A massive November walkout of up to 2 million public sector workers is now on the cards as the UK’s largest unions announce their intention to ballot for strike action over pension reform.
Unison, Unite and the GMB, the UK’s largest biggest unions, have announced their intention to ballot for coordinated strike action against cuts to public sector workers pensions.
Other unions which have not taken action over pensions so far also indicated their intention to ballot, including the NASUWT (a teachers’ union), NAHT (headteachers), FBU (firefighters), Prospect (civil servants).
Unions which took strike action over the same issue on June 30 will almost certainly join this action as well, including PCS (civil servants), NUT (teachers), ATL (teachers) and UCU (university and college workers).
Importantly, the three big unions have members in the NHS and its contractors, and have stated their intention to ballot them for industrial action as well. Unison has stated it will ballot 1.1 million members at 9000 different employers.
Despite agreeing to enter scheme-specific talks with the government without having achieved any concessions on the main planks of the overall changes, the union leaderships are now talking tough, calling this “the fight of our lives”.
The three big unions have stated they will support a big one-day strike, followed by selective “smart” stoppages rolling on until next summer.
The first increase in workers’ pension contribution payments, where workers will see their pay cheques shrink, is due to come in in April 2012.
Behind the scenes, it is rumoured that Dave Prentis, Unison’s general secretary, may be prepared to make a deal if local government workers are exempted from our proposed 50% increase in pension contributions. We cannot accept this – we need to all stick together. Because if we let other groups of workers have their contributions be increased, then a couple of years down the line they will be back for ours, and those workers will think “why should we support them, when they didn’t support us?”.
The unions have a patchy record of defending public sector workers’ pensions. In 2006 when a big wave of pension cuts were proposed, following a one-day strike, further strike action called off, and eventually a deal agreeing to significant cuts in pensions was recommended to now-demobilised union members.
If we want to have a serious chance at fighting these cuts, then we have to make this action as effective as possible, broaden it out as much as possible and take the struggle into our own control as much as possible. If we let ourselves be passively led by the unions then we will be defeated again.
Originally from Steven John’s blog on libcom.org. EIS, the education union in Scotland which represents 60,000 teaching staff, has also begun balloting for action. This could mean the first coordinated strike action for education staff across the entire UK.