UNISONActive is an unofficial blog produced by UNISON activists for UNISON activists. Bringing news, briefings and events from a progressive left perspective.

Monday, 10 September 2012

Activists and organisation key to pay fight

#tuc12 If we are to mount a credible campaign against austerity and the pay freeze, we need to organise our activists and get our members to believe in our cause. The campaign will not be won by arguments alone - strong as they are - but by organisation and collective action, Jane Carolan, UNISON Policy Chair, told the TUC Congress today.

Pointing to the Save the Children appeal to assist the poor, Jane said: "Appallingly, some of the families that feature in that appeal were working families - the working poor. That’s why this is not a fight about the private sector or about the public sector... No worker should be earning less than they need to lead a decent standard of living".

The TUC backed a campaign for co-ordinated action, for a living wage to prevent in-work poverty, promote a positive vision for public service provision in the interests of all citizens, and to use the October 20 demonstration to draw attention to these issues.

Here we print Jane's full speech:

"Let’s be quite clear. This composite is one of the most important topics on the Agenda this week. Entitled Austerity and the Pay freeze, the composite raises three of the most crucial questions that as trade unionists we need to face up to.
It raises the issue of the pay freeze that is cutting living standards of the working people of this country.

We have never all been in this together.

While merchant bankers and the Bob Diamond’s of this world continue to receive annual bonuses greater than many in this movement will earn in a life time, our members know that their pay packets no longer meet their basic needs.

Whether it's food prices, travel costs, whether the petrol to work or the rail fare, child care costs, energy prices, workers know that the wages they earn don’t go as far as they used to.

Don’t talk to our members about the effect of inflation on the marginal rate of consumption - they know that they are skint.

And it is a fact that those on the lowest wages have seen their wages fall by the greatest amount. Most of the money that they receive is spent on basic essentials- and it is the price of those basic essentials that is rising fastest.

For public sector workers as living costs rise they have seen a pay cut of 13% in their wages. For local government workers- the majority of whom earn less than £27,000 - the magic £250 promised by Wee Geordie Osborne has never materialised. For this Government, those who caused the crisis get to carry on as usual - those who were blameless suffer its consequences. To use two words not in the Tory vocabulary, that is both immoral and unjust.

This composite also raises the issue of workers rights - because a fundamental right is the right to a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work. How many read of the new Save the Children appeal last week to assist the poor?

Families in the UK struggling without basic essentials? Appallingly, some of the families that feature in that appeal were working families - the working poor. That’s why this is not a fight about the private sector or about the public sector.

In the TUC General Council report they quote the statistic that the share of national income going to wages has fallen by 14% in the last thirty years. Our share of the national pie, shared all by workers is now a little over 52%. We are all getting less and it is time that we started to redress that balance. A decent living wage is an essential part of that fight as the composite demands. No worker should be earning less that they need to lead a decent standard of living.

And it highlights fundamentally that if there is to be an answer to recession in this country, then we need to be an essential part of the solution.

Us. The workers. The majority.

The majority of competent economists believe that economic activity is driven by demand. To create jobs and goods businesses need to be able to sell. And to sell, consumers need to have money in their pockets and income to spend. There is therefore a simple way to increase demand and that is to put money into people’s pockets. Increase wages. And unlike the bonuses that are given to merchant bankers, wages are not squirreled away in an overseas tax haven. They are used on goods and services in this country.

The case against the Pay Freeze and Austerity is difficult to answer

However it is not one that will be won by rational argument alone. To challenge the pay freeze we must do so as trade unionists taking collective action. We are first and best when we collectively defend the rights of our members. It is as a collective that we face the challenge of the pay freeze.

We need to start sector by sector raising claims that mean real increases for our members. We are prepared to negotiate.

But we cannot afford to take no for an answer. And that means getting our members to believe in our cause. They know only too well what the problem is. We need to convince them that there is also a solution that will involve taking strike action.

Let’s face it, the General Council could take indefinite general strike action and by the time anyone noticed they would have fossilised. But coordinated strike action by millions of union members has an impact. We have representatives in every workplace.

For this campaign to succeed we need competent educated shop stewards on the shop floor and the canteen. Blogs and websites are all very well, but this campaign needs activists that we need to educate, agitate and organise. In a climate where many are insecure about the future of their jobs and fearful of the future we need to build confidence. There is no magic button that will lead to a big bang of strikes. This will take sustained industrial action.

Our members need to understand that constant wages cuts are not inevitable and that they can do something about it. And that is our biggest challenge. We don’t have to sit back and see our standards of living fall.

Support this composite."