Over one million workers could join a strike on 10 July against the public sector pay freeze.
A set-piece confrontation between public sector trade unions and the government could help reignite wider resistance to the Coalition, and galvanise workers’ confidence.
The National Union of Teachers already has a legal ballot mandate and says it will join a 10 July strike. The Fire Brigades Union is another possible participant.
The date 10 July originates with the Unison in local government. Their ballot started on 23 May and closes on 23 June. Unite and GMB in local government and schools are balloting in June.
Unite did a consultative ballot of members in the NHS, but looks unlikely to do a full ballot in June, as does Unison in the NHS.
The strike should not be allowed to become a one-day-only exercise in letting off steam.
We must strive to make it the start of an ongoing programme of escalating strikes and other action.
PCS goes for 10 July
The leaders of the civil service union PCS have agreed a consultative ballot of members for a 10 July strike over pay alongside other public sector unions.
Activists should now organise to turn out the vote for action as the necessary prelude to delivering an enthusiastic strike on 10 July.
The union already has a legal mandate for strike action from the ballot held in February-March 2013, which it has kept live since then. However last year’s dispute was poorly prepared, lacked any real industrial strategy to win, was characterised by a marked lack of explicit demands, and was waged by a leadership that does not really believe PCS can defeat the government on its own.
Predictably the dispute petered out as the leadership consulted branches about the “next steps” in the campaign in the summer of 2013. There has been no national action or national “next step” in the “national” campaign for a year now.
The Independent Left in the PCS has been alone in its consistent criticism of the lack of explicit demands around which members could be mobilised and the leadership held to account.
The Executive is only now, rightly, advancing a clear demand for a £1,200 or 5% pay increase. It has dropped its previous vague suggestion that the strike is also about “jobs” and “pensions”.
Activists must ensure that the pay demand is at the forefront of all PCS campaigning, and does not morph into the earlier nonsense of a demand for “talks”. Strike action should not be abandoned if and when talks with the government do take place, as that will enable the Tories to demobilise the dispute without even granting a single meaningful concession.
The PCS leadership has no discernible plan for winning the dispute. Activists must seek to shape that plan.
Despite last summer’s consultation telling the leadership that selective action should be a weapon in our armoury and that a voluntary levy should be launched to help fund it, to date the Executive has not collected one penny in levy. That must now be rectified in difficult circumstances but with determination and speed.
At PCS’s recent annual conference, the leadership stated that members did not want yet more one day protest strikes and that public sector wide action had to be on the basis of a programme of coordinated action that is designed to win. Activists need to need to know what that programme is and what commitments the various union leaders have signed up to.
If the PCS leadership repeats the mistakes of the past — campaigning for public sector wide strike action but failing to develop its own independent strategy to win on PCS issues — it will once again place the fate of PCS and its members in the hands of the unreliable leaders of other unions. The best way of building the pressure on the likes of the Unison leadership is to fight with them where possible and be able to fight without them if necessary.
If the dispute is sold to members as a public sector wide dispute then any collapse in the common front — as there was in the pensions dispute — will disorientate and demoralise members. Coordinated strike action must be presented as one weapon in PCS’ campaign to win on pay in the civil service and wider public sector.
The PCS leadership should have a plan in place to keep the union going if the Tories now move to end check off. Activists need to know that the Executive does indeed have such a plan.