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Editorial of the Socialist
10 May strike will re-ignite pensions battle
The strike called for 10 May represents a new stage in the battle to defend public sector pensions. Civil service union PCS will be taking action along with Unite members in health and the civil service and hopefully lecturers' union UCU, Northern Ireland public sector union Nipsa and others.
PCS and Unite are also calling on the TUC to organise a national demonstration against austerity in the summer. This strategy of action presents an opportunity to re-ignite this struggle which seemed to be in danger of dissipating after the capitulation of the right-wing union leaders and the TUC.
The NUT national executive (NEC) meets in late April, where we believe that they should agree to join the action. We also call on Unison and GMB members in the NHS to reject the pension deal in their ballots that are currently taking place and demand that their unions join this or any future strikes.
This action should demand the re-opening of pension negotiations, the cancellation of the next two years pension contribution increases as well as this year's - or at least immediate financial compensation for it, as well as not increasing the retirement age.
After the incredible show of force of 30 November (N30), which saw over two million public sector workers take strike action, it is natural that in the hospitals, schools, councils and job centres, workers have been asking "what now?"
This is particularly the case when, in the next few weeks, millions will have the first set of increased pension contributions deducted from their pay. If the Con-Dems aren't forced to retreat, further increases will follow over the next two years. Of course, all this is on top of a four-year pay freeze. There is also potential to coordinate with and give confidence to other groups of workers planning action against cuts.
The NUT conference, which took place over Easter, was in some cases a microcosm of the debate that must be taking place throughout the union movement and especially in public sector workplaces. Understandably, there was frustration that no national action has taken place since N30. Inevitably, workers enthused by N30 will react to the sense that this power, and the opportunity it presents to register a victory or at least wring major concessions out of the government, will slip away. We have to place the main responsibility for this on the right-wing union leaders in Unison, GMB and the TUC who consciously pulled out of the 'coalition of the willing' by signing the Con-Dems' heads of agreement in December, agreeing to pay more, work longer and get less.
Since then the PCS and other unions like the NUT have been leading a painstaking process of regroupment to put together another coalition, albeit smaller than N30 but comparable to the 30 June alliance which pulled over 750,000 workers out on strike.
Many NUT activists were furious at their NEC's decision to back down from national strike action on 28 March and instead only call out London, along with the UCU. UCU and NUT members responded magnificently with up to 10,000 teachers and lecturers marching to Westminster.
On the first evening of NUT conference, over 100 delegates attended a meeting called by a number of local associations (branches) to focus this anger into agreeing an amendment to the executive's motion in the pension debate next day. To put this into perspective, this was bigger than the meetings of either of the two established left organisations which provide the majority of the leaders of the union and its NEC - the Socialist Teachers' Alliance (STA) and the Campaign for a Fighting Democratic Union (CFDU).
These delegates were rightly concerned that the NEC's motion would lack clarity and an amendment setting out a clear schedule of action over the summer term and beyond was vital, starting on 10 May, anticipating the strike that has now been called.
Unfortunately, this and another amendment were passed over, in favour of one from the STA. While this gave more detail about the "aim" of action before the end of June, up to and including national strike action coordinated with other unions, to many delegates, coming on the back of the NEC vote about 28 March, this lack of clarity sounded like a conscious attempt by the leadership to demobilise the pensions struggle.
Socialist Party members were concerned that this feeling would be dissipated after conference and approached the local associations and offered to open up our pre-booked fringe meeting to them in order to give frustrated delegates the opportunity to debate the way forward.
This time, over 150 delegates attended to vent their concern but also to coordinate a rank and file campaign through the associations to see what regions are willing to strike on 10 May. Also, it was agreed to organise a rank and file conference on 16 June, a week after the National Shop Stewards Network conference, supported by as many associations as possible.
The PCS and the NUT were strengthened by the overwhelming mandate they received in their consultation ballots for further action. The PCS correctly postponed their intention to strike on 28 March in light of the NUT NEC vote against national action, in order to re-build a wider coalition, preferably including the NUT.
But in the aftermath of their conference decision, the NUT at their NEC in late April should be urged to join the strike on 10 May, preferably with national action or at least regional action and then another national strike before the end of June, all coordinated with the other unions.
In the absence of a serious coordinated resistance to the cuts, with the biggest public sector union Unison in particular refusing to lead in the councils and the NHS, the pensions struggle is in many ways the first major national battle against the Con-Dems' austerity offensive. For the struggle to dissipate now would be a setback which could embolden the government, who were quick to threaten regional pay after the NUT executive's retreat in March.
Alternatively, the strike on 10 May can re-ignite this struggle and send a clear message of defiance to what is a weak and divided Con-Dem coalition, while also marshalling the membership for the future battles, including on pensions, that are coming thick and fast.
In The Socialist 18 April 2012:
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