by James Caspell, Green Party Member and Lambeth Unison Representative
Next week will see hundreds of thousands of local government workers undertaking strike action in response to the Government refusing to negotiate over the real-terms pay cut it is trying to impose on its employees.
So why should local government workers go on strike?
In the past year, the average household bill has gone up by £1,300. Food bills have gone up by 9 % and energy bills by 15%. Since 2004, food costs are up by 30%.
Our the employer is offering us a 2.45% "increase" - effectively a pay cut for the tenth year in a row. This means that someone in the same job, on the same pay scale ten years ago was effectively better off in 1998 than they are in 2008.
Local government workers also have the least pay, holiday entitlements, parental rights and sick leave in the public sector.
Some argue that to compare our pay cut with the astronomical bonuses that people are still 'earning' in the city - or executives at the BBC have just been awarded - is the "politics of envy", New Labour's favourite slogan in dismissing the pre-WWII levels of the UK's widening income inequality. It isn't. It's the politics of class.
Last year an extra £1 billion in efficiency savings were made above and beyond the Governments own targets on the back of the hard work of millions of public servants. It is not the case that the government doesn't have the money to award the 6% that Unison is asking for to "catch up and match up" with the pay cuts imposed over the last two years. Meanwhile, even the Governor of Bank of England has admitted that public sector pay increases are not causing inflation.
Only 10% of Unison's local government membership voted to accept the derisory offer currently on the table and whilst no one likes to forgo pay in the short term, workers stand to win up to ten times more financially than we will lose by taking 2 days of strike action.
The strength of the turnout is what will decide the result of the dispute and send a clear message to local govenrment employers on pay, but also demonstrate our strength and ability to win the fight on conditions and opposing privatisation.
We can win; the government is weak and other public sector unions are also striking over pay, building confidence across the movement. Elsewhere, the most militant unions are the most successful in furthering the interests of all workers - such as the RMT - and it is time local government workers learnt from our more active comrades in resisting constant neo-liberal attacks from Labour, Lib Dem and Tory administrations up and down the country.
Next week is an opportunity to say, "Enough is enough". It's time to fight, and it's time to win!
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