Join the Socialist Party Join us today!

Printable version Printable version

Facebook   Twitter

Link to this page:

From The Socialist newspaper, 25 June 2008


Summer of discontent?

Birmingham Council workers on strike, April 24, photo S. O Neill

Birmingham Council workers on strike, along with the teachers, civil servants and lecturers, April 24 2008, photo S. O Neill.

Following the pay rise victory of Shell tanker drivers, Unison council workers have voted for strike action over pay; starting with two days in July. This vote will be widely welcomed by workers throughout the public sector. It revives the possibility of a public sector 'summer of discontent', having first been raised by the strike of teachers, civil servants and lecturers over pay on 24 April.

Faced with ever rising prices and the government demanding that any pay increases are well below the Retail Price Index, public sector workers have a stark choice - to accept getting poorer or to fight back. That is why the left-led PCS, the civil servants' union, has been consistently campaigning for a united strike of the whole public sector on pay (see letter below right).

Chancellor Alistair Darling called for: "Every worker, from heads of blue chip companies to an office or domestic cleaner" to accept pay restraint, in reality pay cuts. However, this crude attempt to suggest that bosses should curb rises in their huge earnings will kid no-one. In reality, while the rest of us are being told to tighten our belts, Britain's super-rich are doing better than ever.

Darling wants "to avoid a return to the 1970s", meaning a period of militancy where workers were forced to take strike action in defence of their living standards. However, it is New Labour's policies that have left workers with no choice but to strike to defend their living conditions.

At present the level of strike action is below that of the 70s, when the average number of days lost per year was twelve million, compared to one million last year, but such is the level of anger, it is likely to increase rapidly.

Unfortunately, a majority of the national trade union leaders, not least the Unison leadership, have seen their main role as defending New Labour, rather than their members. The Unison leadership, for example, were initially in favour of the pay deal on offer for the health service, even though it is virtually identical to what is being offered in local government. The material from the Unison leadership sent out to the health service successfully discouraged members from voting to reject the deal.

Just weeks later, however, Dave Prentis, general secretary of Unison, has had to threaten the government with reopening the issue of pay in the health service. Such is the anger from below that union leaders have to at least partially express it, if they are to keep any semblance of authority with their members. At the 17-20 June Unison conference, Prentis warned: "You raise them up Gordon [his union's low paid members] or they will bring you down."

Yet Prentis and most of the others in the Unison leadership vehemently oppose any idea of the union loosening its links with the Labour Party. Despite a huge campaign from them to make sure it was defeated, the conference motion moved by Socialist Party member Glenn Kelly, calling for a review of the Labour link, was only narrowly defeated (see reports on pages 11 and 12).

In the unions GMB and CWU, the pro-Labour union leaderships put forward conference motions that threatened to withhold money from the Labour Party, but this was in order to cut across growing demands that the link with Labour be broken altogether.

The pro-Labour union leaders continue to argue that the link gives them influence with New Labour. However, increasingly trade union members are drawing the conclusion that this is completely untrue and, on the contrary, their leaderships' loyalty to Labour is undermining the unions' ability to fight for their members. As the Shell tanker drivers' victory indicated, big business or the government can be forced to make concessions on wages and other issues only as a result of a determined struggle.

Political voice

RMT strike: London tube workers strike in September 2007 after Metronet bankruptcy, photo Paul Mattsson

RMT strike: London tube workers strike in September 2007 after Metronet bankruptcy, photo Paul Mattsson

It is not a coincidence that it has been the non-affiliated trade unions that have best been able to defend their members. The RMT has pursued a campaign to defend and improve its members' pay and conditions with a number of successful strike actions on the tube and rail network.

The PCS, with its left leadership has also carried out a number of strikes in defence of its members' living standards as well as being to the fore in calling for united action across the public sector.

The Socialist Party is campaigning for a 24-hour strike of the whole public sector on the issue of pay as the next step in the struggle. However, we also argue that industrial militancy alone is not enough; trade unionists need a political voice that stands in their interests. The politicians of the main establishment parties are backing the government to the hilt on public sector pay restraint. Tory leader Cameron has called for the government not to give in, showing the real face of the Tories.

The issue of a united struggle in the public sector goes hand-in-hand with the need to rapidly build a political alternative to New Labour that stands in the interests of the working class. How we can urgently work towards bringing such a party into being, will be discussed at a forum on Sunday 29 June, prior to the conference of the Campaign for a New Workers' Party ( Speakers will include Bob Crow, general secretary of the RMT and John McInally, vice president of the PCS.

Why not click here to join the Socialist Party, or click here to donate to the Socialist Party.

In The Socialist 25 June 2008:

Prices up, Wages down...Summer of action needed!

Workers' battles win results: Tankers drivers' success upsets bosses

Council workers striking back

Socialist Party editorial

Editorial: Summer of discontent?

PCS union sends letter of solidarity to Unison

Campaign for a new workers' party: Conference - Sunday 29 June, 11am - 5pm

Unison Conference 2008

Unison conference 2008: Fighting to reclaim the union for its members

Unison Service Group Executives - socialists elected

National Shop Stewards Network Conference

Fighting, democratic unions not witch hunts

Socialist Party campaigns

Thousands show their hatred for racism

Student unions can be pushed into action

Socialist Party Marxist analysis

Review: False 'gods' of a failing system

International socialist news and analysis

Zimbabwe: Mugabe's militias crush his political opponents

Afghanistan - paying the price of western occupation

Summit fails to halt runaway oil prices

Britain: No.1 arms dealer

Socialist Party NHS campaign

Cut throat competition threatens NHS

"With polyclinics you're just a number"

Stop this sell-off!

Origins of the Labour Party

'Old' Labour - born out of workers' struggles

Socialist Party workplace news

Brighton bus drivers match inflation

Teachers fight academy plans in Bolton

Union news in brief

Usdaw election


Home   |   The Socialist 25 June 2008   |   Join the Socialist Party

Subscribe   |   Donate  

Related links:


triangleUsdaw conference 2018: time for new era of fighting trade unionism

triangleLeeds Socialist Party: The fight against zero-hour contracts and low pay

triangleGender pay gap figures show need for trade union action

triangleMcStrike: ballot for strike action at six McDonald's stores

triangleTaking the anti-austerity message to the chancellor's back yard


triangleLocal paper reveals Labour candidate 'tried to defect to the Tories'

triangleLabour councillors could stop unsafe 'driver-only operation' tomorrow

triangleThe Socialist inbox

triangleFor a fighting, democratic Labour Party


triangleUCU members vote to end pensions dispute

triangleBromley libraries - indefinite strike action continues

triangleFCC Wilmington refuse workers' strike in hull stands firm

Public sector:

triangleLeaked pay deal: fight for a genuine pay rise

triangleUni strike: coordinate public sector fightback


triangleVictimised recycling strikers uncowed as Hull strike wave builds

News and socialist analysis

News and socialist analysis



Enoch Powell's racist 'Rivers of Blood' rant 50 years on



For a fighting, democratic Labour Party


Them & Us

Them & Us



Billions for the bosses, benefit cuts for us



1,400 beds empty as patients lay in corridors: health unions must act now



Young people need homes



A socialist approach to Corbyn and a customs union


Child poverty

Child poverty to hit 5m by 2021 - strikes can stop the cuts


Equal pay

Gender pay gap figures show need for trade union action


Young people

Alienation and austerity behind London deaths - fight for socialism



Fight the Tory enemy


Northern Ireland

Northern Ireland: peace process on the brink



Right-wing Vote Leave campaign may have broken spending laws



Retail crunch: even giants not immune as 21,000 jobs disappear



End the housing crisis! We can't wait till 2022!

triangleMore News and socialist analysis articles...

Join the Socialist Party
Subscribe to Socialist Party publications
Donate to the Socialist Party
Socialist Party Facebook page
Socialist Party on Twitter
Visit us on Youtube



Phone our national office on 020 8988 8777


Locate your nearest Socialist Party branch Text your name and postcode to 07761 818 206

Regional Socialist Party organisers:

Eastern: 0798 202 1969

East Mids: 0773 797 8057

London: 020 8988 8786

North East: 0784 114 4890

North West 07769 611 320

South East: 020 8988 8777

South West: 07759 796 478

Southern: 07833 681910

Wales: 07935 391 947

West Mids: 02476 555 620

Yorkshire: 0114 264 6551



Alphabetical listing

April 2018

March 2018

February 2018

January 2018