Trade unions must draw up their own cost of living index


YESTERDAY the UNISON trade union pointed out what most health workers know from hard experience, that; ‘Huge increases in the basics of life eat up “cost of living” pay increases for NHS staff covered by the nurses, and other health professions’ pay review body.’

In its evidence to the PRB, the union showed how last year’s 2.5 per cent pay rise ended up as a pay cut due to hikes in rent, council tax, electricity, gas, travel and food.

The union argues the case for a substantial pay increase, above the rate of inflation, to tackle these rising costs and reward health staff fairly.

It estimated that a 1.5 per cent pay rise when faced with huge increases in food, fares, electricity, and gas prices, as well as major increases in council taxes, tuition fees and mortgage interest payments turned it into a 10 per cent pay cut.

The government in fact declared war when it decided to award NHS staff with a 1.5 per cent rise. This was made clear by the accompanying Treasury warning that any increase above 1.5 per cent would be paid for by sacking health workers and closing hospitals.

Karen Jennings, UNISON Head of Health, declared about this line: ‘The Government’s threat of jobs or services cuts if pay rises by more than 1.5 per cent is a complete abrogation of its responsibilities to our national health service. If there is a problem with funding, it’s the Government’s duty to solve it.

‘The Treasury must keep out of the PRB’s deliberations and let it get on with the job and the Government must make a firm commitment to fund the recommendations in full. Anything less would undermine confidence in the PRB and could lead to strike action.’

Of course the government is not going to suddenly take up its responsibilities to the NHS, and neither is the Treasury going to keep out of the PRB’s decision making process.

Both the Treasury and the government have declared war on the health workers, and on the working class as a whole, and the job of the trade unions is to pick up the gauntlet that they have flung down and to defeat them.

Not just health workers but all workers know from harsh experience that the government’s upper inflation rate of 3.5 per cent is a fraud and does not take proper account of the necessities that make up the lion’s share of working class budgets.

The only way for the trade unions to stand up for their members is to draw up their own cost of living index, based on the necessities of working class life, and to put it to the PRB and to all public and private employers that this is what the workers want.

In a period where inflation is rampant, the trade unions must not only develop their own cost of living index, they must demand that there be a sliding scale of wages so that as inflation rises, based on monthly calculations using a trade union cost of living index, wages rise automatically to keep pace with it.

In today’s conditions this is the only way to begin a defence of the interests of the working class. The trade unions therefore must begin to show the enormous strength that they have.

To do this they need a new leadership that is willing to use that strength to defeat the enemy, going as far as to bring down the Blair-Brown government, to go forward to a workers’ government and socialism.

Thus far, the record of the trade union leaders is pernicious and treacherous.

They have already betrayed the struggle to maintain public sector final salary pensions.

They followed that up with the UNISON leaders’ betrayal of the NHS Logistics struggle, when after the Labour government was defeated hands down at the Labour Party conference on the issue of privatisation, they allowed NHS Logistics to be privatised just a few days later!

It was this treachery that convinced the government that it could get away with slapping NHS workers in the face with their 1.5 per cent pay offer.

There must be a change of policy in the trade unions to defend wages, jobs and pensions, and there must be a change of leadership. The pathetic reformist trade union leaders must be sacked to see that the job is done.