General Secretary

October 2015 | 12.10.2015

Responding to Austerity




As usual, the POA attended the TUC Congress in September as an affiliated union. Of course, eyes were on various matters during that Congress, as Jeremy Corbyn had just been elected as the Labour leader after a landslide victory. While in Brighton, his shadow cabinet was also announced and POA Honorary Life member, John McDonnell, was announced as the Shadow Chancellor. I wish Jeremy and John all the very best and hope they can see their policies through, which will make Britain a fairer society.

Inevitably, because it is something different in British politics, the usual suspects in the media and unfortunately from within the Labour Party, are doing their best to tarnish Jeremy Corbyn before he has even started. The POA NEC nominated Jeremy Corbyn because of his record in supporting this trade union over many years. Of course, this Union is politically neutral as we recognise our membership are a broad church but this provided a golden opportunity to shape the future.

As one of the smaller unions at TUC, the POA is allowed to put forward two motions. One of the motions was a stand-alone one on violence in the workplace (Motion 79). Peter McParlin, our National Chairman, moved the motion that was amended and accepted by the POA National Executive Committee prior to Congress. The amendment was made by the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers (NASUWT) who seconded the motion. Other speakers included the GMB and other unions whose members face violence in the workplace.

The wording of the motion was:

‘Congress notes with concern the rise in workplace violence in the criminal justice system. The rise of serious assaults has increased by 58 percent over the last year. Other assaults on staff have risen sharply. There were 3,637 in 2014, an increase of 28 percent on 2010. Whilst there are no simple explanations for the decline in safety, budget cuts are a significant contributing factor. Congress asks the General Council and affiliated unions to assess violence in the workplace and to mount a joint union campaign for the protection of all workers in the public and private sector in their workplaces. Amended by the NASUWT with a new paragraph reading ‘Congress deplores the culture, practises and attitudes of some employers (especially in the prison and probation services, police, health and schools) who assert that violent assaults at work should be expected as part of the job.’

The motion was passed unanimously by Congress and as a General Council member; I will remind the TUC that this piece of work needs to be done.

Against the pay cap

I submitted a second motion on behalf the POA and it ended up being composited with UNISON, PCS, GMB, FBU and of course, the POA. The full wording of the motion that was titled ‘Campaigning for public services and against the pay cap’ is:

‘Congress notes that the Conservative Government’s summer budget has continued its divisive austerity policies, cutting taxes for business and the wealthy, while cutting welfare payments for the poor and disabled. By the end of the Parliament, public spending will be cut by £120billion to levels last seen in the 1960s. Vital public services will be cut or undermined, with hundreds of thousands of jobs lost. The July budget exposed the Tory hypocrisy as the party of working people. Rhetoric around the living wage cannot disguise real cuts in living standards well as continuing cuts, asset sales and privatisation.

The budget singled out:

° Public sector workers, by piling a four year one percent pay cap onto the five years of pay restraint already endured,

° The poor, by taking a £12 billion axe to social security, including tax credits, and

° The young by excluding them from the national living wage.

‘Congress condemns the budget, where once again public sector workers will endure a pay cap for four years of one percent, after five years of real terms pay cuts. With public sector workers already an average of £2,000 a year worse off than in 2010, the pay cap, along with changes to tax credits, will mean that many public sector workers are now facing huge cuts to their income. Congress recognises that public sector pay has been falling since 2010 and that hard pressed workers in the public sector are under attack on their pay terms and conditions. Congress condemns these policies of locking out workers from economic growth. These acts of gross injustice lay the seeds for a crisis in staffing and morale that will further rupture society and public services. This divisive budget and despicable government threaten the very fabric of our welfare state and the livelihoods of our members. We must respond to austerity as a united movement and fight to defeat austerity and for pay increases as a united public sector.

‘Congress accepts that affiliated unions need to unite in a coalition of resistance and campaign vigorously to hold the government to account behalf of working people and take action together where possible to ensure the pay cap is challenged.

‘Congress calls on the General Council to:

° Make the case for an alternative economic strategy and the reversal of local government cuts,

° Expose the hypocrisy of the MPs pay rise,

° Launch a major public sector wide campaign to break the public sector pay cap, including a strategy for joint, sustained, coordinated industrial action where necessary,

° Ensure the new national living wage is properly funded across public services and available to all, regardless of age, whilst also campaigning for a real living wage,

° Campaign to protect in work benefits all the time that pay levels make them necessary,

° Campaign to highlight the bleak opportunities for young workers, low wages, casual contracts, student debt, loss of youth services and lack of housing opportunities,

° Defend public service pensions against renewed attacks from the Tory right in doing so we should include/involve the widest range of public service workers and their interests,

° Work with all anti cuts campaigns to mobilise for the national demonstration at the Conference Party conference and to organise a national demonstration against austerity early in 2016, and

° Convene a conference by the spring of 2016 of trade unions, youth and pensioners organisations and other national and local campaign groups to draw up a strategy to defeat the attacks of the Tory government by all means available, including industrial action.’

Strong and effective

This composite, which is very far reaching, was debated by Congress and passed unanimously. Congress also heard powerful speeches by Frances O’Grady, TUC General Secretary, who has an extremely difficult task in keeping all trade unions involved and focused in the TUC content. If the trade union movement remains focused and shows respect and decency towards each other and concentrates on the attacks that we are all facing, then I think we will come out the other end stronger and more effective. After all, the Trade Union movement is the last line of defence for workers against the onslaught of this Government.

The Trade Union Bill must be defeated to ensure the fight back against austerity can continue. The National Chairman and I will also have attended the Labour Party conference and Conservative Party conference by the time this issue of Gatelodge is published.

Steve Gillan
POA General Secretary