Socialist Alternative

Building a national pay campaign: How do we link up the struggles?

The cost-of-living crisis is only going to intensify over the coming months, with the Tory Government falling back on their usual practice of indifference to the suffering of the working class, and the bosses determined to make workers pay to protect their profits. 

Across the country workers are moving into struggle to deal with the unprecedented attacks on their standard of living. With soaring fuel prices, rents increasing and the price of food going up with every visit to the supermarket, the bosses continue to attack wages, terms and conditions in their drive to boost profits. 

The brutal tactics by the owners of P&O Ferries, sacking 800 workers, gives a glimpse of what the attacks on workers may involve in the coming months.

Underpaid, overworked and demoralised

In the NHS, many are working longer hours, many are working 6 days a week, with a maximum of 67 hours allowed per week, but they are still failing to close the gap with the rising energy prices, council tax and rent increases, and food and travel costs hikes. We have had a real-terms pay cut of nearly 20 per cent in the last 12 years, and with inflation set to continue to rise above 8.2 per cent, and National Insurance up 1.25 per cent, the 3 per cent pay offer is yet another pay cut. Hospital Trusts have even reintroduced car parking charges for their workers to pile on the misery. 

The Government would rather we work six days a week than invest in recruiting and training new staff. There are currently more than 100,000 vacancies in the NHS! Staff are left exhausted and demoralised which affects their ability to provide a high-quality service. The government is gradually running down services in preparation for further privatisation.

Workers’ resistance growing

But, across the country workers are taking on the bosses, as they strike for decent wages, and to protect their living standards: from the bin workers’ strikes in Coventry and Manchester, to the ongoing strike of the CHEP workers and in Higher Education. Many of these workers are the ‘key workers’ that kept the country functioning during the pandemic, and were lauded by the Government, but now we see the true nature of the Tories and their big business buddies. They have quickly forgotten the value of these key workers, and it’s now up to these workers to struggle against the profit system to get true recognition of their work. 

A system that forces workers to work 6 days a week, and still leaves them unable to pay all their bills, denying them a decent standard of living; a system that leaves many relying on food banks to feed their families, but creates bigger profit and wealth for the 1%, is a system that is useless to workers. 

There is growing discontent with this crisis-ridden economic system — it has never been more obvious that it is designed to benefit the wealthy and to oppress the workers.

Militant and coordinated action needed

The trade union movement, with 7 million members, will be central in the fight for a better standard of living. Disgracefully, trade union leaders and their bureaucracies have acted to block struggles and action. Rank-and-file activists have to find a way to organise and push around these blocks or push the leadership leftwards. By coordinating these struggles across sectors and unions, workers can win the real gains that they need. Pay campaigns must be taken onto the streets, organising rallies in towns and cities across the country, tapping into the frustration and anger caused by the cost-of-living crisis.

This pressure from below has already started to have an impact. Unison is the largest public sector trade union, and last year the left won a majority on its National Executive Committee (NEC) for the first time. However, even with a majority, the left group, Time For Real Change, have been frustrated by the right-wing and their bureaucracy. But they have been able to secure an increase in strike pay, from £25 a day to £50 from the first day of strike action and are proceeding with their mandate to make Unison a member-led union, based on organising and struggle. In Unite, the country’s largest trade union, Sharon Graham, the new General Secretary, was elected on a platform of supporting all workers’ struggles with the full weight of the union, and she has been prominent in her support for striking workers.

We can win by building on our strength. It is the solidarity of working-class people that is our greatest weapon in battles with the bosses. The co-ordination of disputes within a union and a particular sector is vital in strengthening our forces, in what could be a long and intense period of industrial disputes. Broadening the disputes from one particular site or employer will not only strengthen the workers in that dispute, but it prepares other workers for the oncoming attacks from their own employers.

Collective strength

Trade unions are strongest when they work together and coordinate their action. This will only happen if activists within trade unions continue to push and agitate for it. 

As rank-and-file trade unionists we need to be building links with other disputes, with solidarity messages and solidarity payments to strike funds from our union branches, visiting their picket lines, inviting striking workers to speak at our branches, and drawing on the support from wider public campaigns.

We will try and get local Labour Party Councillors and MPs to support the strikers and expose those that will not lend their support to workers in struggle. As rank-and-file trade unionists and activists we must push on every front in our support for striking workers, helping to broaden these struggles, drawing out the common themes and issues that many different disputes will share, and highlighting the importance of working-class solidarity to winning victories. We all have the same enemy: the bosses and their system!