Members of Workers’ Liberty who work in the public sector met on Saturday 14 January to discuss organising against a sell-out in the pensions campaign, and to develop our efforts to build rank-and-file power in workplaces and unions.
AWL members organise in “fractions” — our school workers’ fraction, for instance, brings together National Union of Teachers (NUT) activists with teaching assistants and other education workers.
The school workers heard a report from NUT Executive member Patrick Murphy, whose motion to the 12 January Executive meeting would have committed the NUT to organise further action on pensions but was defeated.
The fraction agreed to fight in NUT branches and associations for motions for the next Executive meeting calling for further action before the February half-term. We will also seek to initiate a conference of delegates from union branches and school groups to discuss campaigning on workload issues and draw lessons from the pensions battle.
John Moloney (PCS) said that although the pensions dispute is in serious danger of being sold out, the battle isn’t over yet. PCS activists discussed how they could win their union to organising more action, both on pensions and on issues like jobs and pay. Comrades said that while the PCS’s commitment to unity with other unions was positive, it was sometimes used as a cover for inaction on issues where the union could, and if necessary should, fight alone.
Unison members discussed how they could build the campaigns in Unison for emergency sector conferences to revive the pensions campaign. They also discussed how to build on the good work of AWL members and others in Lambeth Local Government Unison, who have been successful in building workplace-level organisation, developing new reps and involvement in the branch.
Unison comrades also discussed with PCS comrades the potential impact of further action in the pensions battle from the PCS. More strike action as an established “fact on the ground”, rather than just something Mark Serwotka thinks would be a good idea, would give activists in more conservative unions something to organise around.
With the more “rejectionist” unions due to meet on Thursday 19 January, the meeting discussed what could be done to push for a continued and rolling campaign.
A further one-day strike by the PCS, or perhaps PCS and NUT, cannot in-and-of-itself defeat the government’s pensions plans. But it could act as a catalyst for wider and further action, including rolling and selective strikes.
The meeting agreed that the central obstacle in the pensions battle has been the democratic deficit.
The campaign has been run entirely by the bureaucracy, calling members out on big “spectacular” actions with nothing in between and no mechanism for workers to direct the dispute from workplace level.
Existing “broad left” grouping in unions have played a less than helpful role, frequently tailing union bureaucracies or reducing themselves to ginger groups for union leaders rather than building forums where workers can assert an independent voice and attempt to take control of their dispute and their unions.
AWL public sector workers will attempt to contribute to doing that through initiatives like the rank-and-file conference in NUT, a branches-based campaign on pay in PCS and the campaign for special conferences in Unison, as well as intervening in existing union lefts for a real rank-and-file strategy.
Commenting on the meeting, PCS activist and AWL Sheffield member Rosie Huzzard said:
“Being able to share experiences and tactics with trade union comrades from across the country and over a wide number of sectors is an invaluable experience; discussion around radical political education, training and bringing on new activists, and perspectives on the definition of a ‘rank and file campaign’ were all useful.
“Working in a large government workplace with a comparatively left wing union, it can often be hard to visualise the internal struggle for those in less transparent or democratic unions, or those without recognition agreements or facility time.
“Having regular cross-union meetings is creating a common understanding and improves how we can help each other, through practical solidarity.”