In some areas, notably Nottingham, union activists are preparing for the probable strike against pension cuts on 30 June in one way.
They are organising a joint strike committee of the unions likely to take part — NUT (teachers), ATL (teachers), PCS (civil service), and UCU (lecturers). They are inviting representatives of other unions whose members face the public-sector pension cuts, and job cuts, like Unison, GMB, and Unite, and people from anti-cuts campaigns, to come along too.
For 30 June itself they plan a proper strikers’ meeting, where strikers can debate and put proposals on the next steps for the campaign.
In other areas, it is different. The preparation is in the hands of full-time union officials, with cross-union liaison only at top level. The plan for 30 June is marches and rallies, with workers listening to a string of union leaders and then going home to await the top officials’ wisdom on what happens next.
A lot depends on which approach dominates. 30 June is the first splash of substantial generalised trade-union action against a Coalition Government programme which threatens both the services and benefits we depend on to civilise capitalism and the very fabric of the trade union movement. After 26 years of difficulty since the defeat of the miners’ strike in 1985, union strength has become heavily concentrated in the public sector. On 2010 figures, public-sector employees accounted for 62.4 per cent of all union members, but only 17.6 per cent of non-members.
We want the demands of the dispute and our future industrial strategy to be worked out in the democratic structures of the union (not in union head offices). Workers must start to ask the questions — what would constitute a victory? What are we doing after 30 June to secure that victory? So far, the unions have left these questions open.
If 30 June is allowed to pass as a limp one-off protest, then the Government will increase its attacks. If 30 June becomes the start of a growing ferment of resistance, then the unions can rebuild themselves and their strength.
The Alliance for Workers’ Liberty has called a joint meeting on Saturday 28 May of our “fractions” (organised groups of members) in the key sectors involved: teachers, civil service workers, lecturers, local government workers, health workers. Some members of our “fractions” in other sectors — rail and media — and of our “fraction” in the giant conglomerate union Unite will also be attending.
The meeting will be open to interested non-members of AWL who work closely with us in those unions.
The aim to exchange experiences and work out a common line for organising for 30 June and for the struggle after 30 June. This will provide the basis for AWL members’ motions, amendments, speeches and so on in the different unions.
We will discuss the response we should advocate if some employer should gain a court injunction against the 30 June strike. Recent court cases have shown that the minor errors inevitable in a union ballot of a large, diverse, and often-changing workforce provide enough basis for an employer to get an injunction against any large strike ballot result if he wishes. The “balance of convenience” is always on the side of banning a strike. But isn’t this the one occasion, of all occasions in recent years or the foreseeable near future, when the unions should be bold enough to defy an obviously class-biased court ruling?
The meeting will also hear reports from the diverse local anti-cuts committees round the country, and formulate views on the best way for them to go forward.
The AWL National Committee already discussed many of these questions in a meeting on 7 May, and has produced a discussion document to be updated, corrected, and expanded by the discussion at the 28 May meeting.
• Discussion document: www.workersliberty.org/pointers