can these strikes stop the cuts?
The trade unions are a major force in society representing and speaking for millions of workers and their families. It is a force that is capable of stopping these cuts by campaigning against austerity.
The TUC could build the widest possible alliance potentially including millions of working class and middle class people sickened by the brutality of the government's austerity programme. But to win, we must be serious and that means the effective use of industrial action to defeat austerity.
Socialist Party says: determined fight needed
If we are to win the 13-18 October week of action needs to be one step in a determined fight for victory.
Workers have shown their determination to struggle time and again. Two million walked out in defence of pensions in a mass strike on 30 November 2011.
But their courage was not matched by the right-wing trade union leaders who, instead of building on the big success and popularity of the strike, settled for a few crumbs.
As we go to press, there is a danger of a repetition of this if local government unions call off action on 14 October due to a new, but little improved, offer from the employers.
Instead, we need further mass coordinated strike action to smash the pay freeze. It should be a step towards a 24-hour general strike.
The unions could also draw behind them millions of unorganised workers and all others suffering from these brutal cuts.
The only way to defeat the attacks of the employers and the government is to determinedly set out to organise and fight until we win.
The best way to keep pressure on union leaders is through building democratic fighting left organisations in the trade unions, through organising local strike committees and involving more members in the activity and structures of the unions.
This is why the Socialist Party backs the National Shop Stewards Network.
In The Socialist 8 October 2014:
Socialist Party news and analysis
International socialist news and analysis
Socialist Party workplace news
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