At a meeting on 11 November the National Executive of the largest teachers’ union, the NUT, instructed its General Secretary to draw up a timetable of campaigning and action on pensions.
Such a campaign will take place before the Hutton Commission on public sector pensions produces its final report in Spring 2011. This timetable will include a ballot for strike action to take place in the spring term (ie between January and April).
The motion passed at the meeting called for other activity such as meetings, rallies and demonstrations, and the production and distribution of campaigning materials.
The fact that one of the public sector unions has decided to plan for action on the threat to pensions is very good news indeed. The fact that there was a unanimous vote on this, on a fairly evenly divided Executive, is another indicator of the changing mood in some sections of the labour and trade union movement.
The decision was heavily influenced by three major considerations.
There was a feeling that the best time for initial action was around the time of the final Hutton Report. John Hutton has already made it very clear that public sector workers will be expected to pay more (through higher contributions), work longer (by a raised retirement age), and get less (by a move to a lower method of index-linking pensions and away from final salary schemes). The final report will simply put some detail on that basic approach. If we fail to mobilise the anger his reports generate, we could miss the boat.
Secondly there is already evidence that members are in the mood to resist. Anecdotal reports from local areas and school meetings suggest that the threat to pensions is moving to the top of teachers’ concerns and that they are expecting the union to do something.
A third factor has been frustration with the slow pace of movement at the TUC. At the Public Services Liaison Group (PSLG) there was an attempt, led by PCS, to call for a major protest before 26 March and preferably before Xmas. It got the support only of PCS, NUT and POA, and was dismissed out of hand by the larger unions. There was even some indication that the TUC was relieved that Hutton’s report was “not as bad as it could have been”. The NUT Executive felt that we could not limit our response to the pace and rhythm of such a sluggish and complacent beast.
Joint action on pension remains the best hope of defeating these proposals and the NUT will continue to work for that but from the basis of getting on with it rather than waiting for the slowest to agree to move.
Our General Secretary has to seek maximum co-ordination with other public sector unions in all activities. We now need to press for similar decisions across the other teaching unions and the public sector.
Workers know the threat to their pensions and they are worried and angry about what faces them. They need unions which will reflect and direct that anger and to create a movement that can throw out the proposals. Such a movement could also begin to mobilise and give confidence to those in the private sector where there even worse pensions, as well as the millions of people reliant on inadequate state pension provision.