Articles  •  Britain  •  TUC - Trades Union Congress

TUC day of action could see millions strike

16 September 2011

Millions are going on strike against government cuts but to see success we need to keep the pressure on the union tops, writes John Bowman

Several million workers in Britain could be set to strike on 30 November after major unions declared the next day of action over major cuts to public sector pensions.
Dave Prentis, leader of Unison, the 1.1 million strong public service union said “It’s the fight of our lives. I know it’s an over-used cliché, but make no mistake, this is it.”
Other unions who organise the rest of the three million workers who could walk out include the GMB, and public sector workers in Unite. Several other unions also have mandates to ballot including the UCU, ATL and NUT education unions, as well as civil service union the PCS. It is possible that professional unions and associations such as the Royal College of Midwives, The Royal College of Nursing and even the British Medical Association which represents doctors could join in the action.
The TUC has called for unions who will not be striking to take part in the “day of action” with demonstrations and rallies in support of those who are.
However, the call for action and for the “fight of our lives” comes a whopping 5 months after a number of unions struck on 30 June (also over pensions), and 8 months after 500,000 protesters marched in London against Tory austerity plans.
The delay has cost the emerging union movement momentum whilst in that time Con-Dem plans to privatise healthcare have reached the final stages in the Houses of Parliament – and are dangerously close to being implemented. The Unions leaders are not organising the kind of action that can actually beat the cuts – and some, like Prentis, have made it clear more than once that they are willing to negotiate a sell out given half the chance.
And Labour leader Ed Miliband made his position clear – he is for more delays and is hell bent on getting the unions to call off their action.
“While negotiations were going on, I do believe it was a mistake for strikes to happen [on 30 June]. I continue to believe that. But what we need now is meaningful negotiation to prevent further confrontation over the autumn.”
He was booed and heckled by some on floor, but Paul Kenny, leader of the GMB union leapt to his defence. “I have to give him credit for his courage in coming here and speaking frankly to us. What comes across is that he is not ashamed of the trade union links to the Labour party.” Maybe Kenny is unaware that Miliband is arguing for policy that will cut the links between the unions and Labour even further?
In typical bureaucratic style Brendan Barber, TUC General Secretary said: “We remain absolutely committed, in good faith, to seeking a fair negotiated settlement of this dispute so that this action will not be necessary.”
But the government has made it absolutely clear that it will not negotiate on the pensions issue, and is confident that the trade union leaders won’t have the bottle to back up tough words with action. They are banking on calling out the 30 November strike, and the potential for sustained action afterwards as a TUC bluff.
If it was pressure from ordinary trade union members from below that was conducive to bringing the new strike date about, it will be pressure from above that could make some union leaders get cold feet, or leave it several more months before following up the new strike date with the sustained action that could win. The union leaders need to call a general strike against the cuts, all out and stay out until we win.
That’s why it’s essential for rank and file activists to do all they can to organise at the grassroots union level, and keep the pressure on the leaders to call the action that can win. We need an escalation of action before the strike and a fight for sustained, coordinated action and a general strike to topple this government of the rich.

Tags:  •   • 

Class struggle bulletin

Stay up to date with our weekly newsletter