Pensions fight in the balance

Submitted by Matthew on 18 January, 2012 - 1:57

Trade union militants across the labour movement are fighting to rescue the pensions battle from sell-out.

Activists in Unite are fighting to hold their national leadership to account and demanding that they uphold the policies of the union’s National Industrial Sector Committees (NISCs), which have voted to reject the government’s offer and organise further action.

Unite health activist Gill George said in a statement to the union’s United Left group: “The pensions fight is in the balance. A positive intervention by Unite — to implement the policy decision now coming from every single public sector NISC — could still be decisive in getting this back on track. Further delay will ensure the defeat of a fight that is of historic importance to our movement as a whole.”

University and College Union activists in post-92 universities and Further Education colleges face a likely ballot on their pensions deal, following a meeting of the union’s Executive on 20 January.

UCU members in the Universities Superannuation Scheme (post-92 universities) will attend a special branches’ conference on 31 January to discuss their latest deal.

Unison activists in both health and local government have launched campaigns for special conferences in an attempt to overturn the decisions of their Service Group Executives to suspend an active fight against the government’s latest offer.

Militants in the Public and Commercial Services union (PCS) are working to push their leadership, which has the most publicly “rejectionist” line, into organising further action rather than simply stating that further action would be a good idea.

The National Union of Teachers (NUT) Executive meets again on 26 January; an informal meeting of the more “rejectionist” unions is expected before then. Meanwhile NUT activists are pushing in branches for further action.

A solid NUT action could shut schools nationwide, and a strike by PCS’s members in areas such as revenue collection would have huge economic power. NUT and PCS picket lines on workplaces where other union members work would be a physical demand for solidarity from workers in unions whose leaderships have caved in.

That action will have to be fought for from below.

Many of the far left in the unions have preferred to flatter the left bureaucracies rather than exert real pressure on them. SWP member Gill George has done excellent work in Unite, and Socialist Workers’ Party and Socialist Party members on the NUT Executive voted for a motion proposed by AWL member Patrick Murphy which would have committed the union to organising action in February.

It was defeated by 26 votes to 13 because several non-aligned “left” Executive members including East London Teachers’ Association president and long-time SWP ally Alex Kenny voted against it. The SWP’s general approach has been to tread softly with NUT and PCS leaders; and the SP are the PCS leaders.

At the SWP-organise “Unite the Resistance” conference on Saturday 14 January, SWP diluted their demands on PCS leader Mark Serwotka by countering criticism of left-led unions with pleas “not to open that can of worms”. They voted down an AWL amendment for a specific programme of ongoing action (though some SWPers, including NUT Executive member Nick Grant, backed the proposal).

There is no time for niceties. Any potential means of resuscitating the dispute and fixing some concrete action to organise around must be exploited.

• More from Gill George here

• Report from “Unite the Resistance” conference here

• Report from the 12 January NUT Executive here