It's bad enough being a retired trade union activist, living with advanced cancer, forced to sit and watch the largest strike wave in years played out on our streets and in our workplaces. What is worse is the knowledge that, even had I not retired, I would be part a section of the workforce which seems, at present, set to sit out the current wave of struggle.
In spite of pockets of militancy there does not seem to be an immediate prospect of the local government trade unions leading the largest workforce in the economy into battle nationally to defend our living standards. This is the case although the objective need for action on local government pay is far greater now than it was when we took national strike action in 2002, 2008 or 2014.
According to official data published today average real wages across the economy as a whole are currently falling at an annual rate of 2.7%. This is not because workers are having their pay cut in money terms, but because pay increases are failing to keep pace with price inflation (the latest official figure for the consumer price index (CPI) is 11.1%).
Even workers who are winning pay rises of 10%, which seem impressive compared to years of pay freezes during Tory austerity, are seeing their real wages fall.
Local government workers (in England, Wales and Northern Ireland), who had become accustomed to a modest decline in real earnings each year as our pay was frozen whilst price inflation inched upwards, are in most cases now seeing the largest single year fall in a real earnings in decades. The latest pay settlement gave the lowest paid workers a fall in real earnings of less than 1% but for much of the workforce the real pay cut was 7%.
Postal workers, rail workers, civil servants, health service workers and many others are being led into struggle against the attack on working-class living standards.
Local government workers are the biggest battalion in our entire movement, organised across the three largest trade unions, and primarily by UNISON.
It is a third of a century since local government workers last really won a significant national battle over pay.
It's about time things changed.
Just once in my life I would like to see UNISON in local government really live up to its potential.
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