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July 10 strike: Government picks fight with public sector workers

pay_campaign_landing_pageThis Thursday, one and a half million workers including firefighters, teachers, civil servants and local government staff will exercise their democratic right to strike. On the surface the dispute is over pay and pensions but the strike is being billed as a wider protest against cuts to public services and the detriment caused to service users.

In a separate dispute over ‘pay for performance,’ transport workers at Transport for London have timed their strike action to coincide with public sector workers. The well-rehearsed arguments about the need for pay restraint to save jobs are already in full swing. They never really stopped following the last big public sector strike in 2011. Rather than the unions picking a fight with the government, it is the government picking a fight with the unions.

Working people, the unemployed and the disabled are all feeling the gulf between prices rising on the one hand and wage and benefit cuts on the other. Analysis from the Trades Union Congress shows the average public sector worker is £2,245 worse off in real terms since the government took office and the lowest paid are being hit with real terms cuts of almost 20%. If that wasn’t enough, workers see tax breaks for the rich and those same people taking part in tax evasion and avoidance scams which if properly dealt with would flood the treasury coffers with much needed funds to pay public sector workers properly.

Introducing an arbitrary one percent pay cap after a three year pay freeze in 2010 is not an offer but a challenge to workers to see how much they will take before they act. Instead of negotiating or giving the union leadership something they could take back to their members to try to overt the strike, Cabinet Office Minister Francis Maude revealed this week plans to toughen up already restrictive balloting rules. This would either be restricting the length of time a strike ballot is legitimate or introducing a threshold where over 50 percent of those balloted would have to say ‘yes’ for a ballot to be legal.

It is worth remembering postal balloting was brought in by Thatcher under the guise of protecting individual union members from being “pressured” by union bosses into taking strike action by a simple show of hands in the workplace. Now it is used to stop legitimate strike action and an important exercise of workplace democracy as balloting is expensive, rigid and designed to make low turnouts more likely. The government does not want to re-introduce workplace ballots as they are fully aware as is every union rep that turnout would be increased, legitimising strike action in the eyes of the public.

The aggressive anti-union message is trumpeted no louder than by the likes of former industrial correspondent turned Mail on Sunday columnist Peter Hitchens. On last week’s Question Time programme, he extolled the virtues of the right to strike only to, in the next breath, say public sector workers are never justified in withdrawing their labour because it hurts the public. More extraordinary was his claim that strike action in the private sector in the 80’s by the miners and others ultimately led to the closing of the industries they were trying to protect.

There can be no greater fallacy than the one peddled that says workers taking industrial action destroys industry. Workers in capitalist Britain do not own their industries. They do not take the decisions to privatise public assets or offshore jobs abroad in order to make themselves redundant. Health workers do not hold up banners outside hospitals saying ‘thank you’ to private contractors for getting a foothold in the NHS.

Industrial action is always a last resort for workers and something that is never entered into lightly. As an industrial reporter, I have interviewed hundreds of workers in many different disputes. I have met politically motivated activists, first time strikers who feel they have no choice, those who fear if they do not act they will slip into a bout of depression like many of their under pressure colleagues and I have seen blacklisted workers who feel they have nothing left to lose but to support every militant action that gets justice for their cause.

>The best way for the government to avoid strike action on Thursday and into the future is to address the underlying causes of dissatisfaction, not create further animosity with more draconian anti-labour laws.

2 Comments

  1. jeffrey davies says:

    I wonder I wonder will boris have those water cannons ready it seems he knew austerity going to upset the peasants jeff3

  2. Robert says:

    The strike will not do much in the 1970’s we use to go out for a week, if it then failed we go out for two weeks and then for few months sadly these days we seem to have lost the ability to go out for longer then a day or two and the country can well ignore it.

    This is a strike which I suspect the Tories can take on the chin knowing the Unions will not do much more.

    But as a Union member of the GMB I will back it to the hilt.

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