Tory Cabinet Office Minister Francis Maude has urged unions to stage a token 15 minute strike on 30 November, the scheduled day for the biggest strike in a generation over public sector pensions cuts. Mr. Maude is suggesting this as way round the need for unions to launch action within timescales set down in law without the need for members to lose pay. He was quoted on the BBC website stating “…. I’m trying to help them out of this ridiculous position they’ve got themselves into, where they’ve jumped the gun and gone to ballot before the time was remotely appropriate.” Maude questioned the unions’ mandate for the 30 November action on the basis of turnouts in those ballots that have closed so far with the threat that a minimum threshold- 50% is being mooted- for industrial action ballots will be introduced.
First of all it is for the union movement to decide what action and for how long it should take and we do not take advice or suggestions from Tory Ministers or anyone else for that matter. Furthermore, Maude or any of his chums in government are not well placed to lecture us on democracy when just 23% of the electorate voted for the Tories and just 1 in 7 for the Lib Dems! The anti-union laws, enacted by previous Tory governments, were not introduced to aid democracy in unions-quite the opposite! The number of members that support action is never clearer than on the day of a strike when in my experience the majority always withdraw their labour.
Secondly, the new pension ‘offer’ and it’s rejection by the unions that precipitated Maude’s remarks, are as much a joke as the 15 minute strike suggestion. A cynical ploy to divide and conquer, in which the key ‘concession’ was to those within 10 years of retirement, was not even enough to peel away the softer elements of the unions’ bureaucracy. Those nearer to retirement will still have to work longer and will get less as a result of the switch from the Retail Price Index to the lower measure of Consumer Price Index.
All the arguments against cutting pensions in the public sector and for decent pensions provisions for all are out there. The unions have published facts and figures and dealt with the myths propagated by the government and their media chums. These are there in black and white for anyone who is prepared to look (see for example the booklet here). It is clear that these cuts – effectively a tax on public sector workers to pay for the bankers’ deficit- will not help those in the private sector one iota. The destruction of the pensions schemes will also make privatisation of public services easier for government and their big business friends. So the fight against public sector pensions cuts must be the fight for decent pensions for all!
30 November is a major step forward. Over 30 unions are set to be involved with a number of ballot results due in the coming week likely to be in favour of joining the action. The result in the ballot of the National Association of Head Teachers’, a union not affiliated to the TUC, is significant. In its first vote for industrial action since forming 114 years ago members voted by 75% in a 53% turnout to strike. PCS members will be emboldened by the results in the Prospect and FDA ballots with 75% and 81% voting yes to action respectively, on over 50% turnouts, which mean that the civil service unions are united for the first time in decades.
Maude and the ConDem cabal are wobbling but it will take much more than a day’s strike action to force them to back down on pensions or any of the other issues at stake in a dispute that should also be targeting a retreat on job cuts, privatisation and the destruction of welfare.
This means that 30 November must go ahead with every union that can do so calling its members out on strike and setting out a programme of action stretching well into the New Year as a warning that there will be no retreat and in order to build a campaign that is truly capable of defeating the government. We must not accept shoddy compromises or deals done behind closed doors so that the bureaucrats can return to the quiet life. We must insist on rank and file control of each dispute and that it is linked to disputes in other unions, involving the community and service users where possible. We must not let the government, the bosses or our own leaders divide us!
A PCS Activist