NIPSA President Padraig Mulholland
NIPSA President Padraig Mulholland

Over 1 million ballot for strike action

On 10th July tens of thousands of public sector workers in Northern Ireland are expected to join over 1 million workers in Britain on a strike that could rock the Government to its foundations.

The strike is in response to public sector employers slapping workers with another round of austerity pay cuts. Workers have seen their spending power fall by as much as 18% since the recession began 6 years ago. Now the government seems determined to inflict yet more pain this year. The local government unions are looking for a mere £1.00 per hour rise for all staff – hardly an extravagant demand but one that is too much for the Tories and their Liberal Democrat allies to accept! The employers have refused to even make an offer!

With negotiations at a standstill trade unions across Britain and Northern Ireland are holding ballots for action. In Northern Ireland workers in education, local government, housing executive and the Further Education Colleges represented by Unison, GMB, Unite and NIPSA will be involved. In Britain there are signals that the big three unions, GMB, Unite and Unison may be joined by the civil service union, PCS, and the teachers union, NUT. If this alliance is successfully formed it will mean the effective shut down of public services across the country. Even if PCS and NUT do not co-ordinate action it will still be the biggest challenge to the austerity government since the 2011 November 30th pensions strike.

However public sector worker are treating the call to action with caution. Many are still smarting when they remember that although the 30th November pensions strike was a massive success it was rapidly sold out by a section of the trade union leadership and pension entitlements were shredded. Quite correctly there is concern that this will happen again and given that the leadership that sold out that movement is still largely intact and in control it is a real threat that has to be tackled.

If a new movement on pay is to be successful then union members must learn the lesson of the pension’s campaign. They must be on guard right from the beginning against a repeat of the sell-out. Alongside organising for a successful ballot result local reps and members should begin to organise across employment sectors and trade unions to build as strong a network of public service workers as possible. This network can organise effectively for the ballot, prepare for maximum unity in action on the picket line and it can also act as a check on that section of the leadership who will be tempted to sell out and if necessary remove rotten leaders and replace them with fighters.

Union members are also worried that the union leaders do not have a real strategy to win and a one day strike in July will not do the job. In fact, to many members it could be seen as throwing good money away by taking action that will not be effective. For the government to be put under massive pressure that can break them, a programme of strike days must be developed. That way the message to the government will be clear…we aren’t going away until we get justice.

A combined union campaign with a determined leadership can change things. Real improvements in pay can be achieved if the deep anger felt by workers is given a positive outlet. Unison, NIPSA, Unite and GMB members in Northern Ireland have a huge opportunity to really deliver change if they learn the lesson of November 30th.