GIVE us a date for strike action and we’ll do it, the leader of the Prison Officers Association (POA) – whose members are banned from striking – told hundreds of trade unionists at the TUC Public Services Rally yesterday.
Caton received a standing ovation at the rally against privatisation and pay cuts in Westminster Central Halls, when he said: ‘If my members working in prisons can take the bull by the horns, then your members in the other public services, who are allowed to take legitimate industrial action, can do it.
‘Give us a date and we’ll do it, even if it means ending up in court.’
Caton said if the trade unions didn’t act now and the Tories got back in, ‘then you’ll be even worse off because they’ll hurt you even more’.
Taking action now against real terms pay cuts in the public sector would ‘show the Tories you’ve got some strength’, he added, urging the unions to ‘get on our feet and straight our spines and take on these anti-union laws, head on’.
‘This is about class, this is about a divided society,’ said UNISON leader Dave Prentis.
‘One in six are living in poverty.
‘It is a disgrace that MEPs and Members of Parliament can claim more expenses in one month than our members earn in a year!’
Prentis said he saluted 750,000 workers in local government being balloted to take on the government’s pay policy, as well as those in Ofsted, the probation service and the meat hygiene service ‘and all services in dispute through no fault of their own’.
Prentis pledged that, ‘All unions here today will stand up to defend public services and their members who provide them. In solidarity we will win.’
Sally Hunt, general secretary of the University and College Union (UCU) said that ‘real term pay cuts over the past four years’ for UCU members in further education are the reason that London members were taking strike action again.
She reminded the rally that college lecturers are currently the lowest paid teaching professionals in England and warned that strike action will be nationwide in September if management does not come up with a better deal.
Employers offered a deal worth only 2.5% in cash terms. Although couched as a 3% offer, it doesn’t start until October 1 rather than August 1, as is normal.
Hunt, continued: ‘There is a deepening concern about the future of our public services, of which pay is just one part.
‘In our universities and colleges the private sector has grown 80% in ten years and now makes up one third of all provision.
‘The latest hair brained scheme is to sell student debt to the City of London.
‘Do ministers really not understand why the polls look so bad? The real problem is that while money can always be found to bail out the banks, the piggy bank is always empty when it comes to teachers, nurses – and now even the police.’
Mark Serwotka, PCS general secretary, called for all the public sector unions to implement ‘the TUC policy of last September, which recognises that when the government attacks us all, we need to stand together’.
He said civil servants in the Department for Work and Pensions were on rates of pay so low ‘it means no holiday, take a second job and lie awake at night wondering which bills to pay’.
He said the unions had already won the argument against privatisation ‘yet the government continue to ignore us’.
The unions could no longer ‘turn the other cheek’ and had to pressure the government to back down, as they had on the 10p tax rate, he went on to say.
To loud applause, Serwotka concluded that if Gordon Brown still continued to treat public sector workers ‘in such a disgraceful way’, then he would be waking up to newspaper headlines saying all the public sector workers were going ‘to walk out on strike on the same day’.
Other speakers included Matt Wrack (Fire Brigades Union), Jonathan Ledger (NAPO) and Len McCluskey (UNITE).
Striking Museum of London staff marched up into Westminster Central Halls under the banner of Prospect, alongside lecturers from the UCU.
Mark Elkadhi, Croydon College UCU press officer, said: ‘2.5% or 3% is still basically a cut in our pay.
‘There are 26 other public sector unions here today and I think people are fed up with under-inflation pay offers.
‘Our college principal is getting an over 9% pay increase.’
David Armstrong, Barnet College UCU secretary, said: ‘There was a strong picket line at Barnet this morning, with at least 30 out picketing at the three main sites.
‘Absolutely, there should be a general strike. Bring on 1926!’
Tina Swingler, a striking archaeologist from the Museum of London Hackney site, said: ‘We’re out for 24 hours because we’ve been offered a woeful 2% after waiting 13 months for our pay rise to come through – and we’ve only got 1.5% of that backdated.’
Forty lecturers and their supporters were on the picket line yesterday outside Hackney Community College.
Traffic was hooting as it passed and the pickets beat bongo drums in response.
A lecturer teaching English, Liam Brown, from the UCU union, said: ‘We are out today out of concern with the way Further Education, and particularly A-levels, are being run down.
‘The funding for A-levels is far less than for skill-based vocational courses like construction.’
Bob Galvani, teaching painting and decorating, said: ‘There is a real need to address the gap between FE pay and teachers’ pay and 2.5 per cent doesn’t even keep up with inflation, it gets nowhere near addressing that gap.
‘When Tony Blair came in he said education, education, education.
‘What he meant was on the cheap, on the cheap, on the cheap.’