Rank-and-file must control pensions battle

Submitted by Matthew on 26 October, 2011 - 1:56

Activists in “N30” unions — the unions that are set to participate in the mass public sector strike over pensions reform — are working hard to build for 30 November.

Most of the best work is being driven locally by reps and activists on the ground. The unions nationally are punching well below their weight; in some areas, activists are having to rely on link-ups with neighbouring branches (rather than their national union) for materials and support. There's an effective radio silence on what's going on in the behind-the-scenes negotiations. The Financial Times reported on 25 October that the latest round of negotiations “ended in an impasse” — but what was discussed? What was the unions' negotiating position? Workers shouldn't have to rely on the house paper of the bosses for information on the status of negotiations about their own pensions! TUC secretary Brendan Barber is asking for further scheme-by-scheme negotiations, but this framework creates the danger that workers in one scheme (NHS, civil service, local government, teaching etc.) could be played off against workers in another.

Union members must fight for control over their own dispute. They must demand that the content of negotiations is made open, so that workers can judge for themselves whether any pressure from union leaders to de-escalate the action comes on the basis of any real concessions from government.

We can speculate about whether the union tops would prefer the strike not to go ahead, or whether they want to use it as a one-day-only posturing exercise in the hope of getting a few more crumbs from the table. Either way, the dispute is too important to be left in their hands.

Use N30 to build local disputes

By Tom Unterrainer, Nottingham NUT and Notts Trades Council (pc)

Nottinghamshire Trades Council has convened a series of meetings to discuss arrangements for 30 November.

These meetings act something like a strike committee, bringing together representatives from the unions set for action or balloting the membership. This set-up has limits, specifically the lack of rank-and-file involvement. A focus on mobilising and organising larger layers of the union membership and in recruiting new members must become a central part of the committee's work.

The Nottingham City branch of the National Union of Teachers (NUT) has already discussed plans for an education workers' rally in the run-up to the strike day. The situation has been complicated – in a good way – by plans to ballot members for action on the separate issue of changes to school holiday patterns. Nottingham City Council is attempting to force through a change to a five week term, which will not only mean a shorter summer holiday but will put the city out of synch with surrounding areas, causing massive complications for any teacher with children in different school systems.

The timeline for the ballot coincides with the build-up for action at the end of November and any action will have to be taken before Christmas – that is, shortly after the national action. All indications from the local NUT membership point towards large-scale support. This situation is a lesson for other trade unionists: in the current circumstances, workers may be prepared to do things that in other circumstances they would be unlikely to consider. Wherever our movement can build on the big explosions of activity with supplementary local activity on a smaller scale, we will be in a better position to sustain any new organisation and structures. We will also be able to sustain a mood for actively opposing this government.

Such opportunities may turn up in the most unexpected and unlikely places!

Grassroots activists should link up within and across unions to deliver a monster strike, led from below, that will challenge the power and control of the bureaucrats as well as terrify the government.

Members take lead in Islington

By a Islington Local Government Unison activist

My branch has produced a lot of material on pensions, including some great postcards designed by a neighbouring branch in Tower Hamlets.

We had an open branch meeting with about 150 people attending; still not great, but much better than it’s been for years. There was a good representation from different areas of the council with lots of teams/offices sending one or two people.

The branch has also decided to hire a “battle bus” to go round workplaces and organise for the strike, and to design “why we’re striking” leaflets for the public. We’ve also offered support to local health branches.

I’m an area convenor, and my area (adult social services) is one of the best organised areas of the council in terms of members, though we’re fairly short on stewards. Most of the offices now have monthly shop meetings. I've been pushing a “run a safe service”-type campaign which focuses on caseload and workload levels and stress, and seems to have caught a lot of people’s attention, including management!

At a recent local rally, senior Unison official Heather Wakefield seemed to imply that a strong yes vote might mean we wouldn’t even have to go on strike. We also had the local Labour councillors queuing up to support us even though they’re also attacking us through local cuts.

We’ve passed a version of the AWL model motion on building for the strike, so we’ll continue to focus on building workplace meetings where members can have a say in the running of the dispute, at least locally.

How to build the strike in your workplace

By a PCS activist

As we run up to the 30 November strike, union branches should be making their final preparations to win members over to take action on the day.

Members' meetings should be happening now. This is not only to firm up the members but also to beat the ban on such meetings being held in offices that many parts of the civil service try to enforce closer to a strike day.

If branches can have them in the workplace, so much the better – if not, then meetings in car parks, local venues etc. should take place.

All the way up to the 30th branches must try and recruit non-members; flooding workplaces with recruitment forms and literature as to why staff should join the union.

In many work places there is a ban on such activity – where this is in place, then staff should be leafleted on the doors into the work place. The formation of such “information lines” where activists stand outside the workplace talking and leafleting is good preparation for the picket lines to come.

Union notice boards should be cleared of all old material and only stuff concerning the 30th should be put up. PCS, as like many other unions, has an ordering system where branches can order picket arms bands, posters etc. Orders for this material should be placed as soon as possible – it is too late on the day to find out that you don’t have the right material.

Research timings of postal and other deliveries to your workplace; try to persuade postal and other workers not to make deliveries on the 30th. Indeed if you can talk to the local CWU branch in advance that would be good.

Send press releases to local papers, and prepare a leaflet for the strike that can be handed out to members of the public explaining what is happening.

It would be a good idea to start to draw up picket rosters in the here and now. Of course a lot will change between now and 30 November but early planning hopefully will ensure a core of people who can be depended upon to turn up on the lines.

If you find yourself short on numbers, then ask other local PCS branches if you can borrow some of “theirs” for the day. Of course it would be better if you could persuade your own members to sign up.

If there is a local workplace where other public sector unions will be on strike as well then try and make contacts with them.

If possible, hold all-unions members' meetings in advance of the strike.