Name the date for the next strike!
Hundreds of rank and file union members protested outside the TUC (Trades Union Congress) on Monday night on the lobby of the TUC’s Public Services Liaison Group called by the National Shop Stewards’ Network. The lobby articulated the feelings of anger of hundreds of thousands of public sector trade unionists faced with the prospect of their leadership agreeing to a rotten deal.
The lobby, and the campaign around it, had an important effect in forcing TUC leader, Brendan Barber, and UNISON (biggest public sector union) general secretary, Dave Prentis, to partially step back from complete and immediate capitulation.
This now allows a window of opportunity for trade unionists to step up the pressure for a continuation of the pensions struggle.
As union leaders went into Congress House, protestors chanted "The Tories win when you sell out!", "N30 showed the way, TUC name the day [for the next strike]" and "Let the members decide!" The TUC’s Public Services Liaison Group meeting took place after Brendan Barber and Dave Prentis spent the weekend trying to convince public sector unions to sign up to a ’Heads of Agreement’ on the pensions dispute.
This ’agreement’ would in effect suspend any further action and agree that the minor concessions of the government are sufficient to settle the dispute.
From reports it seems that in local government UNISON, GMB and UNITE unions have indicated that they want to sign Maude’s ’heads of agreement’ and that UNISON has done the same in the health sector.
It’s clear however that the pressure from union activists, up to and including last night’s lobby has prevented a far more open capitulation.
Barber had to issue a statement saying, "It’s important to stress that no agreements have been reached, but unions now have proposals to put to their executives and members."
Prentis also had to emphasise that the ’agreement’ would be put to the UNISON Service Group Executives (SGEs) on 10 January.
UNISON members now need to make sure that members of the SGEs are flooded with letters, emails and phone calls making clear members’ opposition to this rotten deal.
Decisions should be made by NECs
Decisions on whether there is anything acceptable shouldn’t be in the hands of a handful of union leaders but should be made by the unions’ national executive committees, which consist of elected lay members, and then by full votes of the union members who were balloted for the 30 November 2011 public sector strike (N30).
The NSSN supports the actions of unions like PCS, NUT and POA who have refused to sign up to a process that can only give confidence to the government while lowering the confidence of workers that their unions are serious about fighting back.
The massive two million strong strike on N30 frightened the government. However, as yet the government has moved only inches.
The government is relying on the right-wing trade union leaders to throw away their advantage. As The Mirror newspaper acknowledged, the concessions are very slight and still mean that public sector workers will pay more in pension contributions in the middle of what is now a four year pay freeze, and work longer to get less.
In local government, the government might concede a two year delay in the increased pension contributions in return for what is effectively a no-strike agreement.
Far bigger pensions contributions
But if a worker has another twenty years’ work in front of them, the majority of those years will be on far bigger pensions contributions.
In addition, the government is planning to change the pensions from a ’final salary’ to the lesser ’career average’ as well as increasing the retirement age.
Any movement from the ConDem coalition government after just one day of co-ordinated strike action should be taken as a source of confidence that the government can be forced into a total climb-down.
Rather than trying to cajole unions into signing up to a disorderly retreat, yesterday’s meeting should have set the date for the next strike as early as possible next year, preferably by the end of January.
Unison’s head of health, Christina McAnea, told the press that "we always knew this would be a damage limitation exercise." Union national officials might think this, but millions of union members who were on strike on 30 November will be determined that this battle doesn’t end here.
The day before N30, George Osborne sketched out the next five years or more of unremitting misery for working people.
Another £30 billion of cuts on top of the £81 billion he announced a year ago. 360,000 public sector workers have been sacked, while those remaining facing pay freezes and pay cuts because of job evaluation.
The most vulnerable in society have been hit hard by these ruthless cuts, made in order to pay for the bankers’ greed – for which Cameron was prepared to go to the wall in Brussels.
Yet even more cuts are now demanded, which could see a further 400,000 sacked! No wonder N30 was so successful, with towns and cities all over the country seeing their biggest ever demonstrations.
Keep up the pressure
We’ve got to keep up the pressure on the union leaders. The government’s so-called offer will be discussed and debated at union national executive committees early in the New Year.
Unison’s local government and NHS group executive committees meet on January 10th. The National Shop Stewards Network calls on all public sector workers to send in motions and resolutions to their union branches, shop stewards committees and trades councils calling for rejection of this deal and the naming of the next strike date.
Sign our online petition and tell your friends, family and workmates about it. But most of all, come to the conference called by PCS Left Unity on Saturday January 7th at the Friends Meeting House in Euston Road, London.
It’s open to union members, activists and reps in all unions to debate the way forward after N30 and yesterday’s TUC Public Services Liaison Group meeting.
• No retreat
• Reject the deal
• Name the day for the next public sector pension strike