On 30 November up to three million public sector workers could be on strike across Britain if all the ballots receive a 'yes' vote. The teachers' NUT, ATL and UCU unions, as well as the civil servants' PCS union all have live ballots and all went on strike on 30 June. They are set to be joined by around eleven other unions.
The ballot papers for around a million workers in Unison went out on Tuesday. If the ballot goes the way it is expected to, they will be out on strike in November too. The Unite and GMB unions are also set to ballot in the next few weeks. Len McCluskey, the general-secretary of the Unite union said recently, "we need coordinated industrial action. If you want to call that a general strike then so be it". Mark Serwotka, general-secretary of PCS said in Manchester, "we're on the edge of the biggest strike for 80 years. If [the government] carry on [attacking us] after 30 November we have to strike again and again until we win".
The other unions include EIS, the scottish teachers’ union, NAHT, the headteachers’ union, which has never before organised a strike in its 114-year history, NIPSA, public servants in Northern Ireland, Prospect, another civil service union, Chartered Society of Physiotherapy and the teachers' union NASUWT.
The strike is mostly about a dispute with the government over an attack on public sector pensions, although some unions are also in dispute over pay cuts and job losses too. The government claims the pension schemes are in crisis, but in fact changes made under the previous government have fixed these problems. It is simply about stealing money, which is after all deferred wages, from public sector workers to help pay off the deficit. These workers did not cause the deficit, of course, and the money could be found by collecting the tax that companies like Arcadia (Sir Phillip Green's company that owns Top Shop), Boots and Vodafone manage to avoid.
These pensions are not gold-plated either. The average public sector pension is around £5000 a year. The government also wants to raise the retirement age arguing people are living longer. But for manual workers, the average age which people reach has hardly changed in thirty years. Teachers cannot teach primary school children when they are in their mid to late sixties. Nurses cannot lift patients when they are in their mid to late sixties. Increasingly, we will see public sector workers, especially postal workers and refuse workers, die before they even reach retirement. Most importantly, workers in the private sector will not get a better deal if public sector pensions are slashed. It will only give the green light to private sector employers to make private pensions even worse.
Coming after the biggest trade union-organised demonstration in British history in March, the fantastic co-ordinated strike of 750,000 public sector workers in June and the demonstration at the Tory Party Conference two weeks ago, this will be the key event of the year. The momentum is on the side of ordinary people and the anger at the government and the desire to fight back is palpable among not just trade unionists, but most people in Britain today. As we see the last few nails being hammered into the coffin for the NHS in the House of Lords yesterday and the news that unemployment has risen again to 2.57 million, ordinary working people, and indeed many middle class people, feel the time has come for serious resistance to the Tory-led government's plans.
Everyone needs to see the 30 November as the key date to protest at this government's plans to make us pay for a crisis caused by banks and politicians. Whether it be someone who has lost their job, campaigners to save the NHS, disabled people being moved onto lower benefits or off benefits altogether or public sector workers being made to pay more into their pension, to work longer and to receive less at the end, we are all stronger if we unite the fights and make 30 November a massive success.
There have been three meetings in Cornwall in the last ten days that have started to organise plans for events here. On Monday 3 October, around eight trade unionists met to discuss the possibility of re-starting a Cornwall Trades Union Council. Despite the obvious advantages, there were a number of objections. The first key difficulty was that no individual in the room has the time nor the inclination to carry out the work necessary to set one up. The second point is that Cornwall Anti-Cuts Alliance (CACA), although not a solely trade union body, already provides a trade union forum and has strong trade union support. It was also mentioned that Cornish trade unions met last summer and agreed to set up an informal email-based network. It was decided not to proceed with a trades council at this time but to instead work to build a comprehensive network of trade union reps.
On Wednesday 5 October, Cornwall Anti-Cuts Alliance met with Stuart Roden and Chris Dayus, full-time Unison officials and Ian Williams, district secretary of the NUT in attendance. It was agreed that CACA, the NUT and (assuming their ballot returns a 'yes' vote) Unison will organise a joint march and rally in Truro on the day between around 10am and 12pm. There will also be a joint leaflet produced to mobilise trade unionists and the general public alike.
On Monday 10 October a meeting was held at the Unison offices in Truro with Frances O'Grady, deputy general-secretary of the TUC, Nigel Costley of South-West TUC, various trade union representatives and representatives of CACA. The meeting agreed to organise a march in Truro, assembling at Hendra field and proceeding to a rally at Hall for Cornwall. Both venues have been provisionally booked and contact has been made with the police regarding routing. It also agreed to produce a two-sided joint trade union and CACA leaflet to publicise a) the unions' pension case and b) a more broad-based anti-cuts reverse including the Truro march details when finalised and agreed. A series of stalls in five towns will be organised jointly by CACA and the trade unions, using a variety of leaflets, to build publicity and support. Unions will be asked to engage as many activists as possible. There will be a particular focus on the TUC's Action Saturday on 19 November. All agreed that trying to gain non-union, private sector and general public support was crucial and good media contacts are essential.
There will be a further meeting to work out many of the details at the CACA meeting on Wednesday 19 October at 7:30 p.m. at the Railway Club in Truro. This meeting will focus solely on plans for the 30 November and everyone that wants to fight the cuts is encouraged to come along. If you live in Penwith, it will also be discussed at the Penwith Anti-Cuts Alliance meeting on Monday 17 October at 7pm at the Crown pub at the bottom of Bread Street in Penzance. Get involved and join the fight back!