Britain: “We’re striking back on 10 May”

Pension cuts, job cuts, service cuts

The PCS executive committee has called national strike action on 10 May (M10) as part of a united campaign with other unions. Strikes will take place in three of the four sectors being affected by the government’s attacks on pensions – civil service, health and education.

This M10 trade union coalition is needed to challenge a government of millionaires which is trying to force low-paid workers to pay more, work longer and get less in their pensions

Bristol PCS on the 30 June 2011 coordinated public sector strike of PCS NUT, UCU and other unions, photo Matt Carey

The government’s aim is to cut pensions to make privatisation more ’affordable’. They want to cut or destroy the vital services that bind our communities together and allow their banking and big business paymasters to squeeze as much profit out of what remains.

But there’s £120 billion in uncollected taxes, largely from the rich. Big business is sitting on over £750 billion that they could invest to create jobs. Not one cut to our public services is necessary.

The M10 action will be on the day after the Queen’s Speech, which will set out the coalition government’s next set of cuts. This includes forcing through more pension changes that will mean civil and public service workers paying more each month and working up to eight years longer. They also have plans for regional and local pay which, if implemented, would mean lengthy pay freezes for many in the most deprived areas of Britain.

Attack on pensions

The attack on pensions is a critical element of the government’s assault on working people. To concede on pensions would give the Con-Dems a green light to step up their attacks.

The pensions battle gives the trade union movement the chance to build the widest coalition to stop the government’s plans. 30 November saw the biggest strike in modern history and the government was shaken. If that action had continued, there is no doubt the government would have been stopped. And it still can be!

The government has given no concessions on the core issues on pensions of paying more, working longer and getting less. So it was a major error by the TUC leadership to fall for the government’s divide and rule tactics and accept their ’Heads of Agreement’ on pensions last December. This craven behaviour risked demoralising workers and it was a major boost for the government.

Along with a number of other unions, PCS opposed this sell-out. PCS played a major role in re-building the trade union coalition. PCS’s Left Unity conference in London on 7 January, which saw over 500 activists from all public sector unions come together to build a fightback, was a critical turning point.

In an indicative ballot, 90% of members voted to reject the government’s offer and 72% supported further action. Members voted on the clear understanding that any further action would be on the basis of a "strong campaign" capable of winning concessions. 28 March (M28) was set for the re-launch of the industrial action, but it then transpired that key allies in the alliance could not or would not take part.

The situation was quite simple, the alliance could not deliver the type of action our members expected. Rather than press ahead with M28, the PCS national executive voted to spend a few weeks re-building the coalition so that successful action could be organised.

In the middle of a battle it is important to aim for maximum unity. Members and activists were disappointed that M28 did not go ahead but understood the reasons.

We wanted to wait a few weeks to deliver effective action – as will now happen – on the basis of a greatly strengthened alliance. That alliance will now be bigger than the 30 June strikes and covers three out of the four pensions sectors – civil service, education and health.

Building in strength

The pensions battle is building in strength as workers realise the full scale of the attacks. On 10 May other unions, including Unite in health and the civil service, Northern Ireland’s main public service union Nipsa, lecturers’ union UCU, whose executive is to make a formal decision to strike this week, and RMT in the Royal Fleet Auxiliary will take part.

Teachers’ union NUT is meeting to make decisions on regional rolling action and national action, including in June.

The Police Federation will also be holding a 25,000 strong demonstration on London on 10 May against attacks on their pensions, jobs and pay and privatisation. The British Medical Association is also balloting its members.

Crucially, the GMB is balloting for rejection of the deal. This is a significant development. While the union will not take part on M10 it raises the prospect that one of the biggest public sector unions could be part of a growing coalition. By the summer we could see action on a far bigger scale than many thought likely.

To carry out its pensions cuts, the government needs to introduce legislation that can take up to nine months. And the whole package doesn’t come into full force until 2015, giving us 18 months to two years to stop them or win concessions

The government, with the shameful connivance of TUC leader Brendan Barber and Unison general secretary Dave Prentis, have tried to give the impression that the pensions dispute is all done and dusted. Their instruction from Labour leader Ed Miliband is clearly: "don’t rock the boat guys".

But this dispute is only just beginning. The choice will be bow down and let these gangsters kick us into the ground, or fight back. PCS will continue to be at the forefront of this battle.

The Socialist says:

  • Make the M10 strike a success
  • Organise a workplace meeting to prepare for the strike
  • If your union isn’t striking discuss how to put pressure on your leadership. If applicable link up with other unions
  • You could organise a public meeting in your town or city via the unions in dispute or trades council, anti-cuts campaign or National Shop Stewards Network. Explain the need to prepare for further action
  • Plan for a demonstration in your town or city on the day
  • All united – invite private sector workers, young people, pensioners, benefit claimants etc, to any public meetings, rallies and demonstrations
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