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From The Socialist newspaper, 25 November 2020

Covid crisis: "We won't pay the price"

Demanding a 15% pay rise for NHS workers, 8th August 2020, London, photo Sarah SE

Demanding a 15% pay rise for NHS workers, 8th August 2020, London, photo Sarah SE   (Click to enlarge)


After giving Covid contracts worth billions to their cronies, the Tories announced yet another pay freeze for millions of public sector workers, and the scrapping of the planned increase in the minimum wage. These are just the opening salvoes in the battle to make working-class people pay for the Covid crisis.

Workers have stood on the front line, put their lives at risk, and face sinking further into poverty - on top of a decade of Tory pay cuts when workers lost up to 14% of their income.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak cynically 'exempts' NHS workers from this pay cap. But they won't be fooled.

Any 'rise' for health workers will go nowhere near close to the 15% pay rise they protested for this summer. 15% would only close the gap on what they have lost in the last ten years.

This announcement takes place a decade after George Osborne's brutal austerity offensive. That cuts blizzard led to two million public sector workers striking together on 30 November 2011 to defend their pensions.

Workers need to fight together now to send the clearest message to the Tories and the employers. We won't pay the price, with our jobs and income, for your total mismanagement of the Covid pandemic and economic crisis, especially when the super-rich increase their wealth at our expense.

The National Shop Stewards Network of trade union activists calls on the Trades Union Congress and its unions to organise protests in towns and cities on Saturday 5 December. Start the mobilisation of workers that can lead to the coordinated strike action we need to defeat the Tories, and inflict on them yet another U-turn.

Rob Williams, National Shop Stewards Network, chair

Tory-supporting businesses got PPE contracts worth millions. They have profited from the pandemic.

But us frontline key workers get told - after putting our health and safety on the line every day to provide essential public services through the pandemic - our pay will be frozen (cut).

There could be no greater slap in the face as we continue to staff schools and care homes. Covid is ripping through our workplaces at an ever-increasing rate.

The government's fake argument smokescreen will not pitch us against equally low-paid and essential shop and transport workers in the private sector. We will not race to the bottom alongside them.

Vicky Perrin, Calderdale Unison lead school steward (personal capacity)

The massive national outpouring of applause for NHS workers was a sign of the absolute respect the public has towards the public sector. The money is there to give us decent pay, either in government coffers or in the hands of the rich.

The trade unions have expressed their anger in public statements, now they must take collective action. The unions have the power to properly challenge the renewed Tory attack on public sector workers.

The working class cannot, and will not, pay for the pandemic.

Adam Harmsworth, Napo probation union, national executive committee (personal capacity)

Probation worker: "Money grabbing, ungrateful, incompetent bastards"

I'm struggling to find the words. 'Money grabbing, ungrateful, incompetent, bastards' springs to mind.

We had years of pay freeze during austerity, that contributed to paying for the banker's bailout. When is our bailout coming to pay our rents, our mortgages, etc?

At work, management put posters up calling us 'heroes'. We all felt patronised. We wondered how the government might show their appreciation after all that clapping.

Well now we know the answer. They are not.

But the Tories show their appreciation to their own friends and family. This government awarded 17.3 billion of contracts to private companies.

550,000 for a consulting deal with Public First, whose two directors just happened to previously work for Cabinet Office head Michael Gove. 1 million with Faculty, whose shareholders until recently included Theodore Agnew, another Cabinet Office minister.

PestFix, a pest control supplies company, was added to the 'high priority lane' and awarded 350 million to supply PPE to the NHS. Clearly, we are not all in it together.

This government thinks a pay freeze will pay for their incompetence, and their donations to friends and family in big business.

With Keir Starmer leading the Labour Party, and Frances O'Grady, leader of the Trades Union Congress (TUC) - both pally with chancellor Rishy Sunak - the Tories calculate there won't be a fightback. But there will.

Workers are not just angry, they are getting desperate. If trade union leaders issued a call to action, we would respond.

But we need leaders that won't sell us out, like they did in the 2011 pension strike.

Heather Rawling, residential worker in probation hostel and Unison member (personal capacity)

Civil servant: Strike if we have to

Boris Johnson, and all the other Tory hypocrites, praise us on the one hand and impose a wage freeze with the other. How seamlessly they move from one to the other with barely a blink.

Members of civil service union PCS have fearlessly continued to support the most vulnerable during this pandemic, despite personal risk to themselves. 100 PCS members at the government's Brexit department are balloting for strike action.

These outsourced workers provide cleaning, security, porterage and postal services. But their private employer ISS is refusing to pare down the job, despite lots of staff working from home.

We've got benefits to the jobless, furlough payments to those facing unemployment, helped the Vaccine Taskforce and Sage scientific advisors. None of this happens by magic.

Our members in every government department, public body and the private sector have worked tirelessly. They are rewarded with a pay freeze!

The trade union movement must now step up. We need more than words and petitions.

The leadership must mount a campaign of opposition to this attack and unite all public sector workers, and coordinate across the union movement for action, including strikes as necessary. I will be calling on PCS to lead the fight for pay justice for PCS members and all other public sector workers.

Marion Lloyd, civil service union PCS, national executive committee (personal capacity)

NHS worker: We want 15%

If the government's intent was to further antagonise and enrage public sector workers, then Rishi Sunak has succeeded.

NHS workers were already preparing to take on the Tories. They are now joined by council and civil service colleagues rightly asking: "What about us?"

Attempting to polarise public sector workers was a gross miscalculation. It may forge unity among all of us.

A collective response from unions - representing everyone from the probation service to librarians - must follow this derisory, insulting, broad daylight attempt to divide workers.

The price of a pandemic the Tories refused to adequately prepare for must not be put on us. We've borne the brunt of Covid, losing thousands of colleagues to this monstrous virus.

The Tories are trying to 'level down' all workers. This is an opportunity for the Trades Union Congress (TUC) and all unions to demand a 15% pay rise for all workers.

NHS worker

Teacher: It's a slap in the face

This year, I've re-learnt how to do my job twice - moving to teaching entirely online and trying to teach two years' worth of learning in one - with children off self-isolating.

I've increased my costs to provide my own computer and internet for hours a day to ensure I can do my job.

I've increased my stress levels. I have tried to reassure children that they will be safe in school, while reiterating that they are not allowed to see friends and family out of school.

I've shivered while teaching - opening windows to ensure classroom ventilation when the heating will not be turned up any further.

I've continued to work 70 hours a week. I want learning to retain motivation and interest, and I try to progress children in line with government and Ofsted expectations.

My union has thanked me for keeping schools Covid-secure - the reason the National Education Union (NEU) gives for why there should be no fightback. I know there's nothing secure about it - just disinfectant and luck.

I've done all that because we're in a pandemic. Everyone has to do things differently.

But to be rewarded with a pay cut, it's a slap in the face. It's not a pay 'freeze', as the government likes to term it.

Supermarkets are announcing record profits and big business will try to recoup losses by increasing anything they can. My pay will mean less.

The media has used schools, teachers, and education staff, as a political football all year. Now I'm told that I'm worthless too.

I don't need to be told that I'm lucky, as a teacher, to have secure employment with an income that means that I can afford food and a home. That's not luck.

That's from workers fighting for decent pay and conditions. That's what everyone should have as a minimum.

Cutting public sector pay does nothing to help those on zero-hour contracts or who have lost their jobs. Everyone should be paid a wage that means they can afford to live and not just survive.

Workers across the private and public sectors need to push their unions to fight back. 15 U-turns already under their well-paid belts, there is no reason why we should let the Tories get away with this.

We need an immediate day of coordinated action to launch a campaign of strike action against this pay robbery.

A Bristol teacher

Unison candidate Hugo Pierre: Unions must act now

At Socialism 2020, Hugo Pierre, a Socialist Party member standing to be general secretary of public sector union Unison, said:

The Tories plan to divide public sector workers from those in the private sector with a public sector pay freeze. We know in the trade unions that inaction only encourages further attacks.

That's why a socialist leader of Britain's largest trade union, Unison, would be calling for an emergency national executive council meeting of the union - to draw up a plan of action to put to all the public sector trade unions to demand we won't pay for the Covid crisis.

Following years when our pay is over 20% lower in real terms than it was in 2009, we would make official the call of the National Shop Stewards Network for a day of action on 5 December.

A socialist leadership of the main trade unions would demand 100% pay for all furloughed workers and all asked to isolate. A socialist leadership of the health unions would be at the forefront of a claim for a 15% pay rise for all our NHS staff. They have put in more than 15% of additional unpaid time to save lives.

Hugo also calls for "an immediate meeting of the leaderships of the public sector unions to plan a campaign of action, including coordinated strike action, to fight the pay cut proposals."

Socialist Party members in Unison are moving the following motion at the union's local government service group executive.

We agree to:

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Finance appeal

The coronavirus crisis has laid bare the class character of society in numerous ways. It is making clear to many that it is the working class that keeps society running, not the CEOs of major corporations.

The results of austerity have been graphically demonstrated as public services strain to cope with the crisis.

The government has now ripped up its 'austerity' mantra and turned to policies that not long ago were denounced as socialist. But after the corona crisis, it will try to make the working class pay for it, by trying to claw back what has been given.

  • The Socialist Party's material is more vital than ever, so we can continue to report from workers who are fighting for better health and safety measures, against layoffs, for adequate staffing levels, etc.
  • When the health crisis subsides, we must be ready for the stormy events ahead and the need to arm workers' movements with a socialist programme - one which puts the health and needs of humanity before the profits of a few.
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In The Socialist 25 November 2020:

Socialism 2020

Socialism 2020: Growing search for ideas to change the world

Pay freeze

Covid crisis: "We won't pay the price"

Friedrich Engels

Friedrich Engels: A revolutionary who played a pivotal role in the development of socialism

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