The PCS civil service union has called a strike for 10 November, and the teachers’ union NUT will announce the result of its strike ballot on 3 November.<--break-->
Both unions are in dispute with the Government over pay, demanding pay rises at least matching inflation rather than the Government’s limit of two-and-a-bit per cent.
PCS’s call to action for 10 November is muffled and apologetic. Headlines: “PCS calls on government to avoid national strike. PCS calls on government to come to negotiating table to avoid damaging industrial action over pay. National executive committee sets 10 November as day for national strike action if no progress...”
The PCS ballot, announced on 17 October, had 54% voting yes, in a 35% turnout.
That mediocre result came from two factors. Firstly, the union leadership did not present the action it was balloting for as a way to win the union’s demands.
The other factor was the initial stunning effect of the economic crisis. Some members think it best in a crisis to keep their heads down.
That “crisis” factor has also been a problem in the NUT’s campaign for a yes vote on pay. NUT activists report a good response from younger teachers to the union campaign, but there are also problems.
The NUT leaders have not communicated to the membership that they have a confident will to win, or that they can see the government as vulnerable because of its political troubles. They have not even begun a discussion with the members about what action should follow the one-day strike. (They have already had one one-day strike in this dispute, on 24 April, but that was followed by seven months’ delay).
A rolling programme of local half-day strikes, linked to demonstrations at MPs’ offices or similar places - as recently used, with success, by teachers in Victoria, Australia, in their pay battle - is one option. Taking selected groups of schools out for several days at a time, with the strikers compensated from the union’s strike fund, is another.
Both NUT and PCS would have been stronger if the union leaders had timed their ballots to allow the two unions to strike on the same day. Activists in both unions assumed that they would do that.
For reasons they have never explained, the unions timed the ballots so that the legal constraints (industrial action requires seven days’ notice to employers after being balloted for and called, but must start within 28 days of the ballot mandate) made it difficult to unite the strikes.
NUT and PCS activists should still seek the maximum coordination possible.