Over a thousand members of the Rail, Maritime and Transport union who are part of the Principal Civil Service Pension Scheme or the Local Government Pension Scheme will be balloted to join the mass public sector strike action on 30 November.
The workers are employed by Royal Fleet Auxiliary, Orkney Ferries and Nexus and DB Regio (who operate the Tyne and Wear Metro), and the RMT’s ballot brings the total of unions and professional associations potentially taking action on 30 November (including all those who hold live mandates, have begun balloting or expressed an intention to ballot) to seventeen.
One of the other unions, the Fire Brigades Union (FBU), is already facing attempts at strikebreaking from local Fire Authority bosses, despite not having formally announced its strike ballot. Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service is offering volunteer scabs £150 a day to undertake three weeks of intensive training so that they can provide cover on 30 November. The FBU says that putting “cardboard cut-out” volunteers without proper training into emergency situations will risk more lives than it will save.
Unison’s ballot papers were sent out on Tuesday 11 October. They ask members in the NHS whether they are “prepared to take industrial action to defend [their] pension”, a sufficiently broad phrasing of the question to allow the union to use a yes vote as a mandate for ongoing action beyond 30 November. However, by not specifying what kind of industrial action is to be taken, Unison could use a narrow majority or a small turnout to claim that there is an insufficient mandate for strike action and only organise action short of strikes.
Bizarrely, the ballot paper also featured a paragraph explaining that workers can be disciplined for taking industrial action — informative, but hardly likely to inspire confidence. The ballot paper question for local government workers is phrased differently, specifically asking whether members are prepared to take strike action. Historically, the nature of health workers’ work has made them understandably less willing to take strike action. But the union needs to give its members the confidence to take whatever action necessary to win.
Super-union Unite, which has 250,000 members across the various public sector pensions schemes, has plastered its website with downloadable “vote yes!” posters, but says only that its ballot papers will be sent out “during October”. The GMB union has also begun producing plentiful “vote yes” materials for its members, including bulletins and poster templates for workplace meetings, but is also yet to send out its ballot papers.
Questions still remain over what kind of action Unite and the GMB will ballot for. One day of protest strike action on 30 November cannot possibly put the brakes on the Tories’ plans; unions must give themselves mandates for action beyond 30 November, including action short of a strike and rolling, selective and escalating action where possible.
Members of the University and College Union (UCU) in pre-1992 (“redbrick”) institutions have already begun action short of a strike in protest at reforms to the Universities Superannuation Scheme.
The National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts is mobilising student activists to support their lecturers (see http://bit.ly/qOpC3G).