Organise next pensions action now!

Submitted by Matthew on 11 January, 2012 - 1:15

The decision of Unite’s local government committee to follow the lead of its health committee in rejecting the latest pensions offer is a significant development in the fight to defeat the government’s attacks.

Unite says only that its local government members will “now consider their next steps”, rather than definitively committing to further action. In Unite now, the battle for activists is to ensure that the union organises further strikes, and quickly.

A proposal from AWL member Patrick Murphy to the National Union of Teachers (NUT) Executive on 12 January could commit the NUT to joining the Public and Commercial Services union (PCS), Northern Irish union NIPSA and now Unite in explicitly rejecting the deal and, more importantly, committing to further strike action. Even on the NUT’s notionally left-led Executive, however, many senior trade unionists are cautious about committing to more action.

A Financial Times article quotes PCS leader Mark Serwotka talking about more strikes. But at the 7 January conference organised by PCS’s ruling Left Unity faction, the platform stubbornly refused to commit themselves to more than lobbying the TUC to call further action. The conference organisers dominated by the Socialist Party (the hegemonic faction in PCS) refused to allow debate on amendments calling for PCS to initiate action if the TUC won’t.

Activists should link up to support efforts to push the leaderships of the PCS, Unite and potentially others to call more action as soon as possible.

That action should be designed specifically to apply maximum pressure to the government.

Rolling and selective strikes of, for example, revenue collectors would have a bigger economic impact than a one or even two-day “all out” demonstration strike.

That is an argument that will need to be won. Many on the labour movement left, including the far left, have a narrow and mechanical conception of strike action that sees anything other than everyone going out at the same time as somehow less militant or radical. That conception reduces strikes to mere gestures, rather than weapons used to win specific demands. A Guardian article on 20 December has Serwotka considering “targeted” action; a positive development, given the PCS leadership’s historic hostility to such action.

But Serwotka is also quoted (again in the FT) “warning” that the conflict could “expand” to include the issues of jobs and pay. The PCS’s strike ballot included these issues as well as pensions, and certainly unions must find ways to link the pensions fight to other upcoming battles. But folding the pensions battle into a more general campaign on other issues is a way of putting a “militant” gloss on an admission of defeat on pensions.

Rank-and-file activists in “rejectionist” unions should fight for:

• their leaderships to name a date for the next set of strike action as soon as possible, in consultation with other unions

• a sustained campaign of action, not just one-off strikes, including rolling and selective action, action short of strikes and other direct actions (protests, rallies etc.) between all-out strike days

• the establishment of rank-and-file strike committees to control the dispute

• a public, political “Fair Pensions for All” campaign