THERESA MAY’S pathetic bid to pose as the friend of working people by affecting to end the Tories’ seven-year pay cap unravelled even before TUC Congress closed yesterday.
Her pretence that police and prison officers would be paid more than the 1 per cent cap in response to pay review board recommendations had already been shot down by the POA union and the Police Federation.
The government’s claim that police would receive 2 per cent turned out to be a 1 per cent consolidated rise and a 1 per cent bonus with no effect on pension or overtime rates.
It is now clear that, in common with the 1.7 per cent floated for some prison officers, the police pay rise must be funded from existing budgets. In other words, rising salary levels will be financed by “savings” — the euphemism for staff reductions.
This means that the pay cap remains unaltered. The Tories are obdurately committed to their capitalist austerity agenda that equates to lower living standards across the board for working people.
POA general secretary Steve Gillan was right to point out that even the mythical 1.7 per cent would amount to a pay cut, since the CPI rate of inflation stands at 2.9 per cent.
Indeed, the more realistic RPI measure, which is applied to student tuition fee debt, is 3.9 per cent, making 1.7 per cent yet more derisory.
Financial commentators point to the apparent contradiction of real-terms wages falling by 0.4 per cent over the past year while the official jobless rate has plummeted to 4.3 per cent.
This highlights the false nature of our unemployment statistics that reflect not only a plethora of calculating changes over the past three decades that remove certain categories of jobless people from the figures but also new ways of counting people as employed.
Zero-hours contracts and financial inducements to jobless workers to adopt self-employed status massage the unemployment figures but don’t increase incomes or encourage working-class confidence to demand higher pay rates.
Partly this is due to the precarious nature of these workers’ employment and also to their unorganised status.
Jeremy Corbyn’s insistence that the best way forward for workers is to join a trade union and to do so without delay would strengthen the hand of organised labour in making demands of employers in a similar way to the effect that mass recruitment to Labour shook up the party internally and at the general election.
Having Labour ranged in solidarity alongside them has encouraged public service unions to stand ready to insist on above-inflation pay claims and, if rejected, to take strike action.
They should be heartened by the example of French workers, thousands of whom walked off the job on Tuesday to take part in 200 mass demonstrations across the country in protest at President Emmanuel Macron’s EU-backed “flexibility” drive to make sacking workers easier.
Growing union membership, greater public backing and increased willingness to take action can combine to produce a tidal wave for change.
Even Ian Paisley’s announcement that his fellow DUP MPs were “minded” last night to support Labour’s motion demanding an end to the pay cap in the NHS is a straw in the wind.
The Tories’ City of London backers have told the government to stand firm against pay justice, but May and her cronies can be made to give way by people’s power in the form of decisive mass action.