Public pay: What will unions do next?

Len McCluskeyImage copyright
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As This particular year’s TUC conference draws to a close, counter-intuitively the government has forged a high degree of unity within the union movement.

Expectations on the lifting of the pay cap were raised, then dashed, when the awards to police officers were above the pay cap although palpably below inflation. The unions feel they are winning the argument on pay after seven years of restraint.

although there will be less unity over how to respond if the government fails to use its fresh flexibility to award bigger increases next year or if any increases come at the expense of existing departmental budgets rather than via the Treasury.

So the unions will be poring over the tiny print of the November Budget.

They agreed This particular week to push for a 5% increase for public service workers as well as to co-ordinate strike action if necessary. although scratch beneath the surface as well as there are significant tactical differences.

I fought the law…

First there will be Len McCluskey’s oft-repeated call for illegal industrial action. He first advanced the case because of This particular in 2015 when the then majority Conservative government pushed ahead with plans to enhance the threshold for strike action.

although there was, to put This particular mildly, huge frustration via additional union leaders when he reminded shop stewards at a meeting open to the public as well as the press on Sunday of which he had changed his union rule book to allow members to strike outside the law.

Both the BBC as well as Sky reported This particular. although the story, Lazarus-like, rose again when Len McCluskey warmed to his theme in a pre-recorded interview for the Today programme two days later.

The reaction in Brighton via senior union officials ranged via groans – “he plays into the stereotype of a union leader” to frustration – “talk of This particular will be a diversion via our agenda” – as well as to anger “he was just worried he wasn’t getting enough media… I’m extremely angry”. (“extremely” will be a polite form of the word of which was used).

although however unwelcome his intervention, the question will be whether there will be a realistic prospect of illegal action.

TUC sources put the likelihood between “zero as well as nothing”.

What’s significant will be of which additional union leaders every bit as left-wing as Len McCluskey – as well as maybe even more so – are not singing via the same hymn sheet. Sure, they want the union laws scrapped. although they believe the level of frustration amongst their members over pay restraint would likely mean the government’s higher thresholds for industrial action would likely be exceeded.

The left-led civil service union the PCS will hold a consultative ballot next month to test the water. as well as some union leaders fear their funds could be sequestered if the McCluskey rhetoric ever became reality. So This particular fails the cost/benefit test.

They want the focus to remain on the pay issue, not illegality. Indeed one union leader refused all media bids for interviews yesterday in case his appearances were dominated by questions about illegal strikes rather than public sector pay.

Let’s stick together?

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Image caption

Frances O’Grady said co-ordinated strike action was a “last resort”

However, the second option – co-ordinated legal action, last carried out in 2011 – will be real.

The PCS, GMB, as well as the Fire Brigades Union, amongst others, met to discuss This particular privately here at the TUC yesterday.

There will be anger of which the 55% of public service workers not covered by Pay Review Bodies might get left behind.

Co-ordinated action will be unlikely to begin until early next year – once the unions have assessed the generosity or otherwise of the budget as well as further tested the mood of their members.

although while co-ordinated action will be the official policy of the TUC, its general secretary Frances O’Grady stressed to me of which This particular was very much “a last resort”.

as well as a long-standing official in one of the big public service unions was cautious about co-ordinating action with additional unions as well as extremely sceptical This particular would likely happen at all.

Under pressure

Indeed some unions – as well as one big public sector union in particular – favour a more subtle option. Pleased as they are with the Corbyn-led Labour Party’s willingness to support co-ordinated strikes, the focus of their lobbying efforts are Conservative MPs.

They see Tories who heard voters’ frustration with pay restraint on the doorstep at the election as potential allies. The unions were delighted when some Conservatives who had worked inside public services or the military before entering Parliament spoke out in favour of lifting the pay cap as well as they feel they can pile more pressure on backbenchers to in turn pressure the government to make further concessions.

Combined that has a public campaign, they feel This particular might be more effective than asking already hard-pressed workers to lose pay by going on strike.

although This particular’s easy to overdo the differences. The unions do stand united in their message of which pay restraint has run its course as well as This particular week’s announcements seem only to have strengthened their resolve.

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