When we have no choice but to strike

UNISON’s higher education strike ballot opened last Friday (22 July) and we’re holding an online rally this Thursday to help branches organise to get the vote out.

Higher education salaries are now worth a shocking 20% less in real terms than in 2009. Our claim was for a pay uplift of at least inflation (RPI) plus 2%, but with inflation now running at 9.4%, the final offer from employers fell well short.

They’re offering 3% to all on spine point 20 and above, with a taper of between 9 and 3.1% for those on lower spine points. It’s no surprise then, that we’re recommending that our HE members vote ‘yes’ to taking strike action.

Also, UNISON health members in Scotland are taking part in a consultative ballot which closes on 8 August. If you’re a Scottish health member, we’re recommending you vote ‘reject’ to the 5% pay offer and indicate that you’re willing to take strike action.

We’ve also recently received pay offers for our members in local government and health in other parts of the UK, and in other sections of the union, so there will be more ballots to come. Whether you’re part of a vote that’s consultative, or for industrial action, you must have your say, because these ballots are an important part of a healthy democracy.

Workers should always be free to decide how they want to respond to pay offers, changes to terms and conditions, and threats to jobs – and as a last resort, to go on strike to defend their livelihoods and to improve their working lives. As the cost of living crisis shows no signs of easing, these rights are more important than ever.

We know the Trade Union Act was designed to suppress workers’ abilities to respond and act. And now, both candidates battling it out to be the most right-wing Conservative leader are promising more attacks on the right to strike, and offering nothing for public services. They’ve been very clear that they’re coming for workers. But trade unions, like ours, remain the last line of defence, so we must be ready for what’s to come.

It’s constant work for our amazing activists, making sure branches meet members regularly, always recruiting, keeping member records up to date and sharing information from the union. But the more we do that every day, in every branch across the UK, the more ready we are for when we have no other choice but to take strike action.

The article When we have no choice but to strike first appeared on the UNISON National site.

Blog: The Tory leadership race

Today, there are still five candidates left standing in the race to be the next Conservative leader and prime minister. The third round of voting is today and follows a weekend of campaigning and embarrassing TV debates.

Each one of the candidates is a part of the ruling Tory party that’s been in power for the past 12 years. Most have served in Boris Johnson’s government as either a cabinet or junior minister, and all propped up and voted through a Tory agenda that has led us to where we are today – a deepening cost of living crisis, and an integrity vacuum at the top of British politics.

Yet the debates over the weekend would make anyone think they’re all from different parties, tearing chunks out of each other personally, and on their weak manifestos. Liz Truss claimed former Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s plans would drive the country into a recession, Penny Mordaunt had no economic plan at all, and Kemi Badenoch made some alarming comments against green policies, despite historic red warnings being issued in the UK.

Tom Tugendhat lacked any enthusiasm for the top job and, as the candidates rounded off the debate with their closing speeches, Liz Truss had to look at her notes to remind herself that she thinks the big issue at the next election will be the economy.

Each tried desperately to distance themselves from Boris Johnson, and all admitted, in their own way, that the country needs change and can do better. Well, yes, they’re right to some extent, the country does need a change. But that change shouldn’t include anyone from the party that has been in power for the last 12 years.

And there was something starker, more troubling – not only for our public services, but for the future of our society. As they try to out right-wing each other, paying homage to Margaret Thatcher and pledging a smaller state, it’s clear our NHS, schools, local councils and policing are not safe in any of their hands.

This is a crucial time for our public services and public service workers, but they’re all determined to stick to public sector pay restraint, warning that pay rises will turbocharge inflation. We know this isn’t true, because there’s been low inflation over the last decade, at the same time as real terms pay cuts in the public sector.

Tory party members alone will get to decide who our next prime minister will be. They number just over one tenth of the total UNISON membership, no more than that, and are not representative of the general population. But these live debates have given all of us an unusual close-up of the Tories’ division, chaos and incompetence, and a front row view of their dying days in Westminster.

The final debate has been cancelled, because the two most senior politicians, Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss, have pulled out. I guess they finally realised that when, the gloves are off, and the public gets a glimpse of their real characters, they damage their chances of winning the next general election.

The article Blog: The Tory leadership race first appeared on the UNISON National site.