Tuesday, 2 August 2011

Unions begin to plan for mass strikes in the autumn

The 30 June strikes were fantastic. Now a number of unions are preparing for further co-ordinated strikes, most likely in early November.

On 30 June the politicians asked, "how many schools are on strike?" The civil servants replied, "we don't know because so many civil servants are on strike." 95% of Metropolitan Police support staff were on strike. One in eight of those that took strike action also went to a strike rally and everyone at a strike rally was joyous and confident. The London rally was like an anti-capitalist demonstration. What we saw was the beginning of the process of rebuilding the idea of solidarity and not crossing picket lines. This time around it was not just postal workers that refused to cross picket lines but gas, electricity and water workers too.

Not so long ago the TUC was inviting David Cameron to speak at its congress and it looked as though they might not call strikes or a national demonstration at all. In the end they called the demonstration on 26 March and that, along with he inspiring sight of the student demonstrations gave a push to the labour movement. Workers started thinking ' if the students can do it, so can we'. On 26 March Mark Serwotka, General-Secretary of the PCS and others, started saying "today we march together, tomorrow we must strike together". Then, of course, came the marvellous co-ordinated strikes of 750,000 people on 30 June.

Cameron talks about bringing everyone down to a 'baseline'. If the Tories are allowed to get away with it it will be the biggest defeat for the working class in living memory. However, taking the whole class on at once is a very high risk strategy for the Tories and could lead to a generalised fightback.

It is becoming clear that the ruling class are scared. Thatcher's generation had the legacy of ruling class defeat from the 1970s. This generation does not have that. Danny Alexander, for example, is an idiot. By attacking Unison and Unite he has pushed them closer to our side.

However, we also have weaknesses on our side. Firstly, Ed Miliband and 'Blue Labour' are not on our side. Secondly, Brendan Barber of the TUC, the GMB, Unite and Unison do not really want a fight. The GMB even argued for the strikes to be called off. The government's plan is to make minor concessions to split them off from the more radical unions. Thirdly, there is a legacy of weakness within the trade unions that has existed since the defeats of the 1980s. There is still a level of fear about striking. There has been a relatively low level of strikes over the last few years and union membership has roughly halved since the 1970s. There has also been a decrease in the number of workplace shop stewards.

So how will the working class revive? It will probably explode like it did in the 1880s, the 1910s and 1970s. 7000 members have left the NASUWT, while 9000 have joined the NUT and 4000 have joined ATL. This is something we must encourage.

So what next? We must argue for more mass, co-ordinated strike action with more unions involved. Sectional strikes do not play to our strengths. A co-ordinated strike is a political strike which generalises and radicalises people. We need everyone together to beat the government. We need to broaden and deepen the strike movement by linking up struggles, always making strikes political by making it clear that it is against cuts and austerity as well as the specific issue that the strike has been called over.

Last week the government announced its plans for the teachers’, NHS workers’ and civil service workers’ pensions. The plans include hugely increased contributions, uprating at a lower rate for future pensions and an increased pension age. This is a huge attack on millions of workers and a snub to those trade union leaders that have agreed to three months of talks with the government on their pension schemes. The PCS, NUT, UCU and ATL unions are planning a further round of co-ordinated strike action in early November. The FBU may join them, as may the National Association of Head Teachers, the Welsh teachers’ UCAC union and the Association of School and College Leaders. The national leaderships of Unison, Unite and the GMB have opted for talks rather than joining with the other unions in November. However, the way the government is treating them is putting them under pressure to join the action at some point. There will be a huge discussion at the TUC congress in September about the best way to fight.

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