With Tory boys in council seats, it’s time to organise!

Tory boys now win seats in poverty-stricken communities like Shettleston and Ferguslie Park, shocking if, like me, you want Tories out of Scotland for good. These Scottish local government election shockers, however, are marginal gains: a few hundred votes won from the wealthier end of wards and transferred votes returned these Tories on the 8th or 9th count.
Organising workers to see and use their power is crucial in times like these. Being a “worker” does not begin when you clock in at 8am, nor do you stop being a worker when you clock out at six. On the bus, on the street, on the school run, in your home: we are all ‘whole workers’.

Last week’s elections were another hard knock for Scottish Labour. It is no surprise the “anyone but Labour” has somewhat overshot the “anyone but Tory” assumption we all live by. As long as Scottish Labour places the case for the union before the case for working class advancement this will continue. Sadly the Corbyn effect continues to elude the Party north of the Border. There is likely more Corbyn supporters in Scotland outside the party than inside.

”I never left Labour, Labour left me” still echoes in workplaces and in working class communities. It is clear then that transferred voters from Labour to Tory last week has come from the right and centre, perhaps even former SNP supporters, the old-school Tartan Tories have nowhere else to turn, except to the real Tories. This anti-Corybn and anti-left block cannot be written off merely as a resurgent working class Unionist vote.

If workers no longer vote along clear class lines, (and that is still an if), we must sharpen our demands on all parties and candidates to improve our lot. As whole workers we are class actors, with agency in our own communities and have agency through our networks, links and influence across political parties, beliefs and faiths.  Workers power will always be greater than electoral power.

For PCS, central to the general election next month is the public sector pay cap – and we have the Tories, SNP and Welsh Labour as governing parties in our sight. The 1% pay cap has been disastrous for all public sector workers, for public services and for economic growth. With their focus now on getting (re)elected, SNP MPs and new parliamentary candidates will be at lengths to prove theirs is the party of anti-austerity. Meanwhile, Sturgeon, Mackay and their Holyrood colleagues will continue to preside over pay cuts for their own workforce.

Expert research from University of Surrey, commissioned by PCS, has uncovered the true facts and figures behind the 1% pay cap and its real impact on pay. Between 2010 and 2016 the value of earnings in the civil service has fallen further than the value in the rest of the public sector, an in the economy as a whole. The irrefutable evidence of the damaging effects of pay policy that holds down workers’ pay is a catalogue of testimonies from workers who are struggling to make ends meet.

Harrowing stories are emerging from PCS members whose pay has been virtually static since 2009, in effect a 20% pay cut. Civil servants now take second part time jobs and rent out rooms in their homes to keep a roof over their heads and put food on the table. Many are hundreds of pounds a month worse off than they were four years ago and have too much month at the end of the money.

We know the Westminster Tories are imposing this cap on public sector workers. In Scotland, the SNP government have the devolved power to do differently. They choose not to.

PCS has called on Finance Minister Derek Mackay to end the Tory pay cap for the 30,000 workers over whose pay he has power. So far he has refused.

Mackay’s intransigence in imposing the Tory 1% pay cap on his own workforce is the sharpest point of his scalpel. The pay cap, increased pensions contributions and national insurance contributions, rising inflation have all combined to create a perfect storm, now manifesting in the general election campaign.

Workers power is strongest when it used collectively. Across Scottish public services, workers are raising their voices against the Scottish public pay squeeze. 80,000 Unison local government workers are balloting for strike action over pay.  FE lecturers are taking action to demand the Scottish Government honour a pay deal settled 13 months ago.

Theresa May’s election strategy is to strengthen her position to negotiate a hard Brexit. This is not the chunter this side of the Border.  The general election here is being fought on different terms. It’s time we put workers power at centre stage.

Workers power is greater than just voting for the colour of a rosette, a slogan, a sound bite, a leader or another Referendum. We must harness our power to turn what we have into what we need to get what we want, to paraphrase US labor organiser Marshall Ganz.

Trade unions must organise workers, as whole workers, that is recognising their social power, as well as their economic power. However, let’s do this systematically. When workers’ power is collectively harnessed we can begin winning again. Scrapping the 1% pay cap for Scottish public sector workers can happen and we can force it.

Jeremy Corbyn announced at STUC Congress last month that Labour would end the Tory pay cap. PCS General Secretary Mark Serwotka responded: “The last time we had a general election in this country, we were asked to vote Labour and we were told it meant keeping a public sector pay freeze, a freeze on public expenditure and keeping austerity in Britain. How refreshing it is therefore that we go into this election with Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour party saying that they will end zero hours contracts, repeal the anti-union legislation, fund the NHS, lift the public sector pay cap and ensure that there is dignity for all of us.”

It is of course less straightforward in Scotland. Every candidate must commit to ending the misery of 1% pay, giving public sector workers a fairness they are long overdue. Otherwise, they’ll feel the full force of our power.

First published in the Morning Star 9.5.17   https://www.morningstaronline.co.uk/a-d5da-With-Tory-boys-in-council-seats,-its-time-to-organise#.WRIHFut4WrU


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