…or maybe not for millions of workers who returned to work this week after the Christmas break to hear that they’re going to pay for the capitalist crisis again in 2008. The police are furious at the scaling back of last year’s pay award, prison officers are threatened with a strike ban and the Brown government has told all public sector workers it wants to scrap annual pay deals and replace them with three-year settlements.
The Chancellor, Alistair Darling, tells us we’re in a “time of considerable uncertainty in the global economy” and Brown says the Government intends to maintain a stable, low-inflation economy with “the flexibility to make the right long-term decisions”. What this means is that the Labour Government expects a down-turn in the economy this year and it intends to put the entire burden of the slump on working people.
The threat to ban strikes in the prison service is a despicable tactic straight out of the Tory book. Strikes were outlawed in the prison service by the Tories in 1994. Labour opposed it at the time and the Blair government belatedly lifted it three years ago in return for a voluntary no-strike agreement linked to a pay review body with the Prison Officers Association (POA).
Now Brown wants to turn back the clock, claiming it’s in the interests of the public and the prisoners. Well it’s not in the interests of prison staff who launched a series of wild-cat strikes last autumn in defence of the union’s rights and agreements that have been abused by a government determined to impose a pay cut in real terms on all public sector workers.In the old days prison warders and police enjoyed preferential pay and conditions in return for waiving their right to take industrial action. Now the Government wants to take away all the sweeteners making all pretence of free collective bargaining meaningless. This is just the thin end of the wedge. Who’s next if Brown gets away with this?
Perhaps the millions who work in the rest of the public sector. They’ve been told that three-year pay deals would be good for economic stabilisation, the fight against inflation and for themselves and somewhat ludicrously that it would also enable them to plan ahead. In practice it means that the Government wants to continue imposing below-inflation pay rises on six million public sector workers tied to a three-year straight-jacket that effectively rules out strike action.
Well the problems of inflation and the economy are not those of the workers alone. The Tories returned to power in 1979 determined to push down wages, crush the unions and destroy free collective bargaining. They would like to return to Victorian days when “master and servant” rules applied; when the boss paid what he liked and sacked whom he liked and if you didn’t like your pay you just pushed off.
The Tories slashed income tax for the rich and sold off the public sector at cut-prices to make this country a millionaires’ paradise for the parasitical capitalists and land-owners who run Britain. Millions hoped that Labour would reverse this process when the Tories were ousted in 1997. But “New Labour” has done little or nothing to restore union rights – least of all for those directly employed by the state.
We have a fight on two fronts. The first is in the public sector unions to mobilise the members to defend their rights in the face of the new attack on their pay and conditions. The second is within the labour movement and the Labour Party itself – to defeat the class-collaborationist right-wing led by Brown and his cohorts and replace them with leaders answerable to the working class and prepared to defend the interests of the class in the unions and in government.