Trade Union delegates attending their annual conference in Brighton have voted for a series of strikes across the public sector over the government’s punitive pay policy. So what’s new? Many of those working in the public sector have long known that their pay levels have fallen in real terms since 1997.
But what are they doing about it? At first glance, nothing much. There will be the usual sabre-rattling rants against the Labour government, and that will basically be it. Historically, the situation will not be as bad as the infamous Winter of Discontent in 1978-79, where large sections of the UK workforce held a long series of strikes for better pay and conditions, which paved the way for the Conservatives to win the general election.
There has been very little coverage of the Trades Union Congress (TUC) in recent years because of successive governments’ legal constraints on the unions’ perceived power and the fact that their membership, like those of the Labour party, has fallen drastically. Yet this long-running dispute cannot be ignored entirely. A sustained co-ordinated campaign, with public support, could hurt the present government yet further as it stumbles from crisis to crisis…. and they would not even have to ‘break the law’.
These are the people who teach our children, empty our bins, maintain our parks and leisure centres, treat our illnesses, care for the children and elderly in need, and many more. One day, we may need to rely on them to help take care of us, and the environment. We must reward them by paying them a proper living wage.