Today the national negotiators representing the employers of more than a million local government workers in England, Wales and Northern Ireland (the largest organised bargaining group in the UK economy) made a final pay offer of 1% with no strings, effective 1 April.
Perennial optimist, and lead negotiator for the GMB, Brian Strutton, says there’ll be “relief” that this marks the end of the outright pay freeze (http://www.gmb.org.uk/newsroom/gmb-consults-members-on-pay-offer). Even he has to concede though that there will be “disappointment that there is only 1% on the table.”
Prices are increasing at a rate of more than 3%, so a pay rise of 1% would concede a further 2% reduction in our standard of living to compound the 16% fall in our real wages/salaries since 2009.
Heather Wakefield, for UNISON, makes the point that “we held out for a better deal” (http://www.unison.org.uk/asppresspack/pressrelease_view.asp?id=3043) - and that our National Joint Council (NJC) Committee can be expected to consider the offer against the backdrop of our falling living standards.
Our officials do need to wait for our elected lay Committees to make recommendations - but lay activists, speaking for ourselves, need not be so reticent.
The 1% offer - equivalent to the offer which has just been decisively rejected in a consultative ballot by Scottish local government workers - is barely even worth considering.
If we bend the knee, without a fight, and swallow a below-inflation pay rise after three years of pay freeze we will do our members and our union an injustice.
For our members (us!) - we cannot afford a continuing decline in our living standards in a country which (according to the Sunday Times “rich list”) now boasts 88 billionaires. Our members are often now failing to make ends meet, and payday loans are increasingly a feature of everyday life. We may, of course, fight for more and fail - but we will only fail our members if we fail even to fight.
For our union - this is an existential crisis for national bargaining (and therefore in the longer term for national trade unions as we have known them for decades). If we cannot mobilise a national fight for a national pay rise that at least beats price inflation after a three year pay freeze then it doesn’t matter how high we build our towers on the Euston Road - our relevance as a national organisation is called into question.
As the North West Region motion agreed earlier by the NJC Committee made clear, we are not charging ahead because we want a strike - but we have to recognise that we must respond with strike action to this continuous assault upon our real earnings and standard of living.
A 1% offer deserves 100% rejection.
Courtesy of Jon Rogers of Jon’s union blog