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From: The Socialist issue 587, 7 July 2009: Action now to defend public sector

Search site for keywords: Public sector - Pay - Waltham Forest - Alistair Darling - Public-sector

Action now to defend public sector

We won't pay for the capitalist crisis

Unison Local Government strike 16-17 July in London, photo Paul Mattsson

Unison Local Government strike 16-17 July in London, photo Paul Mattsson

THE BATTLE lines are being drawn in the public sector. Chancellor Alistair Darling has warned of a 'tight squeeze' on the pay of six million public sector workers and a further 'efficiency drive' this summer.
Steve Bundred, chief executive of the government's Audit Commission, wrote in The Observer that he hoped £5 billion or more would be saved by reducing public sector workers' pay. Job cuts and a pay freeze are the government's plans for the future of public services. NANCY TAAFFE, a trade union activist in Waltham Forest, says it is time to fight back.

"PAY CUTS and job losses are not just statistics for us. In Waltham Forest borough in east London, the council's cuts could total over £50 million. That's not yet an official figure, but such cuts would threaten an Armageddon of job losses and pay cuts at a time of rising unemployment.

It's no longer a question of fighting piecemeal against a silent erosion as we have done over the last ten years. Now, we could face a full-on assault on services. The government is trying to turn public opinion against public-sector workers, saying we have got to pay.

The government ignores the fact that during the boom years in the City of London, many public-sector workers completely missed out. Most of us never saw huge pay increases or dramatic improvements in our conditions. Last year, for instance, when the inflation rate stood at 4%, public-sector workers got a 2.5% rise.

Scotland council workers strike, photo International Socialists

Scotland council workers strike, photo International Socialists

It is astonishing that public-sector workers are now being asked to pay, in effect, for last autumn's bailouts of the banking system.

Even in the so-called good years, staff worked on skeleton staffing levels, going from one emergency to another with no chance of planning their work. These new threats would make things far worse.

Now we need to see a big initiative from the public-sector trade unions, as has happened in France and Ireland, for instance. There, the unions called on the general public to defend the services that give ordinary workers the essentials that they could not afford to pay for privately. Trade union activists nationwide are demanding such a fighting policy, which is definitely needed.

The government is also talking about a public-sector strike ban. That's outrageous. Defending the public sector is vital to protect the living standards of the vast majority of people.

If we cannot defend ourselves by strike action against these attacks on vital services, the whole working class loses. Anti-strike laws are a deliberate attempt to stop us preserving all the gains made by the working class and will meet massive opposition.

In Waltham Forest there have been initiatives to unite community activists and public sector workers. Now the threat of cuts means there is even more need for unity.

Public-sector workers need to be in the forefront, but we need to draw in other people behind us. Public sector alliances were set up in many areas in the early 1990s. Such bodies will have to come back into existence to stop the wholesale destruction of vital services.

And we should fight all government attempts to split private and public-sector workers. Private sector workers should support their public services while public-sector workers need to support private sector workers in battles for jobs, pay and conditions.

The urgent need is to build united action against all the attacks on workers' jobs, wages and all our services."







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