By a Unison schools convenor
There are 1.3 million local government and school support workers – 78 per cent of them women. We are the housing officers, youth workers, social workers, teaching assistants, caterers and cleaners that keep hard-up families together and services running.
Austerity budgets, year after year, have wiped out over 700,000 jobs in the sector. But they haven’t eliminated the statutory care we provide, the work that still needs to be done. We work harder for less.
We are also the worst paid of any public sector group, having lost 21 per cent of our pay since 2009. The employers’ two-year offer of 2 per cent in April 2018 and another 2 per cent in 2019 would leave the great majority of us even worse off.
Yes, the Local Government Association offer breaks the 1 per cent pay cap of previous years, but inflation is higher than before at 4.1 per cent a year, including housing costs. No one expects this figure to decline with Brexit on the horizon.
Yes, some on the lowest grades would receive more than 2 per cent a year, but that is not an act of generosity, rather a legal necessity to keep the workforce above the minimum wage. According to the Resolution Foundation, £14 billion of welfare cuts planned for the next two years will more than wipe out rises in the minimum wage.
And no, the offer is not funded, meaning it would lead to further cuts in services and more job losses.
The three unions in the National Joint Council, which negotiates on our behalf, are Unison, the GMB and Unite. All three agree that this is the best offer they can achieve by negotiation alone and are now consulting their members.
But only Unison and Unite are urging members to reject the offer. The GMB is officially neutral, though at least some of its officers are actively campaigning for acceptance and even exaggerating, i.e. lying about the offer’s benefits in the process.
Consultative ballots close on 9 March.
Thousands of activists are working overtime to not only produce the biggest possible vote to reject the offer, but also to exceed the 50 per cent turnout barrier set by the Tories’ Trade Union Act that would allow a legal strike to take place. This would be no mean feat, given that most branches have to cover over a hundred workplaces with little or no facility time for activists.
Can we win the ballot? Railworkers, posties and lecturers have all recently smashed the undemocratic bars artificially set by the Tories. They are more militant, and have strong roots in the workplaces and an active grassroots membership. Most importantly their leaderships were committed to winning the ballot. If we learn from what helped those activists win, we can beat the threshold too.
Leaflets, posters, PowerPoint presentations are all available. Personalised emails and floorwalks (meeting the members at their workstations) can increase turnout and militancy. But workplace meetings, lunchtime protests and rallies, with voting on the spot can do more: recruiting members and new stewards.
The spontaneous support for the lecturers from students, including occupations, shows how we could also raise support and broaden the struggle. Coordinated action by school support staff would put pressure on the teachers’ NEU union to call strikes over increasing academy conversions and funding cuts. They should ballot their members now.