The following months will be decisive for our movement as we build a campaign against a backdrop of an unprecedented crisis for our members. The consequences if we don’t get this right will be disastrous. Now more than ever, we need to come together, fight and win.Mark Serwotka
- By Mark Serwotka, General Secretary, PCS trade union
The last twelve years of Tory rule have been a story of governments lurching from one crisis to another but the coming months are going to be like something we have never experienced before, with multiple crises all unfolding at the same time. In the face of the impending catastrophe, it’s only trade unions that can save us.
Unions need to be up for the fight because the outlook is unimaginably bleak. The cost of living crisis is crippling millions of families and the latest increase in energy bills for October and January is eye-watering. Once the January rise comes into effect, it’s predicted that 39 million people will be in fuel poverty, a staggering 54% of the country. And the forty-year high inflation rate will see the number of households in destitution – an extreme form of poverty – rise to 1.2 million.
It’s important to bear in mind that even before the situation gets far worse in the autumn and winter, millions are already struggling. 14.5 million people – one in five of the population – are living in poverty. Child poverty is also on the rise, with one in three children living in poverty. And earlier this year, the Trussell Trust foodbank network handed out a food parcel every thirteen seconds. This level of suffering in one of the richest nations on earth is unconscionable.
So why are things so bad already and why are they going to get much worse? The answer is simple: a relentless attack on people’s living standards by successive Conservative governments. Billions of pounds have been slashed from the welfare state, public services and housing. On top of this, pay has stagnated and millions of workers haven’t had a real terms pay rise for over ten years.
It was working-class people who paid the price for the 2008 banking crisis and it will be an injustice if the fallout of the crises-ridden last few years sees the same thing happen again. After being battered by austerity for more than a decade and now abandoned by the government at a time of crisis, workers are saying enough is enough.
The insulting pay offers put forward by employers and their pay review bodies fall way short of what’s needed during a time of double-digit inflation and have been roundly rejected by unions. Couple this with further assaults on terms and conditions and it’s no surprise there’s already been a wave of strike action across the country, with workers from the public and private sectors taking a stand. More unions are balloting their members at the moment or will be doing so very soon, including my union PCS.
PCS members work across the civil service and deliver essential public services. During the pandemic, they went above and beyond, often at great risk to their own safety, to continue providing them. Despite their hard work and dedication, the way the government treats these workers – their own workers – is simply appalling.
Their reward for everything they’ve done over the past year was a disgraceful pay award of on average 2%. To make matters worse, it’s been eleven years since PCS members were last given a real terms pay rise and their stagnating pay means they’re missing out on at least £2,800 each year. It’s not just pay where our members are being attacked: they’re overpaying into their pensions by 2% each month after the government failed to act following a high court ruling over pension changes.
They’re also having another go at slashing redundancy pay, even though we defeated them over this at the High Court in 2016. And not content with slashing pay and tearing up terms and conditions, they’re now coming for our members’ jobs, with over 91,000 jobs in the civil service at risk of being axed.
The attacks are on every front and they’re never-ending. That’s why we’re holding a national statutory ballot on the issue of pay, pensions, redundancy pay and job cuts. Our demands are for the government to not only shield members from the impact of the cost of living crisis but to compensate them for the decades-long onslaught on their living standards.
The desperate need for the justice they deserve is demonstrated by the response to our recent member’s survey. 40% told us that they’ve had to use credit to pay for essential items; 35% have skipped meals because they have no food and 8% have had to use a foodbank. This paints a harrowing picture and in my over twenty years as general secretary of PCS, I can’t think of a time when there was so much despair.
The situation in other unions will be similar and we all need to channel this anger into a joint campaign across the public and private sectors that can win for members. This year’s TUC Conference is a timely opportunity for unions to strategise and set out what this joint action will look like. We can share ideas and tactics on how to organise, and how beat the government’s anti-trade union legislation and we can discuss where joint-up, targeted action can have the biggest impact. Now is the time for the TUC and the unions within it to be bold and radical.
The following months will be decisive for our movement as we build a campaign against a backdrop of an unprecedented crisis for our members. The consequences if we don’t get this right will be disastrous. Now more than ever, we need to come together, fight and win.
- Mark Serwotka is General Secretary of the Public and Commercial Services trade union
- You can find out more about the PCS civil service pay campaign here
- You can follow PCS on twitter here
- Photo: PCS union members picket in Norwich – by Dave Seagrave from Wikimedia Commons