London Workers Lead Fight For A Living Wage

The Socialist: What we think

London Workers Lead Fight For A Living Wage

LONDON POSTAL workers will be joining UNISON members working for London councils on strike on 16 October. Workers from 32 London boroughs will be coming together with 30,000 Communication Workers’ Union (CWU) members in a one-day strike for a £4,000 London weighting allowance.

We completely oppose any government plans for regional pay bargaining, which would divide worker against worker and region against region. But since the 1920s it has been accepted that the higher cost of living in the capital has to be taken into account in any national pay agreement.

A united battle of public-sector workers in London would enormously strengthen the battle to defend the public sector all over the country.

UNISON’s dispute with the London council employers has dragged on since the first strike ballot in May 2002. The union recently rejected an offer of a £201 increase for the lowest paid, which was accepted by the TGWU and GMB unions. But in a recent consultative ballot of UNISON members, 80% voted for more strike action. This is 10% more than in the first strike ballot.

London council workers are clearly furious at the employers’ intransigence, at the same time as they fritter away £ millions on consultants, agencies, privatisation and generous ‘allowances’ to senior councillors and council bosses.

They are prepared to fight for a living wage, as are postal workers, shown by the solid support for the last London postal workers’ strike on 1 October.

These workers cannot afford to live in London on their current wages. Postal workers currently get a £3,282 allowance in inner London and £2,038 in outer London – the ‘inner’ and ‘outer’ distinction in itself is now completely out of date and can result in postal workers in an office on one side of a road earning £1,000 more than those in an office on the other side. The current allowance in London boroughs for local authority workers is between £1,500 and £2,850.

The Metropolitan Police get £6,000 in London allowances, plus free travel over a wide commuting distance.

Higher costs

Figures produced by the CWU indicate that the cost of living in inner London is about £4,500 per year more than the rest of the UK. The average cost of a house bought by first-time buyers in London is now over £175,000 – you would need to be earning over £58,000 a year to afford this.

A study by the Labour Research Department in 1998 found that private rents were £2,000 per year more in London than the overall average for England.

Water rates and council tax on a three-bedroom terrace house are 38% higher than the UK average. Childcare costs 30% more. London workers commute for 110 minutes a day on average – equivalent to an extra day’s unpaid overtime every week.

So it is no wonder that postal and council workers are determined to attain their modest demands for £4,000 across the board. Already many jobs are left vacant because people cannot afford to take them.

The union leaderships’ agreement to organise joint strike action is welcome and it has had an inspiring effect on many of the workers involved. But there are many other public sector workers struggling to get by in London, who would jump at the chance of a united battle for a decent London cost-of-living allowance.

Teachers, firefighters, college lecturers and college support staff are all already involved in disputes over their pay rates in London. Civil servants and London Underground workers are now considering action on this issue.

Vacancies for health care workers are at record levels – some London trusts have 30% fewer nurses than they need and survive on agency nurses. Pay is the key factor in not being able to recruit health care staff in London.

Different unions representing different groups of workers in the public sector are organising their own pay campaigns, but united action across the whole public sector would enormously strengthen these campaigns.

That is why the Socialist Party is campaigning for a delegate conference of all London public-sector unions, to organise joint action. This action should include a one-day London-wide public-sector strike and demonstration. Different unions have different claims but the minimum London allowance should not be less than £4,000.

New Labour has declared war on the public sector. United action in London is an important part of the fightback.