Thursday 10 July will be a magnificent display of trade union solidarity, as almost 1.5 million public sector workers take action simultaneously.
Whether it’s local government or civil service pay, firefighter pensions or teachers’ workloads – the underlying problem is the same: public sector workers are being made to carry the can for the economic crisis.
Due to pay and pension cuts, some of our members have seen real terms losses in their income of 20% since 2010. Yet the top bosses continue to get inflation-busting pay deals, and a tax cut too.
This will only intensify with the public sector-wide pay cap scheduled to continue into the next Parliament, with the harshest years of austerity planned for 2015/16 and 2016/17.
Labour needs to reject these plans. Don’t tell us “the money isn’t there” when it can be found for corporate tax cuts, for war, and for nuclear weapons. When the richest 1,000 Britons wealth increased by £70 billion last year – enough to give every worker a £2,000 pay rise – don’t tell us you’ll be governing “with less money around”.
This is why joint action now needs to be sustained. This is an attack on all public sector workers, and so united public sector wide action is the best response. By the autumn, up to a million health workers may also have been balloted for strike action.
The public sector is not alone in being hit by austerity. Many parts of the private sector have suffered similarly. Last year average incomes declined. What sort of recovery is it in which incomes fall for 80% of households, and only the top 20% see even a slight recovery?
Those who deploy the argument, “it’s bad for them, so why are you moaning” or “you’re lucky to have a job at all” are suffering from the workplace equivalent of Stockholm syndrome.
The whole essence of trade unionism is to argue that by standing together, united, we can improve the situation for everyone. Uniting together in action is a natural response to being under attack.
Disabled people have undoubtedly been the hardest hit by austerity, by the attacks on benefits, the imposition of the bedroom tax and now by the proposed abolition of the Independent Living Fund.
Groups like Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) have been inspirational in campaigning against the cuts, not only in their actions – from blocking roads and occupying abbeys – but in the fact that they have organised themselves, built networks among disabled people that has given confidence to others and changed perceptions. They have refused to be victims.
The Tories are also threatening legislation to ban public sector strikes or lay down thresholds that if applied to political ballots would empty council chambers and much of Parliament. If they are successful our movement may need to learn from successful direct action groups like DPAC and UK Uncut.
With so much common ground and so much injustice, trade unions must come together, including with other campaigning organisations, after 10 July and find ways of organising against George Osborne’s recovery for the rich and austerity for the rest.
One event will be the TUC’s 18 October demonstration ‘Britain needs a pay rise,’ which should include demands for higher benefits for those suffering most under Iain Duncan Smith’s oppressive regime.
We as trade unions need unity around a common dispute around pay, as we did over pensions in 2006, which would involve common demands and a central process of negotiation with the government. Solidarity gets results. Let 10 July be the start.