TENS of thousands of teachers, college lecturers and civil servants are striking today against government-imposed pay cuts.
As a result of the action by the 270,000-strong National Union of Teachers (NUT) about 7,500 schools will be closed, colleges will shut their doors as a result of the walk-out by 27,000 University and College Union (UCU) members and 100,000 civil servants from the Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS) will strike.
Ahead of today’s strike, the NUT’s Acting General Secretary Christine Blower said: ‘What we’re saying to the government is, if you really do value teachers, then make sure that they’re paid at least at the level of inflation – which we take to be the RPI (Retail Price Index), which is 4.1 per cent.’
Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s Labour government is imposing a 2.45 per cent increase on teachers this year, and 2.3 per cent in 2009 and 2010, which is a pay cut in real terms. This follows cuts in 2005, 2006 and 2007.
College lecturers are in a similar position. The UCU put in a claim for six per cent with other unions (UNISON, UNITE, GMB, ACM and ATL) whose members work in Further Education. They have been told by the Association of Colleges that they will get only 2.55 per cent for 2007-08.
The PCS is demanding pay rises for its members of at least four per cent. In response, the government is imposing an average two per cent pay rise on civil servants. This is once again a pay cut, a reduction in the living standards of PCS members.
The prices of the basic necessities of life, like food, housing and energy are rocketing, as a result of the leap in world food prices, the ever rising price of oil and the collapsing exchange rate of the pound.
The official inflation figures, not only the government’s preferred CPI (consumer, Price Index) but even the RPI, does not measure the rate of inflation being experienced by working-class families. The PCS has calculated that food prices have increased by 7.4 per cent, petrol by 20.5 per cent, water by 5.5 per cent, gas by 12.9 per cent and electricity by 7.9 per cent.
It is clearly time for the trade union movement to draw up its own cost of living index and the unions must win pay awards that compensate workers for the loss in purchasing power of their salaries and preserve living standards, by pay being index-linked to the trade-union, cost-of-living index.
Members of the NUT, UCU and PCS are taking coordinated strike action today and holding joint rallies in cities and towns throughout the country because they confront the same problem – pay cuts imposed on them by the Brown government.
More than a million members of staff in the National Health Service (NHS) and another million workers employed by local authorities are in the same position. UNISON members in the NHS are already balloting to reject a pay cut, the prelude to taking strike action.
After today’s magnificent united strike action, the five million workers in the public services must demand their union leaders organise an extended public sector general strike, coordinated through the Trades Union Congress (TUC). The Labour government demonstrated at the beginning of last year that it would not back down on its pay-cutting policy as a result of a one-day strike by 2.5 million public service workers.
During the extended general strike, public sector workers must tell the government they will not return to work until their unions’ pay claims have been settled in full. Brown’s claim that the government cannot afford to pay public sector workers will deceive no one after this week’s decision to hand over £50bn to the speculators running the country’s biggest banks.
If the Brown regime does not concede, it must be brought down and be replaced with a workers’ government, based on councils of action formed in every area, drawing their representatives from the unions, community organisations and working-class political movements.
A workers’ government will get rid of bankrupt British capitalism and carry out socialist policies.
We call on all public sector workers to join the Workers Revolutionary Party today and help build a new leadership in the trade union movement that will fight for this programme of action to defend living standards and essential services.