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Winning the council workers' claim

The 48-hour strike by 600,000 council workers is testimony to the strength of feeling among the low-paid, rank and file of the Unison and Unite unions. Whatever doubts they may have had about striking would surely have vanished yesterday when official inflation figures showed prices rising at their highest rate since 1992.

Council workers strike
The London demo today

Council workers strikeWith the cost of feeding a family shooting up by 10% in a year, the 2.45% offered to council workers by the employers – backed up by the New Labour government – is the equivalent of a substantial pay cut. Eggs have soared by over 37% in price, butter by 31.%, fresh milk by nearly 20% and potatoes by 17p in the pound.

The impact is felt greatest by those with the least amount to spend – those on strike today and tomorrow. In the pipeline are huge increases in gas and electricity, while the cost of petrol rises almost on a daily basis as the global corporations try to maintain their profit margins.

The question is: How is the modest claim for an increase of 6% or 50p an hour more to be won? The government has made it plain that “fighting inflation” is its priority. In ordinary language, that equates to holding down wages in the public sector while prices soar. New Labour is backed by the Tories, who control the employers’ negotiating body.

If union leaders like Dave Prentis of Unison are really serious about winning the claim – and there are real doubts about their intentions – they must make this week’s strikes a starting point for a campaign to defeat the government because, make no mistake, that’s what is involved. One or two-day stoppages will not achieve this and run the risk of demoralising strikers.

Unison and Unite leaders must prepare for all-out, indefinite action which is co-ordinated with other unions who have outstanding pay claims, like the teachers and civil servants, some of whom are also out on strike today. A decade of cosying up to New Labour has produced few results, as shown by the 48-hour strike. Now union leaders must listen to their members and totally reject New Labour’s policies, which are aimed at offloading the crisis on to the backs of ordinary workers.

The unions should lead a real fight against inflation which would rouse public support by campaigning along the following lines:

Just like the Tories, Brown and company are tied hand-and-foot to big business interests. If winning the strike involves breaking, even bringing down, New Labour, the government’s demise would be no great loss. Such an event would create a unique opportunity for trade unionists and other workers to discuss new political possibilities as well as real solutions to the deepening economic and financial crisis.

Paul Feldman
AWTW Communications editor
16 July 2008

Fiona says:

Only 25% of the UNISON membership who were eligible to vote actually bothered to return their ballots. Of that there was only a very narrow majority in favour of strike action - why? Apathy? Or are union members cynical about their union's ability to gain anything for them or to be serious about their claims. Neverthelss there does seem to be a solid strike going on. Time will tell whether it will bear any fruit.

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