By a PCS Rep
ON 6 SEPTEMBER, the Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS) announced a major campaign to scrap the 1% pay cap, which has hit all civil servants and other public sector workers, including nurses, firefighters and council workers.
In the Civil Service, the cap has been combined with increases in pension and national insurance contributions and the end of salary progression. We are really feeling the pinch of austerity.
Research commissioned by PCS shows that, between 2010 and 2016, the value of pay in the Civil Service fell further than in both the rest of the public sector and the private sector. PCS members are on average more than £3000 worse off in real terms. Over the last ten years, wages have actually fallen by 9% against inflation; by 2020 this will be 17 per cent.
PCS wants the pay cap lifted and for the Treasury to authorise above-inflation pay rises to restore salaries and make up for the lost earnings. Our key demand is for a 5% pay rise.
A Downing Street spokesperson dismissed talk about lifting the cap by saying, “We recognise the sacrifice they are making,” much like a World War I general might have talked about his troops before sending them over the top.
Theresa May herself dismissed the idea of scrapping the cap as “more money to be spent on this, that and the other”. The callous calculations of the Tories unmasked: we are simply an irritating expense to them, so let’s irritate them some more!
The campaign will start with a consultative ballot for industrial action. This will take place between 9 October and 6 November and is timed so the results can be announced before the government’s budget in November.
Long-serving staff in the Department of Works and Pensions particularly welcomed the news. Many of them opted out of last year’s pay deal and are now earning less than new starters. They refused to give up their weekends in return for a derisory, below inflation, pay “increase”. Instead, they want the government to pay the rate for the job.
The timing of the campaign also coincides with the TUC Congress, where PCS will ask once again for the support of all public sector unions in a campaign of industrial action.
The last time the public sector unions responded to such a call was in 2011, when all major public service unions did strike to defend our pensions. But, the day after an unprecedented two-million-strong strike, most unions accepted the cuts, leaving PCS, Unite (NHS), teachers and lecturers to fight on – and even this minority fragmented further, as union leaders lost their bottle.
The lesson of the pensions fiasco is that rank and file members have to organise independently to force their union leaders to call the necessary action and unite with other parts of the public sector. Not only this, we must all be prepared to fight alone, if unity with other unions cannot be arranged.
There is going to be a multi-union protest on 12 October and there are payday protests planned over the coming months in various civil service departments – indeed these have already started in some workplaces, like the Courts (MoJ) and Tax Offices (HMRC).
PCS is also proposing that the TUC Congress call a national pay demonstration to bring together the whole labour movement: another step towards a campaign of industrial action.
One of the main stumbling blocks for PCS and all public sector unions is the Tories’ latest anti-trade union legislation. The PCS ballot is only consultative and is a test of whether the union can reach the undemocratic thresholds set by these laws: 50% of all members must participate in a postal ballot and 40% of all members must vote “Yes”.
Using a perverse logic worthy of a dictatorship, those who do not vote for whatever reason, or wrongly remain on the register of members even though they are no longer employed, are judged to be against action.
PCS has never achieved such thresholds in a postal ballot, which is why the Tories insist that unions cannot conduct the ballots online, by telephone or in workplace meetings. The vote can be won, even under these conditions, but it will take organisation and confidence, which is why the demonstrations and practice-run consultative ballot are so important.
The question does arise, however, what if a majority support action but these undemocratic hurdles are not surmounted? Our answer is that the strike should go ahead despite the law. It is clear that these laws are an affront to workers’ democracy imposed by a Tory government that not only failed to meet these thresholds in the general election, but didn’t even get a majority of MPs!
We would not have a trade union movement in this country if our forebears had not been prepared to break the law. We owe it to future generations to defend the right to strike so they are able to stand up to the bosses and their government.