Strike Action to Shut Schools, Hit Council and Government Offices as Public Sector Workers Say ‘Enough is Enough!’
Council workers across Camden will join the borough’s teachers and civil servants in tax and benefit offices as part of a national day of public sector strike action on Thursday 10 July. More than a million members of UNISON and at least four other unions (the GMB and Unite in local government, the NUT in primary and secondary education and the largest civil service union, the PCS) are set to strike over a range of issues across England and Wales with more limited action in Northern Ireland and Scotland.
Leaders of the firefighters’ union, the FBU, were due to meet today (01 July) to discuss further strike action in their pensions dispute with the Government, which could include a walk-out on Thursday week.
Virtually all Camden’s community and voluntary schools will either be closed or severely affected by teachers in the NUT and support staff organised by UNISON and the GMB. The teachers’ action, while co-ordinated with council worker’ unions, forms part of a long-running battle with Education Secretary Michael Gove over performance-related pay, attacks on the teachers’ pension scheme and staggering workloads.
In addition, several of Camden’s remaining libraries are likely to shut and services on the Council’s housing estates will be drastically reduced by the 10 July action.
Central to the local government dispute is the dramatic erosion of real pay for the vast majority of the workforce since 2009. The typical value of real wages has plunged by nearly 20% for most council workers, even as tens of thousands of jobs have disappeared in local authorities across Britain. In Camden alone, a borough hard hit by the Tory-led coalition funding cuts, the Council has axed more than 950 posts since summer 2010, with nearly 700 staff made redundant, mainly on a compulsory basis. Cuts of similar magnitude are predicted for the next four years.
In 2013 local government workers received a below inflation rise of just 1% after three consecutive years of an absolute pay freeze for hundreds of thousands from 2010-12. The Local Government Association, the umbrella body for council employers, has again offered only 1% at a time when the Retail Price Index is running at nearly 2.5% and reserves across councils nationally have actually risen to a cumulative £19 billion.
The situation of local government workers is a dramatic illustration of the ‘cost of living’ crisis affecting workers across Britain. A report from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, published on 30 June, has shown that since 2008 the income required to maintain an ‘acceptable living standard’ in a two-parent, two-child household has shot up by more than 30% to £40,600 a year.
UNISON’s national welfare fund (‘There for You’) has received a record number of applications in the past two years, paying out more than £1 million to union members, who are increasingly seeking help to meet rent or mortgage payments, or the weekly food bill.
Speaking of the local impact of real pay cuts, UNISON branch secretary George Binette said, “The branch’s own modest welfare fund was all but exhausted last year, with members desperately seeking support to pay the rent when threatened with eviction or utility bills when faced with disconnection. Some members have resorted to payday loan companies. And it’s not just the lowest paid. Against the background of ongoing real pay cuts, childcare and housing costs are creating serious financial problems even for those on salaries of £35-£40,000.”
Binette added: “Clamping down on public sector pay is an essential element in this Government’s austerity agenda, even as the rich really are getting richer, but this strike isn’t just about our local government pay claim. This day of action is a more generalised protest against austerity, a regime of cuts and still more privatisation of public services. In Camden, we appear to be faced with demands for a further £70 million in council-wide cuts over the next four or so years. These would inevitably mean hundreds of job losses and the prospect of still more drastic cuts to services.”
Following early morning picket lines, Camden strikers will be gathering for a local rally outside the borough’s Town Hall (Judd Street, WC1H 9JE) at 10.30 AM, proceeding to a central London march that starts outside the BBC’s Broadcasting House, Portland Place, W1 at 12 noon for a final joint union rally at Trafalgar Square.
Meanwhile, UNISON has threatened two further days of council strikes in September if the local authority employers fail to improve their current offer of a real pay cut, while there is the prospect of an industrial action ballot among NHS staff in response to the Government’s refusal to implement the Pay Review Body’s recommendation of a 1% across the board increase.
For further information, please contact George Binette, UNISON Branch Secretary, on the branch office number above or on 07557 563044/07905 826304.
NOTES TO EDITORS FOLLOW:
1. Camden UNISON is the largest recognised trade union in Camden Council with over 3,000 members among local authority employees, on outsourced Council contracts and in the voluntary sector. Late last year it launched a recruitment drive among school canteen workers employed by the private contractor Caterlink around the demand for the London Living Wage, now £8.80 an hour.
2. Alongside the other recognised unions representing local government workers across England and Wales (the GMB and Unite) UNISON has lodged a flat rate claim across all grades that equates to an increase of approximately £1.20 an hour that will ensure that the Living Wage becomes the minimum standard for all local government workers across Britain.
3. The Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) has recently published research by academics at Loughborough University highlighting the extent to which price rises for basic needs have dramatically outstripped increases in earnings for the population as a whole. While across Britain food costs have risen by 26%, domestic heating bills by 45% and bus travel by 37% since 2008.
4. At the time of writing the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) executive was meeting to discuss further industrial action in England and Wales in the context of a protracted dispute over damaging changes to firefighters’ pension scheme.