Strike action the answer on pensions

Posted in ClassroomSolidarity's blog on Mon, 31/07/2006 - 20:22,

Over a million people struck to defend pensions on March 28th. Across the country successful pickets and demonstrations showed the potential of union power.
In Nottingham over 1,000 marched through the streets to a rally in the city. Schools, libraries, museums, car parks, refuse collection and much more was severely disrupted. 207 schools closed, the largest number for any county in the East Midlands. There were lively pickets at a number of locations across the county.
It struck me as amusing that at my own school the whole management team had been absent the day before the action but the school functioned as normal. Yet on Tuesday the school was closed because one trade unionist, the caretaker, refused to open the school but instead joined the marchers in Nottingham.
This action demonstrated not only the importance of these workers - caretakers, cleaners, caterers, teaching assistants, office staff, technicians, lab assistants, IT support – without whom it would be impossible to deliver an effective education service to our kids.
It also demonstrated the power of these workers, how, given effective leadership they can fight for a just cause - retirement at 60 not 65 - and win!
These workers have been taken for granted for the fantastic work they do for too long. At last they are getting a chance to fight back against their oppressors and from what I saw on this demonstration they are determined to take it.
Talking to demonstrators before the march began I found them in no mood to concede to the Government. They were outraged that a government in the pay of multi-millionaires was refusing to honour its pension commitments to low paid workers. They are hungry for ideas about the way forward and avidly read the Workers Liberty bulletin we distributed.
Speakers at the rally who spoke about escalating the action, fighting for the pensions of future workers as well as existing ones, received rousing cheers from the assembled workers.
The Government for its part seems determined to tough this one out but the Unions have agreed to suspend the action in return for new talks.
The Unions should hold their resolve and not concede anything on the rule of 85 to the Government. It is a mistake to suspend the action without any sign of concessions from the government. If the government fails to deliver anything significant the action should be escalated. Greater solidarity links should be made with those workers in and out of local government who have, for the time being, protected their pensions. This could be a real sign that the tide is turned against New Labour and in favour of a revived labour movement. France is further down the line in the struggle over youth employment rights but it wouldn’t take much to push the scales in that direction over pensions here.
Labour MPs and councillors should be pressured to come out openly for the strikers, especially those councillors facing re-election in May. Over 70 MPs opposed the government’s Tory Education Bill – they too should be out on the streets behind the demand for full pensions for all at 60.
The action in Nottingham and across the country has impacted in a way that even some on the left were surprised at. The heat is on now and we should respond accordingly.

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