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The Socialist editorial
The battle to defend pensions continues
No matter how much Con-Dem ministers tried to play down the public sector pension strike on 10 May (M10), they know that this dispute is not over - and neither are the crises faced by their increasingly unstable government. The battering they took at the ballot box on 3 May has been reinforced on the picket lines.
Up to 400,000 public sector workers in PCS, Unite, UCU, ISU border control union and Nipsa from Northern Ireland took official strike action against the government's attacks on public sector pensions. Already workers have had the first increased contribution taken out of their pay packets. On top of this they face working to 68, 70 for new starters, and then getting a reduced pension.
Weeks after the momentous N30 strike of over two million the right-wing union leaders attempted to derail the struggle by signing the government's Heads of Agreement. But M10 represents a crucial re-igniting of this protracted struggle.
The M10 strike was boosted by the fantastic unofficial walkout of the prison officers from the POA union for over seven hours. This involved all their Scottish members and 80% in England and Wales defying the anti-union laws and the ban on their union's right to strike.
There was also a massive Police Federation demonstration of over 35,000 police officers against police cuts. This, combined with doctors in the British Medical Association currently balloting their members on strike action against attacks to their pensions, is a big warning to the Con-Dems that they are increasingly isolated from the majority in society.
Predictably this is lost on the right-wing union leaders and unfortunately on some left leaders as well. Scandalously, Unison's national officer for health, Christine McAnea informed the employers that no further industrial action would be taken by health workers in Unison because of the slim majority for rejection of the government's pension 'deal' on a 14% turnout.
McAnea has form on this, justifying signing the heads of agreement in December by saying: "We always knew this (N30) would be a damage limitation exercise". This is the cynical view of union bureaucrats weighed down by two decades of defeats and out of touch with the raging anger of their members - who are also in the middle of a four-year pay freeze.
Similarly, NUT members will be furious that their 'left' leadership has unfortunately seemingly lost its nerve by not only being absent on 10 May but at its executive (NEC) meeting, which incredibly took place on the strike day, voting to rule out taking action in June.
NUT general secretary Christine Blower was heckled in the London M10 rally when PCS, UCU and Unite members justifiably asked: "Why aren't you on strike today?" As the government's austerity programme continues to bite, even left leaders who have played an important role in the dispute on J30 and N30, will not be able to rest on their laurels. The NUT Local Associations rank and file conference on 16 June is a vital step in pushing the union back on course (see details below).
But the head of steam from M10 has to be maintained to ensure momentum isn't lost again. The upcoming PCS conference will discuss emergency motions calling for further coordinated strikes in June. We call for an immediate meeting of at least all the unions who took part in N30 to discuss a strike on that scale. This is entirely justified given the Unison vote and also GMB's likely rejection in health.
Considering the scale of the austerity agenda - 90% of the cuts are still to come and national pay could be scrapped in favour of regional or even local pay rates - it was no wonder that Bob Crow's call for a 24-hour general strike in the autumn got such a positive response at the London strike rally. The events in France and particularly in Greece are bringing the urgency of the situation into sharper focus.
Prentis has been quoted as approving of a march in the autumn but the weakness of this government reeling from the 'Murdochgate' scandal demands greater urgency.
The news that the TUC is organising a demonstration outside the Tory Party conference in October, while welcome, should be in addition and not instead of the type of mass national mobilisation we need.
It is undoubtedly the power of the organised working class mobilised last year that has been a major factor in stirring the likes of the police and the doctors. This central role must be continued now.
A national TUC demonstration on a Saturday in London before the summer break to supplement the ongoing strike action would broaden the movement against the cuts and build support for a 24-hour general strike against austerity. A crucial place to organise this is at the National Shop Stewards Network conference on 9 June.
NUT Local Associations rank and file conference:
Local Associations for National Action Conference
Saturday 16 June, 11am - 3.30pm
The Quaker Meeting house
22 School Lane
This event is our chance to plan how we are going to make sure teacher unions maintain the momentum of the pensions campaign - and escalate and extend our action to cover other issues too.
Conference delegates need to be elected by their Local Association - but visitors we be welcome too.