On Thursday, July 10th, members of the public sector trade unions, are planning a one day strike. As a social worker, I belong to the biggest of these unions, Unison. Trade unions are the biggest democratic movement in this country, representing 6.5 million workers – more than nine times the combined membership of the main political parties.
One million workers in the public sector are paid less than the living wage, and are therefore on low pay. Many are on significantly less than that amount. In addition, there are many public sector workers on zero hours contracts, particularly those who are carers of older people. Those in the public sector who are striking are not only striking for their rights, but also the rights of those who they work for. The vulnerable and elderly face difficult times with cuts to their services, and changes to services as Councils aim to trim budgets. In Powys, there have been cuts to day centre services, and the transition to new care providers over the past 3 months has resulted in sub-standard and even dangerous levels of care at times for residents with disabilities.
In a research paper published this month by Professors Wilkinson and Pickett, it was found that the decline of the labour movement has had a significant impact on the ability of working people to influence their standard of living and quality of life. Without the political and social influence of the labour movement to achieve major reductions in inequality, a fairer and more sustainable society will not be possible.
So should the public sector strike on Thursday? In my view, they should, ensuring of course, that services to vulnerable people continue. Public sector workers will losing a day’s pay on Thursday may inspire others to campaign for better standards of life for everyone.