When we have no choice but to strike

As the cost of living crisis shows no signs of easing, our right to strike is more important than ever

Portrait of Christina McAnea

UNISON’s higher education strike ballot opened last Friday (22 July) and we’re holding an online rally this Thursday to help branches organise to get the vote out.

Higher education salaries are now worth a shocking 20% less in real terms than in 2009. Our claim was for a pay uplift of at least inflation (RPI) plus 2%, but with inflation now running at 9.4%, the final offer from employers fell well short.

They’re offering 3% to all on spine point 20 and above, with a taper of between 9 and 3.1% for those on lower spine points. It’s no surprise then, that we’re recommending that our HE members vote ‘yes’ to taking strike action.

Also, UNISON health members in Scotland are taking part in a consultative ballot which closes on 8 August. If you’re a Scottish health member, we’re recommending you vote ‘reject’ to the 5% pay offer and indicate that you’re willing to take strike action.

We’ve also recently received pay offers for our members in local government and health in other parts of the UK, and in other sections of the union, so there will be more ballots to come. Whether you’re part of a vote that’s consultative, or for industrial action, you must have your say, because these ballots are an important part of a healthy democracy.

Workers should always be free to decide how they want to respond to pay offers, changes to terms and conditions, and threats to jobs – and as a last resort, to go on strike to defend their livelihoods and to improve their working lives. As the cost of living crisis shows no signs of easing, these rights are more important than ever.

We know the Trade Union Act was designed to suppress workers’ abilities to respond and act. And now, both candidates battling it out to be the most right-wing Conservative leader are promising more attacks on the right to strike, and offering nothing for public services. They’ve been very clear that they’re coming for workers. But trade unions, like ours, remain the last line of defence, so we must be ready for what’s to come.

It’s constant work for our amazing activists, making sure branches meet members regularly, always recruiting, keeping member records up to date and sharing information from the union. But the more we do that every day, in every branch across the UK, the more ready we are for when we have no other choice but to take strike action.