Pensions fight: build for sustained action after 28 March!

Submitted by Matthew on 14 March, 2012 - 8:09

Based on the responses I've had from workplaces meetings, I think members of the National Union of Teachers will overwhelmingly endorse the union's rejection of the Government’s terms on pensions, and will vote yes to further strike action.

The survey in the NUT, concluding on 14 March, asks for support for further action starting with 28 March.

Just one further strike day can't be enough, and neither can more of the same (i.e. disconnected one-day strikes).

We need to develop a strategy which maintains the pressure in a more constant and sustained way. That has to mean selective and rolling action alongside (not instead of) national strike action – bringing out workers on a branch by branch or region by region basis, or coordinating regional or citywide strike action with PCS, UCU and possibly the Fire Brigades Union.

Pension contribution increases will be imposed by the Government from April, and come after two years of pay freeze and more years of below-inflation rises. When members feel the pinch in their pay packets from April that will raise the issue of pay again - and just as the government’s next assault, regionalised pay, arrives. Public sector unions need to develop plans for a national fight on pay.

Another issue for teachers is workload. The main reason teachers in particular think it is ludicrous to propose that we work to 68 is that the job is so demanding physically and mentally.

Quite a few people have relied on the individual strategy of holding on as long as they can, maybe going part-time toward the end of their careers and then grabbing their pension.

In many cases this means going early and taking a reduced pension. Those options are much less viable when the retirement age rises to 65 and then 68.

We should use that fact to argue that tackling excessive workload, bullying managers and the insane target culture we work under is now an urgent priority.

The dispute is not over. We should demand the reopening of talks, and fight around demands for specific concessions. But there are already lessons which every teacher and school worker can learn from the course of this dispute.

The existence of three separate TUC-affiliated unions for classroom teachers is a crippling weakness. We have a workforce that is very highly unionised and skilled; factors which ought to lead to substantial industrial strength. On issue after issue, however, each union takes a different stance. Attempts to co-ordinate take up huge amounts of time and effort and then often don’t come off.

We should argue that one “industrial union”, organising all workers in schools (not just teachers), would be a huge step forward.

That’s something to aim for, but we also need an approach to organise effectively in the meantime. That has to be based on much better workplace organisation, confident well-informed reps and unity from below on concrete industrial issues.

Any dispute I’ve organised in my area has included as a matter of course attempts to co-ordinate with the other unions. At the level of the workplace this is easier because the problems are more or less the same for all of us, and the bureaucracies who tend to block joint action find it harder.

The future is for activists in all the school unions to focus on more effective fighting workplace organisation, as part of a wider strategy for building industrial unionism in schools.

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