The first union just announced it’s balloting over the pay cap. Now others should follow

With opposition growing on all sides, how much longer can the PM hold out?

As I write, nurses are rallying outside Parliament demanding an end to the public sector pay cap. And the first union just announced it is to ballot its members for potential strike action over years of real-term wage cuts. 

Inside Parliament, Jeremy Corbyn was attacking the PM over the issue, going after Theresa May on the cap’s impact on the NHS:

“There’s already a shortage of 40,000 nurses across the UK. Will the PM please see sense and end the public sector pay cap and make sure our NHS staff are properly paid?”

The PM is being attacked on all sides. Yesterday, nurses threatened to ballot yesterday over the issue.

No one likes to strike, but this is particularly true in the case of nurses. Industrial action from them could be a game-changer. It’s why thousands of Royal College of Nursing members are outside Parliament. The anger is running deep after years of real-terms pay cuts.

Now, the civil servants’ Public and Commercial Services (PCS) union has decided to ballot its public sector members. All of them.

With nearly 200,000 members, it’s the sixth largest union and can shut down government departments.

Today, the union’s national executive committee approved a national ballot of all public sector members: to support ending the public sector pay cap with a real-terms pay rise.

That ballot will also consult on members’ willingness to take part in industrial action. Given civil servants’ pay has fall by between £2,000 and £3,500 per year in real terms from 2010 to 2016, a ‘yes’ looks likely – although the recent Trade Union Act makes national action difficult. The PCS are demanding pay rises of at least 5% for all public sector workers – as opposed to Tory talk of selective pay rises for small groups.

But while pressure grows on the outside, this all comes amid ‘escalating chaos’ from Number 10 over the future of the cap.

PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka said:

“The Tories have no mandate to continue with the pay cap. PCS has consistently argued that capping public sector pay is counterproductive, unjust and unnecessary.

“Civil servants keep this country running, yet they have seen cuts to their pay, pensions and redundancy terms as a result of the government’s austerity policies. It is only right that our members have their say and send the government a clear message over pay.

“We are clear, pay misery for public servants must end and the government must restore public sector pay to levels that allow working people to live with the dignity and security they deserve.”

If that is true of civil servants, it is also true of nurses, teachers, doctors, firefighters and police staff – all who are under enormous strain. It’s time for all unions to follow suit. The pressure is starting to work.

Now the only question is how much longer can the PM hold out, with dissent growing inside and outside her own ranks?

The PCS ballot will open on Monday 9 October and close on Monday 6 November.

Josiah Mortimer is Editor of Left Foot Forward. Follow him on Twitter

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