On 30th November more than two million public sector workers will join together in co-ordinated strike action to defend pensions. For many workers this will be the first time they have ever stood on a picket line – but for all involved it will be an historic display of workers power, the scale of which has not been seen in more than eighty years. Nothing less than this will do in the face of the onslaught of attacks on our living standards.
The Government, having “frozen” the pay of millions now want those same workers to increase their pension contributions by 3.2% – a 50% increase for some. Workers and their families who are being told to ‘pay more and get less’ on pensions are also suffering because of cuts to services and rising prices. School and hospital closures are devastating communities, while disposable income for workers is at it’s lowest since 1920!
The upcoming action is about defending our pensions but this strike will take place in the shadow of the riots which erupted in British cities just weeks ago and on the back of last years militant movement of students along with the action of 750,000 workers in June. The 30th November and its build up can act as a forum for all workers and others to demonstrate their resistance and draw a line in the sand on ALL cuts and attacks while sending a clear message that we won’t pay the price for the bankers crisis.
Three years on from the financial meltdown, in the face of a deepening economic crisis it is becoming much more apparent to workers and young people that the problem is not just with the banks but with the system as a whole. This growing awareness coinciding now as it does with workers action and the opportunity to fightback means that this movement can act as a powerful brake on Government’s attacks, and also on the Assembly parties here who plan to implement more than £4 billion in cuts over the next four years.
Unite against all cuts
The unions, including NUT, PCS, UCU, ATL, along with the FBU, Unison, GMB, Unite, NIPSA, Prospect, NASUWT, NAHT, UCAC, and EIS are all balloting or have balloted members for this action. Now that the date has been set, it is imperative that members in all the unions involved begin to take control of this strike. Workers need to keep the pressure on their union leaderships to make sure the action is built for and that the ballots are won in the first instance. Workplace meetings, public meetings, even rallies and protests leading up to the strike will be very important in preparing for the action. Events of this nature and cross union co-operation between rank and file union members can lay the basis for ownership and democratic control of the strike. Co-operation and discussion now will also prepare and explain the need to prepare for further action if necessary, for instance a two day strike as the next stage of the escalating action.
This needs to be a movement united against all cuts. Calling for the ringfencing of one or two areas of spending such as health or education at the expense of all the rest is a recipe for disaster and will divide the movement. If individual unions or leaders adopt this position it must be resisted by all union members. Likewise we have to resist attempts to concede to paltry concessions for the few if we want to defeat this Government.
Beyond 30th November
A victory for public sector workers on pensions, by forcing a retreat would be a victory for all workers. To establish this, the unions engaging now must consciously intervene to build unity and appeal to workers in the private sector and the broader community. The PCS union announced that “While this is a campaign of public sector unions, we are clear that we are not just fighting for our own members… we want fair pensions for all, public and private sector alike”. Unite General Secretary Len McCluskey has called for ‘Area Activist Committees’ in Unite to elect community members onto these bodies.
These statements are very positive and in making them those unions clearly recognise their potential role as a pole of attraction to all workers, students, the unemployed and those struggling in communities. But they need to go further. This movement will throw up many challenges and questions – the main one being “how can we defeat this Government?” Increasingly workers will realize that we can’t do it with one arm tied behind our backs. We need a political voice as well as an industrial arm and the unions have a crucial role to play in providing that political voice by building new mass parties of the working class to fight for a socialist alternative.