Pay: a fight THIS year

Yvette Cooper, Chief Secretary to the Treasury, said on TV last night that public sector pay was being held down as a key element in the Government’s strategy to control inflation. The Chancellor, Alistair Darling, went further, in speech to the City tonight at Mansion House, attacking unions seeking to defend their members’ wages. The Governor of the Bank of England went on to say that people should expect a cut in their real pay this year.

With inflation running at 4.3%, and expected to rise, it is not surprising that public sector workers are unwilling to accept the Government’s arguments and accept a 2% pay rise limit – or, for that matter, the three years of pay cuts planned for NHS workers.

The Government is proudly trumpeting three year pay deals as the way to tackle inflation. For whom? Three years of pay cuts may help the Government and their friends in the City, but they don’t help us.

Food price rises are cutting into our pay – that’s the real cost of inflation. So why are the Government attacking unions not the supermarkets? Tesco have announced that their profits last year were £2.8 billion. That is well over £1,000 profit for every worker in the NHS. Where is the “redistribution” of wealth so that we don’t suffer from inflation and Tesco can’t increase their profits because of it.

Today has been a good day in the fight against pay cuts, though, for my union, Unite.

It has been announced that the taker drivers have won a 14% pay increase over two years, with 9% in the first year. Shell can afford it. With billions in profits, their shareholders can afford to take a small cut in their dividends.

In the NHS, Unite has announced that we will be balloting our members for industrial action to prevent the Government imposing a below-inflation three year pay deal. There will be a real campaign and I believe we can win a strong vote for industrial action. On the consultative ballot, 75% of members vote for a formal industrial action ballot.

As I have said before, with 100,000 members we are not the largest union in the NHS. But we are the dominant union in many of the groups we organise. If we win the ballot, we will be able to mount effective industrial action. I don’t believe the Government can withstand that sort of pressure from within the NHS.

The General Secretary of Unison, Dave Prentis, has also been getting a lot of press today. He has announced that if the Government refuse to renegotiate the three year deal next year, Unison will ballot their members for strike action. This comes just a couple of weeks after Unison members voted to accept the three year sub-inflation deal pushed by their lead negotiators. The phrases “stable door”, “horse”, and “bolted” come to mind.

I welcome, though, the recognition from the Unison leadership that this is a bad deal. What we need is a united campaign to reject it. Why wait a year when even the Bank of England is expecting the Retail Price Index to be close to 6 per cent by the end of the year.

The elections for Unison’s Health Service Group Executive saw some gains for the Left. The newly elected Unite Health Service National Committee meets for the first time on July 2nd. What better message to health workers than that all our unions will resist three years of wage cuts? I agree with Dave Prentis – let’s reopen the negotiations. I just think we should do it now – not in 2009.

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