‘NO MORE PRESSING ISSUE THAN PAY’ says Prentis – Unite, Unison and GMB put in for 5% for local government workers from next April

A section of the YS lobby of the TUC Congress in Brighton on Monday morning
A section of the YS lobby of the TUC Congress in Brighton on Monday morning

OPENING the public sector pay debate at the 149th Trades Union Congress in Brighton on Monday afternoon, Unison general secretary Dave Prentis moved composite 9, Public Sector Pay.

He said: ‘For millions of public service workers struggling to survive, there is no more pressing issue than lifting the pay cap. We’ve seen years of brutal austerity and vicious attacks on public services, overseen by an uncaring government whose pay policies are causing real hardship.

‘In the first six years of Conservative rule, public sector pay rose by just 4.4 per cent, yet the cost of living soared by 22 per cent. And to rub salt into those wounds, the pay of top bosses rose by a third in one year alone.

‘Whilst the rich feather their nests, public service workers struggle to afford the basics. The government call it prudence and restraint – I call it inhuman. Every single year it’s getting worse – the care worker who can’t afford the bus back from work, and the healthcare assistant walking home from his shift via the local foodbank. Then there’s the teaching assistant secretly applying for pay day loans, ashamed, frightened that if her boiler finally packs up this winter, her family is a cold snap away from disaster.

‘A quarter of Unison members – 300,000 public service workers – don’t know how they would pay for an unexpected expense. More than three quarters are buying less food and one in ten are missing entire meals to feed their children.

‘It’s an outrage, and it’s getting worse. Inflation is three times the level of public sector pay rises. People face spiralling debts that are impossible to repay. The noises we’re hearing are encouraging, but scrapping the cap is not enough. We must fight for real pay rises, real funding and real change.

‘This government cannot be trusted. Ministers will try to divide us and to cherry pick. They will try to buy some of us off at the expense of others – dangling a carrot in the hope that we’ll back down. Perhaps there will be rises for those in uniforms, when it’s rises for all public service workers that must be uniform.

‘We must not fall into their trap. We stand together or we fall together. So we need to be unified and demand real pay rises for every public servant. For the police officer, but also the police community support officer. For nurses, but also care staff, social workers, ambulance workers and healthcare assistants. And for teachers but also teaching assistants, school meals staff and caretakers.

‘We must commit to marching, demonstrating and lobbying – not just in Westminster, but in Belfast, Cardiff and Edinburgh too. We need public events in every major city and town across the country, to change the face of politics and hold Conservative MPs to account in their own backyards. And joint ballots for industrial action if all else fails.

‘For the past century our movement has been shaped by history. Now is the time for our movement to make history. We need to fight for fairness, injustice and a pay rise for all public service workers now.’

Speaking in support, Juliet Ballintine, RCM, said: ‘Midwives have lost £6,000 over the past three years. In 2014 we had our first strike in 138 years. It was against health secretary Jeremy Hunt refusing to honour the pay review body. We won. This government must end the pay cap for hardworking midwives.’

Joseph Simpson, POA, said: ‘The May government says it will lift the cap on prison officers’ pay but it’s not across the board. We have a two-tier prison system.’ He concluded: ‘We stand with our brothers and sisters to smash the pay cap.’

Gail Cartmail, Unite, told Congress: ‘The Bank of England staff won because they took to the picket line. Unite’s £36 million strike fund is our promise that our members will not be starved back to work. We will mobilise and yes, we will co-ordinate.’

Amanda Burley, GMB, declared: ‘Health workers have been let down too long. It’s time to put this pay cap in the dustbin of history where it belongs. All workers deserve a pay rise, that’s why the local government union has submitted a 5% pay claim.’

Richard Evans, Society of Radiographers, said: ‘We’ve got a long way to go. Lifting the pay cap is not the same as wages that match inflation. A huge proportion of radiographers’ income is spent on keeping a roof over their heads and paying off debt, including student loans. It’s disastrous for patients. Patients will still be at risk until we see sustained investment in pay that matches inflation.’

Unison, Unite and the GMB, who between them represent more than 1.6 million local authority employees, have submitted a pay claim for the year from next April to move the lowest paid staff onto the real living wage of £8.45 an hour (£9.75 in London) and insists all employees should receive a 5% pay rise.

Sean Vernell, UCU, said: ‘Pay cuts have been the pillar of this government’s austerity programme.

‘We’ve been told if we ask for a pay rise we risk losing our jobs. But we’ve lost 15,000 FE lecturers and we’ve had our pay cut.

‘We’ve asked for co-ordinated action. If the McDonald’s workers can do it in the less organised sector, we can in the more organised sector. UCU, alongside the PCS, are carrying out consultative ballots going forward to industrial action ballots. Let’s strike together, let’s march together.’

Jackie Baker, NEU, said: ‘We are already campaigning for a mass demonstration along with the TUC on October 17.’ She cautioned: ‘Teachers have had 30 years of pay review bodies and we haven’t got anywhere. Collective bargaining is the way forward. Let’s work together for co-ordinated action.’ The motion was passed unanimously.

• The Young Socialists held a very lively and vocal picket outside the TUC on its opening day on Monday morning. Jonty Leff, chairing the meeting afterwards, said how important the lobby had been in grabbing the trade union leaders’ attention and demanding action on so many pressing issues such as university fees, housing, exit from the EU, low pay, and agency working.

‘In the last two weeks the right wing in the Labour Party has organised a coup – rather than break with the EU, to try and remain in the customs union and the single market. People are rising up and it needs a revolutionary party to provide leadership to bring the government down and get socialism.’

Bill Rogers, chairman of Chingford ASLEF branch, reminded the audience that last year Francis O’Grady, Secretary of the TUC, told workers to ‘roll up their sleeves’ and work with the Tories. With regard to the EU, our position is for a complete break. We’re not for endless transition and remain in the EU for years with EU regulations.

‘The TUC says it guarantees workers’ rights. Nothing could be further from the truth. McDonald’s has been here for the last forty three years. They wouldn’t allow unions to function or pay proper wages, not even £10 an hour.

‘Last week was the first McDonald’s strike ever in the UK, albeit of two branches. The TUC, Unite and Unison leaderships go along with the Tories, for example in the British Airways mixed fleet struggle and Barts Trust Serco dispute. The workers are faced with awful conditions, with no real rights. Yet the Unite leadership says there must be a “pause for peace”.

‘But the Tories see it as a war and condone zero hours contracts. There is no pause in tuition fees, with higher and higher interest rates on loans; no pause in austerity with 2.1m households due to lose another £50 a week by 2020. There is no pause in attacks on the NHS. No pause in the attack on safety critical guards on the trains, and the push for Driver Only Operated trains … workers aren’t having it.

‘The only way forward is for a general strike. A resolution was passed five years ago at the TUC to look at the practicality of organising a general strike. The TUC could do this. We must build our party, and replace the leadership in the trade unions with workers who will fight for socialism. Capitalism is a bankrupt system with no future.

‘They are putting sanctions on Russia, China, North Korea, and will not allow Germany to buy Russian oil. Sanctions lead to trade war and world war. Forward to the big rally on November 12th to commemorate 100 years of the Russian Revolution.’

Joshua Ogunleye, National Secretary of the YS, said: ‘The lobby was really good. It brought the fear of youth to the trade union leaders, who are not interested in a fight. Capitalism is in crisis and waging war against young people in Britain. They sanction young people at the job centres.

The struggle at McDonald’s for minimum wages reflects the movement of young people everywhere.

‘The Deliveroo workers have been resisting the gig economy. Young people are joining trade unions and are fighting. In America, workers are demanding $15 dollars an hour, there has been the march of the longshoremen, and the Black Lives Matter campaign. In reality we have to get rid of the system altogether.

‘Capitalism is printing money and tying up the future of young people with massive debts. Now students are seeing lecturers less than they did in 1997 when education was free. The notion that privatisation improves education is nonsense … the YS has to build in this period. The whole working class has to come out in defence of young people. There has to be a world struggle for socialism.’

Rose Pope from West London publicised the West London Council of Action’s ‘Big Bike ride’ on

Sunday October 1st, to save Ealing hospital and stop the closure of the A&E. The last speaker was Dave Wiltshire, Secretary of the All Trades Unions Alliance. He said: ‘Not just Ealing hospital but every hospital is either lined up for closure or privatisation under the Sustainability and Transformation Partnerships, (STPs) whose deliberate policy is to smash and privatise the NHS.

‘In fact, the working class is powerful. It returned from World War II and elected a Labour government which had to give huge gains, such as council housing, nationalisation of the coalmines and railways, the NHS free at the point of use, pensions – workers thought that socialism had come. But in fact capitalism was still intact. Now all these gains have come under fantastic attack.

‘There was the dot.com explosion in the 90s. In 2007-8 the collapse of Lehman Brothers took the world to the brink of a banking collapse, only saved by nation states bailing out their own banks.

‘But since then, the working class has been made to pay with ruthless austerity, the destruction of services, NHS, pensions, benefits, and housing.

‘Workers were stuck in Grenfell Tower and left to die, for the sake of cheap cladding. The Council did nothing, yet there are hundreds of empty properties in the area – only 12 families have been rehoused.

‘Workers are not going to sit back passively. There is a ballot among postmen as the Royal Mail, privatised three years ago, moves to treat postmen like Uber workers, putting them on personal contracts and working them to death. It’s happening to mixed fleet cabin crew. Something has to be done. Labour is not listening. The Tory government is weak. The working class is beginning to move independently of its leadership. They voted for Brexit. They looked at the EU and saw Greece.

‘In France, the EU is attacking workers rights, making it easier to sack them. Workers see the EU as a conspiracy of bosses and bankers. We have to fight for a United Socialist States of Europe. The trade union bureaucrats are tied to the EU because they are tied to capitalism. They cannot conceive of life outside capitalism. They just negotiate to try and get a deal.

‘That’s gone. It’s impossible now. There are no deals to be done. Capitalism is relying on the treachery of the trade union leaders, as the history of the 20th Century has shown. The masses are going beyond anything Corbyn can offer, and beyond the trade union leaders. It’s a question of providing a new leadership to this movement, politically trained and prepared to get rid of capitalism throughout the world.

‘We are part of the International Committee of the Fourth International founded by Leon Trotsky to fight for world socialist revolution. We have to go forward to a workers government to nationalise industries and banks and the land, alongside similar struggles all over the world. Join this party and this fight. The future of humanity is at stake.’