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Saturday 11th
posted by Morning Star in Features

Public-sector workers must stand poised to vote for industrial action to smash the Tories’ pay cap, argues MARK SERWOTKA

A decisive Yes vote by tens of thousands of PCS members in our consultative ballot on pay sends a powerful message to the government this week to act to scrap the 1 per cent public-sector pay cap and fund above-inflation pay rises.

Almost 99 per cent agree the pay cap should be scrapped and that funds should be made available for an above-inflation increase.

Nearly 80 per cent are prepared to take part in industrial action if the government don’t scrap the cap.

This result is a major achievement for PCS and I hope the beginning of the wider campaign. Let’s make sure that all unionised public-sector workers become ballot-ready in a united opposition to the Tory pay cap.

PCS has been campaigning against it since it was introduced and I am proud we have fought austerity pay from the beginning.

There has never been a more important time to step up our campaigning. The general election and post-election period have seen public-sector pay become a major political issue. The government is weak and under pressure from all sides to lift the pay cap. They are already making contradictory statements with Jeremy Hunt saying the cap is lifted in the NHS and Philip Hammond insisting the policy remains.

It’s easy to say the cap is lifted, but if no new money is allocated then it becomes a pay versus jobs argument. We must insist that the Chancellor fully funds any pay rises.

Hammond might try to deflect and defer the issue in the Budget by referring to pay review bodies due to report next spring. With 55 per cent of public-sector workers not covered by pay review bodies this is simply not good enough.

We must also see through the Tory plans to sow division in our movement by dividing uniformed workers against non-uniformed, the NHS against the Civil Service, prison officers against local government workers.

Yes, nurses need a pay rise and so do the porters and cleaners that keep our hospitals running.

Teachers need a pay rise and so do teaching assistants and all other school support staff.

Our movement must reject any attempt to argue there are some public-sector workers more “deserving” than others.

In the Civil Service, PCS members keep this country running, delivering public services. Jobcentre workers, staff in courts, our border staff and the HMRC workers who collect the tax that pays for the public services we all rely on. They all deserve a pay rise that stops the decline in living standards.

The PCS ballot result comes at a critical moment in the pay campaign; with the budget on November 22 it is time to say enough is enough.

Government pay policy and inflation has seen the value of civil servants’ pay fall by an average of £3,000. If it continues — as planned — until 2020, the value of civil servants’ pay will have fallen by 20 per cent. There are similar losses across the public sector.

When we launched the major consultative ballot during October, we wanted to test the mood of the members and start to build a campaign in which we could win a statutory strike ballot if the government won’t back down.

When our national executive undertakes its detailed analysis of this result, we will consider if indeed we are ballot-ready. For all of us now, winning a legal ballot for industrial action under the new terms would be an uphill task.

The CWU proved that with effort, it can be done. We can all take heart and learn lessons from their momentous effort paying off.

With this in mind, PCS mounted a vigorous campaign to get the message across to as many members as possible. This included a series of escalating pay day workplace protests, rallies, an intensified social media campaign, staff deployed onto organising with branches and running phone banks to remind members to vote.

A postal ballot is an outdated method of consultation. The means of communication have changed massively since 1987 when Margaret Thatcher introduced it — 30 years on workers carry smart phones and have digital access 24/7. When the new Trade Union Act was introduced last year, some in our movement thought that the days of national ballots in the bigger unions were over. However, PCS didn’t accept the doom and gloom.

Instead we worked harder to reach our membership and we conducted this consultative ballot for just that reason. Using new methods of consultation, including by internet and phone, to supplement the face-to-face contact in the workplace that is key, we were able to gather votes from 49 per cent of our membership.

Falling just short of 50 per cent obviously tells us that we need to do more. Now, however, when we receive a detailed breakdown of the ballot, we will know where that extra effort needs to be applied.

This analysis of the turnout will inform our deployment of organisers in the next few months as we seek to engage the rest of our membership.

We also welcomed 3,000 new members to PCS as a result of the campaign, proving yet again that active unions win new members.

We were encouraged too by the excellent result in the CWU ballot. We met and discussed with them the lessons of their campaign, including the introduction of Facebook Live sessions, to engage activists and members across the country.

With 99 per cent of PCS members rejecting the pay cap and wanting it scrapped and 80 per cent saying they are prepared to take industrial action to achieve it is a brilliant result and a damning indictment of the Tory pay policy.

We have used this result to write to Theresa May and Hammond demanding serious talks and a change of policy. The Budget is a time they could change track.

Our members are continuing to apply maximum pressure by emailing the Chancellor in their thousands with details of wages lost during the austerity years.

We won’t hold our breath for a positive outcome without a fight because we know what the Tories are like.

PCS is now “ballot ready” should the government not back down. The fight for public-sector pay is not just ours. We know that our movement is stronger and more effective together.

We will be talking to our colleagues across the trade union movement to build a united public-sector campaign with other unions too preparing to be ballot-ready. The time for united action is now and we want to play our part in ensuring all public-sector workers get the above inflation pay rise they deserve.


• Mark Serwotka is general secretary of PCS.