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What we think
All out to defend pensions!
AN EXPLOSION of anger has swept the public sector against New Labour's plans to cut back on pension rights. Many of the major unions are making plans to ballot their members for strike action against the government attacks, particularly the raising of the retirement age.
UNISON in local government were the first to declare for a ballot, now they are likely to be joined by PCS, Amicus, TGWU, UCATT and GMB. There is no doubt that many of these workers would have been prepared to strike long ago except for the log jam created by the anti-union laws.
In what other country would the government announce months ago that they are introducing legislation to cut council workers' pension rights but the unions cannot act until they "respond" to the government's proposals? Only then are they allowed even to set in motion the legal machinery to begin balloting their members.
Meanwhile, French workers have been striking in their millions against their government's plans to cut back the welfare state, including pension rights.
Nevertheless the strike action being planned - probably for Wednesday 23 March - will be the first time for decades that the unions have come together in action to oppose any government.
This would be the first time for decades that the public-sector unions, or at least a big proportion of them, take simultaneous strike action over the same issue.
This is no thanks to the TUC leadership, who have constantly blocked any moves to unite the unions in defence of the public sector. This includes trying to stop the PCS putting a motion on the TUC agenda that called for a day of action during working time against the pension attacks.
UNISON members will take strength from the knowledge that other unions now look likely to join them in action.
The union leaders should now pull out all the stops to ensure that the strike ballots return as big a majority as possible.
The strike by itself will not stop New Labour in its attacks on the public sector but it will be a big kick start to the campaign. There is only one language New Labour understand and that is the language of action.
200,000 civil servants went on strike last November, for the first time in over ten years, against the proposed 100,000 job cuts announced by Gordon Brown in his budget - forcing at least partial retreats from the government. The strike against pension cuts is part of the same struggle and needs the same determined action.
New Labour and Blair in particular are planning to destroy effective trade unionism in the public sector. This is the real meaning of all the attacks. They recognise that it is only the trade unions that stand between them and the complete destruction of the welfare state. Blair wants to complete in the public sector what Thatcher set out to do across industry and the workplaces 25 years ago.
The decline in trade union organisation in the private sector, where no more than 12% of the workforce is in unions, has accompanied the deregulation and 'open labour markets' without trade union representation that marks much of the private sector today. This has worsened conditions for those workers.
But over 60% of the six million workers in the public sector remain in the unions. New Labour's "reforms" are primarily aimed at the break-up of trade union organisation.
In the NHS, foundation hospitals, with separate pay rates for those staff, are an important part of this strategy. In the civil service, the break up of national pay bargaining has been going on for ten years or more, though the present PCS leadership is determined to reverse this trend.
In local government it was the introduction of the misnamed "single status agreement" that is leading to separate localised wage deals.
Unions have no place in capitalism's plans or those of the Labour government. The trade union leaders know this but have lacked any confidence to do anything about it.
The TUC in particular has promoted the idea of "partnership" with the employers. This strategy has been a complete disaster. Only militant industrial action can save the public sector.
In The Socialist 5 February 2005: