The National Union of Teachers Executive should soon name a date for a second strike against government pension cuts, probably early November.
The other unions which participated in the 30 June strikes — the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL), the University and College Union (UCU) and the Public and Commercial Services union (PCS), will probably join the strike. The Executive of the Scottish teachers’ union, the Educational Institute of Scotland (EIS), is expected to approve a request by a sub-committee for a strike ballot over pensions. The Fire Brigades’ Union’s latest bulletin to its members on pensions describes an “ever-increasing likelihood of industrial action”.
Public sector workers need to start mobilising to make the strike as big and solid as possible.
The big element missing is Unison, the biggest union in local government and health. Its leaders preach delay.
Tower Hamlets, Camden and Kirklees branches of Unison have called a branch-based conference on 24 September to discuss the dispute. This is important — an initiative of a type almost unprecedented in Unison, which has long suppressed branch-to-branch coordination in favour of top-down organisation.
Activists in Unison are worried that their leader, Dave Prentis, is preparing to settle for minor concessions in the Local Government Pension Scheme, and even to accept the Tories’ plans for the other schemes in return for that. Prentis may be hoping he can buy off local-government union activists by securing a delay of several years before employee contributions to their pension scheme increase.
The 24 September conference, initiated by local government branches, should reach out to health branches, and union activists must begin drawing up a battle-plan to resist NHS cuts too.
The Socialist Party-run National Shop Stewards’ Network has organised a lobby of the TUC’s upcoming mini-congress on 11 September. It has won some union backing, and the demonstration will be a chance to express discontent with the union leaders’ sluggishness. Unfortunately it makes only the ritual, and oxymoronic, demand for a “24-hour public sector general strike”, and puts no pressure on the frontline union leaders to move forward.
Getting the already-active unions to move forward, and apply pressure to draw Unison along with them, rather than allowing the Unison leaders to hold the whole campaign back, is crucial.
Maximum democratic control of the campaign is also needed. Cross-union strike committees should be set up in every city to coordinate activity on the strike day. They should build for mass strikers’ assemblies that can discuss the dispute and the politics behind it rather than just top-down rallies featuring a parade of union bureaucrats. They should reach out to workers not yet balloted for strikes, such as Unison members.
Real picketing must be organised; not just token efforts but active, participatory mini-demos at the gates of schools, colleges and job centres to stop scabs from entering.