Members of the teachers’ union NUT voted 92% for discontinuous strikes to save pension provision, on a 40% turnout. Members of ATL, another teachers’ union, voted 83% in favour on a turnout of 35%. On 15 June the civil service union PCS declares the outcome of its voting.
The three unions, plus, in further education colleges and newer universities, the lecturers’ union, UCU, which has already balloted, will start by striking together on 30 June.
On 22 June the local government and health union Unison, at its conference, is likely to vote to ballot, too, paving the way for a bigger joint strike in the autumn. Leaders of the general unions Unite and GMB have said that their members in the public sector will join action in the autumn.
In the next two weeks, trade unionists across the country are getting ready for 30 June. Preparations in Nottinghamshire are different from in most parts of the country.
The trades council, the anti-cuts committee, and a joint committee of the striking unions are planning to use the day for strikers to formulate and debate proposals for the way forward.
On the 30th, a march through Nottingham will finish not with a rally where workers hear union leaders and then go home, but with a mass meeting at the city’s Albert Hall. The capacity is almost a thousand, and the organisers are confident of filling it. The trades council and the joint strike committee have agreed a draft motion on action after 30 June, and the meeting will be open to other motions and amendments.
The Government’s pension plans mean higher contributions (three per cent more off the average worker’s pay), later retirement dates, and lower pensions, across the board in the public sector. Those changes are linked to cuts in state pension provision, and will tend to ratchet down pension provision in the private sector, too.
The movement against those plans has the potential also to push back the cuts in services, jobs, and pension provision. With the Government’s drive already in full swing to cut benefits for the disabled, and its announcement in mid-June of its plans for “workfare” — in short: simultaneously cutting jobs and trying to coerce the unemployed into taking non-existent or very poor jobs or else lose benefit — it becomes urgent that the unions defend welfare benefits too.
To make reality of the movement’s potential, it has to come under the control of the rank and file. Workers have to be more than a stage army paraded from time to time by the union leaders to strengthen their hand in negotiations. The rank and file must be able to discuss the tactics, the demands, and the political perspective of the movement.
Action has to extend beyond important, but widely-spaced, one-day strikes. The Southampton council workers now in dispute over cuts have shown how. Instead of a series of one-day protests, they have organised indefinite rolling selective action: a different section of workers out each week, supported with strike pay, and chosen to maximise the economic impact on the employer.
Teachers could follow the example of teachers in Victoria, Australia, in their successful dispute in 2008. They did not proceed by organising a one-day protest, then waiting for the union leaders to organise another, and so on. They organised a rolling programme of regional strikes, each one linked to big demonstrations at the offices of local MPs.
That Nottingham’s unions are organising a meeting where workers can debate the way forward is in part because of the influence of Workers’ Liberty members in the local labour movement. Others on the left, notably the SWP, have opposed the plan in favour of a “Day of Rage” with no chance for discussion. Their argument is that a meeting will be boring “old left” stuff, that striking workers won’t want or even won’t be able to discuss politics and strategy, and that detail is best left to the established officials and activists.
The SWP is holding meetings across the country in the run-up to 30 June under the banner “Unite the Resistance”. It is positive that they have invited speakers from the Coalition of Resistance and the Socialist Party’s National Shop Stewards Network initiative. On the record, however, they will be averse to sober debate.
Even if you can’t get your local movement to organise like Nottingham for 30 June, discuss the issues and the motion in your union branch, trades council and anti-cuts committee.
Notts Trades Council/Joint Strike Committee motion for 30 June
We the assembled union members of PCS, NUT, ATL and UCU congratulate the union executives for balloting for industrial action over pensions. Today must be seen as only the beginning of an ongoing campaign of action.
We urge our union leaderships to announce plans to escalate the industrial action over pensions. It is clear from recent announcements by the government that they are not yet close to withdrawing their pension proposals. Evidence for local campaigning across the country shows that members understand the issues involved in the pensions disputes and are prepared to take extensive industrial action to defeat the government's pensions proposals.
We therefore call on our respective National Executive Committees in consultation with local union organisations to draw up plans for a variety of further actions under the current ballots beginning with:
• At least one further national strike day before the end July 2011.
• A timetable for further strikes in the Autumn, both nationally and regionally based.
We further call on our National Executives to start urgent talks with other unions facing job cuts and attacks on pay, pensions and conditions but who have so far not balloted for action. In such talks the Unions should make the case for our sister unions balloting for strike action against these attacks as a matter of urgency.
Finally, we believe it is vital that rank and file union members are involved in this dispute and we call on the unions taking action today to establish strike committees both within and between unions.
• Contact Notts Trades Council firstname.lastname@example.org