Friday, 17 June 2011

30 June: two weeks to go and the ballot results are in!

See also 30 June: just three weeks to go.

The industrial fightback has begun. On 30 June over 800,000 civil servants, teachers and lecturers are set to strike. The strike votes are very impressive. The ATL teachers’ union, which has not voted to strike since 1979, delivered an impressive 83 percent vote for action. The NUT received a whopping 92 percent vote to strike, and the PCS 61 percent. Doncaster Unison members voted by 63.6 percent to strike, and they too will be out on 30 June (see here). Council workers in Southampton, belonging to both Unite and Unison, are also set to walk out on 30 June. It also now looks likely that London tube workers will strike on that day in support of two of their sacked reps. If that wasn’t enough, prison guards belonging to the POA union are due to walk out for two hours on 30 June to demand the right to strike!

All this takes place as Greek workers strike and lay siege to their parliament, Spain is set to see huge protests this weekend, and the Arab Spring rolls on. The media have finally woken up to the fact that 30 June is going to be big and that further action is likely. However, the government and the employers are now going on the offensive using the argument that only a minority of union members voted in the strike ballots and threatening to bring in even more draconian anti-union laws. It is important that their arguments are taken on but the best response is to make sure 30 June is as big and vibrant as possible. It has to be a day of rage against the government’s austerity plans. There is no time to lose; we have to get organised now.

The next two weeks must be used to ensure that the strike and solidarity action is as broad and strong as possible. Workers in the unions due to strike need to campaign to make their strikes as solid as possible. Mass meetings should be called and strike bulletins should be produced to inform members about the strike and activities on the day. Anti-cuts groups and students should hold meetings to plan their solidarity action.

Cornwall Anti-Cuts Alliance met on Wednesday with an impressive array of trade unionists present. This included Ian Williams, divisional secretary of Cornwall and Isles of Scilly NUT; Reuben Wallace, a local NUT secretary; John Parker-Rees a UCU rep. at the Tremough campus of the Combined Universities in Cornwall (CUC) connected to Exeter University; David Guiterman, an ATL rep.; Gill Allen from the Unison Local Government Branch Committee; Trudy Winterburn, a PCS branch secretary; Tony Lorton, CWU Cornwall Amal Branch Chair; Stuart Pulley, an FBU branch rep.; and two Unison regional officers, Chris Gayas and Stuart Roden.

The meeting discussed plans for the day. The NUT have organised a strike rally in Lemon Quay in Truro from 10:30am. All other unions and anti-cuts groups are invited to speak at the rally. Cornwall Anti-Cuts Alliance have organised a feeder march from Pydar House, Pydar Street from 10:30am. PCS are putting on a coach from St. Austell that other trade unionists and others are able to get on. John Parker-Rees from the UCU will try to organise a samba band and circus performers as well as someone from the journalism course to be a joint press officer for the day. The CWU and FBU will send out a message to all members for all off work members to get to the rally. The trade unions will all bring their banners on the day. Cornwall Anti-Cuts Alliance will have a stall at the rally with membership forms and a new leaflet and poster to give out.

There was an impressive sense that the unions understood that the attack on their members was a collective attack on the public sector as a whole and that their response must be a collective one also. Many of the trade unionists wanted to have a much greater involvement with Cornwall Anti-Cuts Alliance in the future. There was also an understanding that this was just the beginning and that there would be more strike action in the autumn.

Ian Williams from the NUT explained that his union had voted for discontinuous action meaning there could be rolling action in the autumn with different areas of the country coming out on different days. Chris Gayas, the Unison Regional Officer said she would be 'very surprised' if the union did not ballot its membership on the issue of pensions in the autumn and that she would know more after Unison's annual conference in Manchester next week. Tony Lorton of the CWU said the issue of the closure of two mail centres in London was likely to escalate in the near future. John Parker-Rees of the UCU said they had also voted for action short of a strike and that this may be the way his union would go as a 'death by a thousand cuts' may be more painful than a one-day strike. Stuart Pulley of the FBU said his union was currently carrying out a survey of its members and if it looked like there was a mood for strike action thay would be ballotted in the autumn.

All this comes as the government is feeling the pressure of resistance. The Daily Telegraph reported this week that “David Cameron prepares to retreat on four key fronts. The government was last night preparing to retreat on four fronts — the NHS, welfare, refuse collection and foreign student numbers.” This overplays the extent of the u-turns, but it reflects well the feeling of uncertainty and division in the Tories, let alone the Coalition, as they try to ram through such massive attacks. And it shows Cameron and his friends are vulnerable.

Meanwhile the knives are out for Ed Miliband. The Blairites are attacking him, but there are also strong voices on the left of the party who are angry at his lack of action over the NHS, cuts and job losses. Dave Prentis (perhaps with an eye on the approaching Unison conference) gave an interview with the Independent On Sunday where he attacked Miliband for “failing to stand up for the NHS” and “suggested the Labour leader can no longer count on his union's automatic support”. Under attack Miliband is reported to be about to make a speech where he will disgustingly equate greedy bankers with “benefit cheats”. This is the road to disaster. A National Audit Office report from July 2010 estimates that “benefit fraud” costs £1.5 billion a year. Tax avoidance and evasion costs £120 billion a year. Furthermore “benefit fraud” is overwhelmingly about desperate poor people trying to survive. Bankers’ greed is about the rich luxuriating in the wealth they have robbed from us. “Benefit cheats” get jail: bankers get peerages.

Internationally, Yemen and Syria are in revolt, Greece is on the verge of a social explosion (with this week’s general strike adding to the “square occupations”), and the Japanese government has been forced to admit that the effects of the nuclear meltdown were far greater than claimed.

We need to push for further coordinated action in early autumn. Some in the PCS are putting forward 4 or 6 October as possible dates for this. Already the PCS, NUT and CWU have indicated that they want to strike again in the autumn. This is exerting real pressure on the bigger unions. Dave Prentis, the general secretary of Unison, warned the government on Tuesday that if it did not back down it would see “massive industrial unrest”. He added that “it will not be one day of action—it will be long-term industrial action.” We have to turn his words into action. If the pressure continues to build and we see the big three, Unison, the GMB and Unite join the action, 4.5 million could be out on strike. We need more coordinated strikes in the autumn, and we need to urge Unison, GMB and Unite to join the fight.

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