The Prison Officers have led the way in expressing the frustration of public sector workers at the way they have been treated by the Brown administration on pay, working conditions and privatiastion. The Government's pay policy has been dictated by Gordon Brown throughout the last ten years. Brown has based the latest pay round on effective pay cuts for public sector workers wiith below inflation pay awards whilst at the same time turning a blind eye to the excesses of gigantic pay rises and bonuses for chief executives, directors and city speculators.
This morning as the strike by prison officers forces pay talks with Jack Straw, Gordon Brown has demanded "pay discipline" by public sector workers. At the same time the Guardian earnings survey exposes the huge gap between the income of chief executives and the wages of their workers which has opened up under Brown's supervision of the economy.
Take just a few examples: Giles Thorley, chief executive of Punch Taverns, now has a salary package of £11,276,000 which is 1,148 times the average wages of his workers of £9,821. How about Tesco's chief executive whose salary is £4.6 million which is 415 times his average worker earning £11,000.
The Brown pay strategy for the coming period is fairly obvious. The aim is to control any inflationary pressures in the economy by restricting public sector pay overall and where there is union resistance to buy off individual unions with minute concessions, particularly to unions where Brown sees soft leaderships or where a strike would be impossible for the Government to withstand.
Above all else Brown sees that he must prevent a united front from building across the unions on pay because this could demonstrate what co-ordinated action could do on other issues such as privatisation and trade union rights. That is why everything is being done both to work with the UNISON leadership to deter UNISON members from supporting industrial action and also to prevent a policy of effective co-ordinated action across the public sector being achieved at the TUC in a fortnight. It is a classic divide and rule strategy, with the added objective of seeking to isolate PCS, the largest civil servants union.
The lessons for the trade union movement are obvious. The POA has shown the way. Strength, determination and solidarity are what is needed now.
John McDonnell MP