On 10 May the PCS civil service union is striking against the government’s “work longer, pay more, get less” changes to public sector pensions.
The lecturers’ union UCU is also striking, in further education colleges and post-1992 universities. Members of the Unite union in the health service will be staging protests and industrial action.
There is talk of a further strike, maybe involving the teachers’ union NUT, in late June.
To make 10 May a relaunch, and not just a swansong, PCS needs to genuinely place itself on a “war footing”:
* vigorous recruiting of new members;
* a levy to help fund paid selective action;
* the development of a meaningful plan to hurt the employer, through the use of national, selective and other action on a rapid tempo.
PCS must combine more frequent national strike action with paid selective action and rolling regional action. We must seek to hit the government hard and often. We need action to win the dispute — not just to force the Government into “genuine consultation” as the PCS leaders say.
PCS, as the only large union to reject the government’s 19 December terms unambiguously and immediately, must develop its own strategy for winning the civil service pension dispute. It should build a wider cross-union fightback, but not wait for the other unions.
If the PCS leaders do not do that, they place the fate of their members in the hands of the least-militant leaders of other unions.
The same goes for other unions which reject the terms: NUT, Unite, UCU. They should not wait for PCS, either. NUT leaders should follow the instruction of their union conference, at Easter, which mandated them not to wait for agreement from the leaders of the other big teachers’ union, NASUWT, before striking again.
In all the unions, the dispute has been entirely in the hands of the union leaders. Everyone agrees that a dispute of this importance cannot be won by a series of one-day strikes separated by months of inactivity (June 2011, November 2011, and now May 2012). No democratic discussion decided to go for that approach. We need democratic debate, and a changed strategy.
The pensions dispute is the first national clash of the public sector unions with a Tory-led coalition intent on making the working class pay for the financial crisis ripping through the capitalist world. If the unions win, the confidence of trade union members will grow. If the unions lose, the Tories will renew their attacks.
Momentum has been lost since the strike in November 2011, over five months ago. We cannot afford another long lull. Trade-unionists need to build on the 10 May strike and rebuild momentum.
After 10 May, the next possible turning points are the “group” (sector) conferences, and then the national conference, of PCS in the week starting 21 May, and the teachers’ unofficial “Local Association for Action on Pensions” conference in Liverpool on 16 June. UCU congress is 8-10 June in Manchester.