Low-paid council workers are right to strike for better wages in the current economic context. And yet there are many economic fallacies – in fact, outright lies – being bandied about by the treacherous, traitorous Labour Government. These are the very people who have suffered most as a result of 11 years of Brownian economic policy: and yet many of them will have rejoiced at Blair’s 1997 election victory and will have faithfully voted Labour in every subsequent election.
Why do I support a strike by UNISON members? Because improving the pay of the low paid in the economic climate caused by Brownian-Darlingian economic mismanagement, the ‘credit crisis’ and rising prices is morally right and socially just.
Let’s clarify two facts to begin with. First, 250,000 low-paid public sector workers on £6.50 an hour (of whom 75% are women, according to UNISON) have rejected a derisory 2.45% pay offer. So it’s not just about low-paid workers (on around £13k a year for a 40-hour week) who need improved pay in order to be able to pay the bills, school uniforms, mortgage or rent etc, but it’s about equal pay for women. These workers provide essential services such as:
social workers, housing benefit workers, rent collectors refuse workers, school meals staff, teaching assistants, cooks, cleaners, architects and surveyors.
These workers have been hammered by the 10p tax rate debacle and by other factors such as rising petrol and food prices. They’re now seeking a 6%, or 50p an hour, increase in their pay. Darling’s attitude is that, ‘we have introduced the minimum wage so there.’ However, it was never supposed to be a maximum wage.
Second, the economic fallacy that increasing the wages of low-paid public sector workers would be inflationary. This is an outright lie. This is a small part of the workforce which is in the public sector – therefore, their wage increases do not increase prices of private sector goods and services.
Yes, the money would have to come from somewhere – council tax or from Central Government – but it is simply not right to say that this scenario is similar to the 1970s winter of discontent. There is no hyperinflation like then and food price rises are largely due to external factors as well as the actions of City speculators and the biofuel industry, as last night’s Dispatches reported.
So there will be a strike and hopefully the Government and the councils’ employer association will see sense on this matter. And save these low-paid workers from financial ruin. But let’s not forget that the Government has got these workers into this mess with its policies.
UNISON should have broken its links with the Labour Party in the interests of its members – do low-paid union members really wish to see their money go into the coffers of the Government that has ruined them? And the union should not bankroll Labour at the next election – all they’ll get is slapped in the face.
Amazing as may sound to many trade unionists, the interests of UNISON members would be better served by a Government that implements radical low-tax policies for low-paid workers (as advocated by Conservative Home’s Tim Montgomerie). If public sector workers on £6.50 an hour could keep more of their own money, then there wouldn’t be any need for this strike.
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