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Public Sector Pay
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The whole public service sector is coming under a direct offensive on their livelihood and rights, with the New Labour government offering them pay increases under the rate of inflation. NHS staff, prison officers, teachers, police and other public service workers, all are faced with a struggle to affirm their right to decent pay and conditions. Unions such as the GMB and the Prison Officers Association have been struggling with the government who no longer use the method adopted at the time of the welfare state, of free collective bargaining by which employees and employers would sit down and discuss the terms of a pay deal, but who now seem not to engage in any discussion at all but simply dictate. Most workers and their unions have been left with no option but to go for strike action, but there are public sector workers that do not have the right to strike, such as the police, and the prison officers are having their right to strike challenged by the government. The Justice Secretary Jack Straw wants to impose a ban on industrial action for the prison officers, replacing the negotiated no-strike agreement.
So there is a struggle developing amongst the public service workers who want to guarantee their interests in having a decent wage to live on and to provide a healthy life by which they can function and engage with the world. It is also a struggle to provide good public services run for the benefit of the human being. This struggle must be seen as part of the struggle against the whole attack on the working class, and it is a struggle that must be engaged in by the public sector workers to unite the whole working class in a fight that will guarantee the working classs security.
It is certainly not Brown and his government who will provide security for workers. Brown is offering a three-year pay deal for public sector workers, with a proposed 2.45% for teachers from September this year, and 2.3% in each of the two following years, and following strikes a phased 2.5% rise for prison officers, over three years. This goes for the rest of the public service workers, with Brown trying to cap the rise at 1.9 %. Mark Serwotka, general secretary of the Public and Commercial Services Union, the biggest civil service union, said: "We suspect these proposals are about driving down the pay of hard-working staff who deliver the everyday things we take for granted." The governments so-called reasoning is that these under inflation offers are said to be to keep inflation down, completely ignoring the independent pay review bodies.
After plans like Agenda for Change in the NHS which were a way for the government to avoid legal action over miserly wages, and saw increase in hours for NHS staff, this three-year deal is yet another way for the government to underpay Britains public service workers. This has been met with anger and militancy by the workers and their unions, who are all planning actions and to wage struggle showing resistance. TUC General Secretary, Brendon Barber, stated that the government are on a collision course with 6 million public servants. He also said, The rationale that limiting pay increases would tackle inflation was not credible, citing research from Income Data Services showing increases in public sector pay follow inflation rather than fuel it.
These are the strong words by the unions, but how do the workers turn into a material force these findings based on their experience of a government implementing the interests of the monopoly capitalist class which is trying to launch on them an offensive that is not only attacking their rights but trying to stop them fighting for them? The workers of our public services have been increasingly understanding and concluding that it is they who must make the decisions. This was expressed, for example, by health workers at a recent NHS demonstration who militantly chanted slogans: Whose work places? Our work places! Whose hospitals? Our hospitals! Who decides? We decide!
This understanding in an act of finding out is the workers enlightenment that they hold the key to their own future. The workers must continue this act of finding out by engaging in the struggle and seeing that only by they themselves becoming the decision makers, creating a government that holds the people as the ones who determine their own future, can workers be paid their worth. Only in this way can services that are run for the benefit of the workers and the working class as a whole be realised, building a society centred on the human being. This situation can be turned around through organising. Humiliation can be transformed into dignity through acts of conscious participation of individual workers, militating in and through their own collectives, through acts of finding out the methods and theory of working class organising and leadership. In this way can the workers free themselves from a capital-centred outlook. In this way can the workers through their determined and persistent efforts adopt their own outlook, and reject the viewpoint of the monopoly capitalist class that calls on the workers to work together for the benefit of the rich.
WDIE fully supports the public service workers, and the struggle they have embarked upon. We call on them and all who are allied with them to adopt the perspective that, in order to set their seal on the direction of the economy, to discuss in the course of their struggles how the working class and people can achieve that political power which enables a way out of the crisis to be found and implemented. May the struggle for the working class to be the decision-makers have every success in 2008! Our Security Lies in our Fight!
PCS and Unison Statements:
January 14, 2008
PCS called for joint action over pay by public sector trade unions at today's TUC meeting of the Public Services Liaison Group.
The move comes in response to government plans for three year pay deals across the public sector, which the union fears will result in below inflation settlements leading to pay cuts in real terms for millions of Britain's civil and public servants.
With below inflation pay increasingly becoming a problem, the union also announced that it would be organising a national lobby of Parliament in the spring over below inflation pay.
The call coincided with PCS members announcing that they would starting a work to rule in the Home Office next Monday over a below inflation three year pay offer which saw a large proportion of staff receiving a cost of living increase of just 1% last year with a 0.5% increase this year.
Elsewhere in the civil service, the union warned that members in the Department for Work and Pensions could take further strike action on 31 January, should there be no progress through talks. The dispute over the imposition of a three-year pay offer in the DWP has already seen a strongly supported two-day strike in December. Staff are angry over the below inflation three year deal which sees 40% of staff receive no pay increase this year and people's pay cut in real terms over the three years.
Commenting, Mark Serwotka, PCS general secretary, said: "If you look at the three year deals in the DWP and the Home Office it is becoming increasingly clear that the government are seeking to drive down pay in real terms with their proposals for three year pay deals across the public sector. The 2005 pensions campaign showed that when unions work together they are stronger and can win, which is why we are calling on public sector trade unions to campaign together and prepare for joint action to ensure civil and public servants don't see their pay cut in real terms. With growing anger across the public sector, the government need to recognise that hard working civil and public servants will not tolerate below inflation pay or the false premise of being used as an anti-inflationary tool when it is clear that their wages aren't fuelling inflation."
January 10, 2008
Unison will unite and bring its whole strength to bear over the next few months against what general secretary Dave Prentis called "the most unjust pay policy I've ever seen".
That was the message as the union's leadership from around the country, and across every sector of public services, gathered in London for a pay summit to discuss the government's attempt to limit public-sector pay over the next three years to just 2%.
This is when inflation is more than 4% for the past year, making 2% rises a pay cut in real terms. Pay rises in the private sector are also running at around 3.5%-4%.
The seminar saw more than a hundred of the union's key leaders discuss how to build and organise a campaign for the reward and pay rises public service workers deserve, both across the 1.3-million strong union and across the six-million strong public service workforce, working with other unions in the various public-service sectors.
The government says its pay policy, announced in last autumn's comprehensive spending review, is about tackling inflation.
But the summit heard from incomes experts who pointed out that that public-sector pay isn't counted in the inflation index: and public-service pay rises don't increase inflation repeating a message from leading economists, quoted in a Financial Times report headlined "Inflation driven by potatoes" pointing out that inflation is about the cost of what people buy, not what public-service providers earn.
For Your Reference:
(taken from article Brown government set for conflict with public sector over pay and cuts By Chris Marsden, 15 January 2008, wsws.org)
Prime Minister Gordon Brown has announced his intention to impose three yearly pay awards set below 2 percent that will have a devastating impact on 6 million public-sector workers.
His announcement comes after last years decision to stagger the independently recommended 2.5 percent public-sector pay rise over two stages, equating to a de facto 1.9 percent rise.
Browns pay plans will represent a further cut, even if present inflation levels continued. He claims that Britain has inflation of only 2 percent, but this is only when measured by the consumer price index. Measured by the more realistic retail prices index, inflation is already well in excess of 4 percent. Energy prices have risen by 10 percent.
But the full scale of Browns attack can only be understood when measured against the threat of a global recession, accompanied by rising unemployment and inflation.
Brown prepared his announcement with a long and rambling interview in the January 6 Observer, in which he admitted his fears of a major downturn in the world economy
This was, he said, one of the most difficult years for the world economy. Theres absolutely no doubt, no doubt about it. Weve seen a credit crunch. It obviously started in the United States of America. But the global nature of financial markets means that it spread right across Europe and has got an impact on all the major industrial economies as things stand. It is combined with the uncertainty about the international situation that has produced very high and rising oil prices and commodity prices.
The question of course for Britain is how will we fare over these, over these next few months, he continued.
His answer is to seek to impose the full costs of the economic crisis on the backs of working people in the form of cuts in jobs, wages and essential services. Weve got to work very closely on the side of business facing this difficult time, he said.
His mantra constantly invoked over several pages was the need to keep down inflation by curtailing public spending, and public-sector pay in particular. His insistence on difficult decisions, tough decisions and tough, difficult, long term decisions centred on what could be gouged out of the working class in the interests of big business. His most revealing passage, on having the strength to take the long term decisions listed freezing public expenditure ten years ago, being very tough on public sector pay for many of the years and staging public sector pay last year.
Even when pressed repeatedly on the impact of an economic downturn on Britons who were going to feel a bit more pain, he could only respond by insisting on the importance of the Bank of England continuing to have the flexibility to deal with interest rates in the way it thinks best... we had to stage public sector pay in order to get inflation down.
On January 8, Brown gave his first press conference of the year, which led with his proposal for three-year pay deals in line with the governments 2 percent inflation target in order to maintain the stability of the economy.
Home Secretary Jacqui Smith has already written to the Police Federation offering a three-year agreement, and Health Secretary Alan Johnson has opened talks with health workers.
The public-sector pay cap is a major attack, but things will inevitably escalate given the extent of the crisis gripping the global economy. The World Economic Forum annual Global Risks report published last week states, the prominence of the UKs financial sector makes it more vulnerable than most developed nations to fallout from turmoil in the money markets and from the global credit squeeze that began with the sub-prime mortgage crisis in the US. It described the situation facing the world economy as the most serious in a decade, with global financial upheavals an immediate and acute threat.
Browns inflation estimates and targets will then look even more ridiculous than they do already, leading to a dramatic erosion in workers purchasing power.
The Observer itself listed 10 facts pointing to the imminence of an economic downturn that functions in some part as a negative assessment of Browns boasts that Britain is in a good position economically. It noted that from around 3 percent in 2007, GDP growth in the UK is expected to slip to 2 percent at best this year. It peaked against the dollar in November, and has been declining against the euro since the summer. David Bloom, chief currency strategist at HSBC, says sterling is set to take a pounding in the next 12 months.
The UKs economic scorecard has much in common with Americas, underlining its vulnerability to the gathering credit crisis, it continued. The housing market is widely judged to be overvalued; consumer balance sheets look stretched; and the trade deficit currently running at £7bn a month is a reminder that, just like the US, the UK is heavily dependent on rampant consumer spending.
The housing market has already slowed, and new mortgages approved in November were 40 percent lower than the same month last year. The Nationwide and Halifax predict zero house price growth and many analysts believe there will be outright decline.
Britons already have massive levels of personal debt, in excess of £1.4 trillion. But the credit squeeze and their own worsening situation have already led to cuts in spending and borrowing. The Observer notes that there is still £222 billion of consumer credit outstanding and with lenders likely to become stricter as a result of the crunch, there could be a painful comeuppance for a generation weaned straight from student loans to easily available plastic, piling up an ever-increasing mountain of debt along the way.
The papers accompanying leader said of Browns plans, Low inflation, low unemployment and room for manoeuvre on interest rates, he insists, make the UK a haven of stability in a volatile world. That is an optimistic view. A rival account highlights Britains excessive private debt, vastly inflated house prices, dependence on foreign finance and vulnerability to high energy costs.... Even in the best-case scenario, 2008 will be a year of relative austerity.... If people feel poorer and less secure at the end of the year than they do now, Mr. Brown could once again be a man in serious need of a plan.
Browns only plan is to target the working class on behalf of big business. Confirming that Browns announcement was a declaration of war on public-sector workers, the same day saw Jack Straw take the first step towards banning more than 25,000 prison officers from striking. The ban was tabled as an amendment to a Bill already being read in Parliament and is intended to be in force by May.
The ban was first imposed by the Conservatives in 1994 and was repealed by Labour in 2005 in favour of a voluntary agreement with the Prison Officers Association. But the POA ended cooperation because of Labours attacks on pay and conditions, and a wildcat strike was organised last August. The government gained a High Court injunction against the strike within hours of it beginning.
There is already a well of anger amongst public-sector workers. Last November, 200,000 civil servants also struck against plans to cut as many as 100,000 jobs, affecting job centres, museums, driving tests, benefit offices and Customs.
Police officers have recently demanded the right to strike after Home Secretary Jacqui Smith imposed a pay deal in line with the governments 2 percent limit, scaling back the 2.5 per cent rise recommended by their independent review body to 1.9 percent.
Britains biggest teachers union, the National Union of Teachers, is set for a strike ballot over pay and has threatened to call its first national strike in more than 20 years. UK Customs workers are also balloting for one-day strike action and a ban on overtime to oppose the closure of up to 250 offices and the loss of 25,000 jobs by 2011.
Against this background, the trade union leaders have been forced to make oppositional noises against Browns plans. The Trades Union Congress said the government is on a collision course with six million public servants. Brendan Barber, general secretary of the TUC, said, Confidence badly needs to be rebuilt after last years railroading through of below-inflation rises.
The GMB, which represents public-sector workers, flatly rejected three-year deals, with Brian Strutton, its national officer, stating that The argument public-sector pay has to be controlled to manage down inflation is economically flawed and socially unacceptable. The GMB and Unison, which also represents public-sector workers, said they were considering seeking a pay raise in defiance of Browns target and in order to catch up to private-sector pay rises of 4 percent each year. Unison is urging a 6 percent pay claim for the next financial year, while the GMB is considering 7 percent.
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