The Tories are delivering a grim Christmas for millions of workers this winter, with Rishi Sunak pledging to ‘balance the books’ by freezing public sector pay. The unions must launch a mass campaign of coordinated action against austerity.

The Tories are delivering a grim Christmas for millions of workers this winter, with Rishi Sunak pledging to ‘balance the books’ by freezing public sector pay. The unions must launch a mass campaign of coordinated action against austerity.

As anticipated, Tory Chancellor Rishi Sunak has announced a brutal pay freeze for some two million public sector workers in his autumn Spending Review.

This is the same Rishi Sunak who failed to disclose £430 million of shares belonging to his wife to the Register of Ministers’ Interests; the same Rishi Sunak who is believed to be the richest man in the House of Commons. He is estimated to have a personal wealth of £200 million, with “one of his houses” being worth £7 million.

No surprise then that the Tories are trying to place the burden of the economic crash and the cost of the pandemic onto the backs of the working class.

The promises that Boris Johnson made in the aftermath of the general election about ending austerity and ‘levelling up’ have been proven to be just another gust of foul smelling hot air.

Divide and rule

Certain public sector workers will be ‘excluded’ from the pay freeze, including doctors and nurses. In addition, public sector workers earning less than £24,000 a year will receive a measly £250 increase, which works out at less than 13p an hour.

To put that into context, the National Minimum wage in 2021 is due to rise by 19p an hour in April. In fact, even this ‘concession’ to the lowest paid is essentially a pay cut, given the ongoing rise in living costs.

Presenting the pay freeze in this way is designed to divide and rule. The Tories understand that these key workers in the NHS have enormous public support, and rightly so. Johnson’s government is too frightened – for now, at least – to include them in the pay freeze.

But you can’t run a hospital without cleaners, porters, admin workers and health care assistants; not to mention radiologists, physiotherapists and a myriad of other workers. The Tories have nothing for them, it seems.

Kick in the teeth

Public sector workers will rightly be furious. In local government, last year’s pay claim was for 10%. Yet, that would only have made up a small part of what has been lost since 2010. In the end, the unions settled for 2.75%.

Many frontline workers have risked their lives during this pandemic. This pay freeze will rightly be seen as a kick in the teeth. Yet the money is there: sitting in the banks and offshore accounts of big businesses, hoarded thanks to massive tax avoidance and profiteering by the super-rich.

The big question for outgoing Unison general secretary Dave Prentis and his successor has to be: what does the union leadership intend to do about it? The rail unions and civil servants union PCS have already threatened strike action. Yet Prentis has just called for the government to “do the right thing”. As if that will swing it!

Fight

Unison trade union demoThe struggle against low pay has always been a major plank in Unison’s publicity. But delivering actual improvements for members has been far less evident.

One thing is for certain: appeals to the Tories won’t be enough. Yes, they are callous and ruthless. But it is not just a question of morality. The choice before them is simple – someone has to pay for the economic crisis and the huge hole in the government’s finances. And that must either be the bosses or the working class. No prizes for guessing what the Tories would consider to be “doing the right thing”.

Public sector workers must fight the pay freeze. Low-paid workers are worth more than a measly 13p per hour. It would take the lowest paid full time local authority worker almost 388 years to buy Rishi Sunak’s £7m mansion.

The only way that this pay freeze will be defeated is by militant coordinated action across the whole of the public sector. Only this can cut across the Tories’ attempts to divide workers.

We say: Fight for a proper pay increase for all public sector workers! Key workers should be at the forefront of a coordinated campaign across all sectors. The time has come to fight this regime of austerity. Don’t let anyone be left behind!

  • Defend public sector pay – Fight the pay freeze!
  • For united action against austerity – An injury to one is an injury to all!
  • For a 24-hour public sector general strike!