The Tory led Local Government Association (LGA) has said there will be no increase in pay in 2010-2011. They say there is not enough money available to fund an increase and this is the only way they have to protect jobs and services in the economic crisis. The Labour minority group on the LGA have suggested a 1% increase for the lowest paid — a small crumb of comfort.
This is Tories practising for national power and adopting a hard line stance on pay. It is only a prelude for what a Cameron government will attempt.
Alongside the pay freeze there is also an attempt to renegotiate the terms of the local government pension scheme. Employee contributions are likely to rise as the employers use a loophole negotiated into the last agreement where any further costs would be met by members.
The unions have expressed outrage at the announcements but done no more than appeal for the employers to “come to their senses”.
Unison, GMB and Unite, representing 1.6 million workers in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, had been calling for a rise of 2.5% or £500 for the lowest paid. They say such a rise is affordable and produced a set of calculations to prove it. But the pay freeze is not a result of the employers being stupid, or unable to add up! It is a thought-out attack on workers. It’s an attempt to impose control and expose the weakness of union organisation, before moving on to deeper, more sustained attacks on the national framework of pay and conditions.
In the flurry of policy announcements and initiatives before the General Election two themes are dominant.
First, public sector workers are being called privileged — as compared to the private sector — and a costly burden to the economy.
Second, that public sector reforms haven’t gone far enough and the market should be given a greater role and the private sector a bigger chunk of the action.
One recent report has gone as far as to suggest that national scales of pay should be abolished, and, as local bargaining would not provide a competitive market, so all local government workers should be on individual contracts with pay related to performance.
Local government union pay campaigns in recent years have seen members vote for action, only for the unions to retreat after a few big strike days. What those strikes exposed was the weakness of local organisation, with some branches representing and mobilising only small numbers.
The campaigns have also been divided and seen the major unions failing to support one another. They relied on their support for Labour protecting their members from the worst of the attacks. Even if a Labour Government was re-elected, they are planning to deliver the same poison in smaller doses.
Real hope is to be found in the determination of members to protect their own jobs, pay and conditions. A major organising effort in local branches to prepare for future assaults is an urgent necessity. Initiatives of small groups of socialists in areas like Lambeth (report in next Solidarity) show it is possible to build an active membership even in times of a bosses’ offensive. They’ve also linked up with local communities in defence of services, recognising that lower pay means poorer services. The challenge is to replicate such examples nationally.