Members from both the Unite and Unison unions came together in Portsmouth this week to continue their campaign for the living wage. Portsmouth City Council employees have suffered an 18% cut in pay between 2010 and 2014 as part of the government’s austerity drive. Now many workers are paid nothing more than minimum wage, despite helping to provide vital public services. And there are more cuts to come. For example, the social care budget is to be cut by around £4 million per year for the next three years.
As part of Wednesday’s Local Government day of action, activists staged two protests calling for the introduction of the living wage of £7.65 per hour. In the morning people paid a visit to the home of Luke Stubbs, Tory councillor for Eastney and Craneswater. Stubbs has previously said in council meetings that people should be able to live on the national minimum wage – currently £6.31 per hour.
By the time people on minimum wage have paid out on rent, council tax and utilities bills they have as little as £2.68 left for food each day. With that in mind, Unite and Unison reps delivered a minimum wage food parcel right to Cllr Stubbs’ front door. It consisted of some tea for breakfast, a packet of noodles for lunch, and everything he would need for beans on toast. They were going to get him some milk as well, but found that the money just wouldn’t stretch that far.
At lunchtime activists gathered around the Charles Dickens statue in Guildhall Square, decorating it with flags and placards. Unison branch secretary Lee Sprake explained, “We’re fighting the continued low pay and the return to Dickensian times.” Situated right outside the Civic Offices the protest helped to keep the campaign in the public eye and drew good responses from council workers and passer-by. However, one person came up to complain that the signs propped up against the statue were defacing Dickens! Well, we wouldn’t want to use Dickens to talk about poverty would we? As one Unison member said, “Dickens wrote about it – but people are living it.”
Unison and Unite were both involved in the public sector strikes that took place in July. The next big local government strike will take place on 14th October when they will hopefully be joined by workers in the NHS, teachers and firefighters.