UK government is losing face on strikes; and millions of votes

Polly Toynbee

This is deeply embarrassing. Today the Fire Brigades Union called off its planned strikes after being offered 7% for this year backdated, plus 5% next year, by the National Joint Council that negotiates for local authorities. Its members have yet to agree, but council workers settled for a similar deal because local authorities jointly are free to make their own sensible settlements. Wales and Scotland are also in the process of settling with their health workers. That leaves those in charge of services in England left looking even more obstinate, unreasonable and ideologically fixated.

The GMB’s public services national secretary, Rachel Harrison, yesterday morning told me that the offer to the fire brigades was “massive” and said that if her ambulance workers and other strikers were offered that, “we’d definitely suspend action and call it off immediately”. Members would have to decide, but the view around the unions yesterday was that a similar deal would settle these strikes.

The government hoped strikers would be weakening by now. Ministers assumed that low-paid public workers, some already using food banks, would surely be hurting from the many days’ pay struck off their payslips by now. A new payslip system in the NHS deliberately highlights their strike day deductions. They also hoped that by now the public would have turned against strikers. Surely the resolute prime minister and chancellor would bask in a little 1980s Thatcher glory for their firm stance against “militants”? But that’s not how things are working out, not at all. That leaves the government with no plan and no ladder to climb down from their adamant stand….