‘Poverty pay’ #J10 strike begins across UK
Millions of public sector workers have walked out today during a massive coordinated strike against ‘poverty pay’, attacks on pensions, heavy workloads and workplace safety.
A number of unions including Unison, Unite, GMB and the Public and Commercial Services Union alongside the National Union of Teachers and the Fire Brigade Union are manning picket lines nationwide.
Transport for London staff are also taking part, and there is a possibility that prison officers will take unofficial ‘wildcat’ action.
Most public sector workers have seen years of pay freezes while the cost of living has continued to rise. The TUC estimates that public sector workers have been £2,500 worse off a year since 2010.
The government justifies the freeze claiming that in a time of austerity they don’t have the funds to raise wages in line with inflation.
“Politicians of all parties continue to trot out this rubbish daily to justify huge cuts in public spending, including the jobs and pay of millions of public servants from jobcentre staff to tax credit advisers, and from nurses to teachers and firefighters,” said Mark Serwotka, General Secretary of the Public and Commercial Services Union, which represents civil servants.
“The truth is we are not broke, it is just that the money is flowing in the wrong direction, and often into the offshore accounts of wealthy tax dodgers.
“After four years of this government's pay freeze and 1 percent cap, public servants, like most people, simply cannot make ends meet,” he said.
Hundreds of schools nationwide have been forced to close their doors today as teachers walk out over pay, pensions and workloads. Christine Blower, General Secretary of the National Union of Teachers, the largest teachers’ union, said the action was a last resort, but said the “profession is on its knees.”
“For teachers, performance related pay, working until 68 for a full pension and heavy workload for 60 hours a week, is unsustainable,” she said.
“This action is the responsibility of a government and education secretary who are refusing point blank to accept the damage their reforms are doing to the teaching profession.”
Blower also said skilled teachers were leaving the profession due to low morale, creating a danger of future staff shortages.
“Teaching is one of the best jobs in the world, but is being made one of the worst under Michael Gove and the coalition,” she said.
— UNISON - the union (@unisontweets) July 9, 2014
— NUT (@NUTonline) July 9, 2014
— Martin Powell-Davies (@MPDNUT) July 9, 2014
The firefighters union, the FBU, has joined the strikeas part of its ongoing campaign on pensions and workplace safety. General Secretary Matt Wrack told RT the government is destroying public services and “wrecking the lives of millions.”
“The fact that this government has united so many workers to take strike action against them is a testament to the failure of their policies,” Wrack told RT.
The government’s pension deal means his members face “a stark choice of being sacked or losing half their pension,” he said.
“This is outrageous and all the claims that the government values our firefighters have been exposed as an utter lie.”
The coordinated action has drawn the ire of politicians of all the major parties, who point out the need for belt-tightening, accusing the unions of making unreasonable demands. Dave Prentis, general secretary of the UK’s second largest union, Unison, highlighted both the anti-trade union laws and efforts to discredit the strikes.
“The Tories, aided and abetted by their friends in the media, will do everything they can to rubbish the members and attack the few employment rights that we have left,” said Prentis.
“Don’t forget we already have some of the toughest strike laws in Europe.
“Instead of threatening to make them even tougher, we need changes that would reduce the unfair advantage that employers have.”
US labor activist, Ginger Jentzen, a key organizer of the $15 Now campaign in Seattle, which won a historic rise in the national minimum wage in June this year, will be joining strikers in solidarity with the National Shop Stewards Network (NSSN).
Jentzen, who has lent her support to the Network’s own £10 Now minimum wage campaign, said pressure from trade unionists and low wage workers could change the political debate.
“Wealth inequality is on the political agenda in the US and it’s a testament to the pressure from below in terms of the low wage worker walkouts,” she said.
“We can go on the offensive and make gains that will solidify a living wage for all people so they don’t have to worry about their basic needs.”
“It’s obvious that a lot of the organizers and workers here have been inspired by what happened in Seattle. If we organize together as working people, we can win.”
Ministers announced at the weekend that the pay freeze would continue until 2018.