Britain’s biggest public sector union, Unison, will ballot all of its 1.1 million public sector workers for strikes.
Unison general secretary Dave Prentis formally announced the ballot at the TUC conference today, Wednesday. The Unite and GMB unions announced strike ballots too.
And the Fire Brigades Union also gave notice of a national dispute. Its national executive will now discuss organising a ballot.
The unions are fighting government attacks on public sector pensions. The announcements mean that up to three million workers could strike together in November.
Unison's general secretary, Dave Prentis, said the Unison ballot would hit 9,000 separate employers’ groups. He described it as “unprecedented” in scale.
“We've been patient, we’ve cooperated, but there comes a time when we say enough is enough because if we don’t, they’ll be back for more,” he told TUC delegates.
He added, “A ballot unprecedented in scale will cover over a million workers in health, local government, school, further education, higher education, police, the voluntary sector and the environment.
“It’s a decision we don’t take lightly and the stakes are high, higher than ever before, but now is the time to make our stand. It will be hard, we’ll be vilified, attacked, set against each other, but we must stay strong and united.
“Make no mistake congress, this is it. We will take the fight to them.”
TUC delegates gave Prentis a standing ovation.
Several other public sector unions—including the PCS civil service workers’ union and the NUT, ATL and UCU education unions—struck together on 30 June. They are now set to take part in even bigger coordinated strikes with more unions in November.
Mark Serwotka, general secretary of the PCS, described the six months of union negotiations with the government as “an absolute farce”. He said, “While we were talking, they announced the attacks.
“We should unite the public and private sector. We don’t want to equalize the misery. We are fighting for fair pensions for all.”
Referring to the 750,000 who struck on 30 June he said, “In our hundreds of thousands we changed the terms of the debate. Imagine what we can do in our millions. Together we can tell the government—no.”
Brian Strutton, GMB national officer said, “Talks over many months on changes to pensions for GMB members in public services have got nowhere.”
He said that 300,000 GMB members in the public sector would ballot for “industrial action to begin in late November and to be sustained over the winter and into the spring and summer of 2012.
“GMB will coordinate action with the other trade unions involved in the dispute.”
Gail Cartmail, assistant general secretary of Unite, told conference, that the 250,000 Unite members in the public sector would ballot.
She said, “When the Tories got in we knew we faced the fight of our lives. They would push divisions between workers. We rose to the challenge and organised mass resistance on 26 March.
“It would be irresponsible to ignore the writing on the wall. Unite is committed to unity to fighting back for all our members against this race to the bottom.”
And announcing that 43,000 firefighters were moving into dispute, Matt Wrack general secretary of the FBU, attacked the government’s Hutton review into pensions.
He described it as a “hatchet job” saying, “The idea that public pensions are unaffordable is a nonsense.
“This debate is built up on a lie. Working people shouldn’t have to apologise because they are dying soon enough to please the banking industry.
“We are rejecting plans for zimmer frame firefighters. We stand together, we fight together. Decent pensions for everyone.”
Cathy Taylor from the UCU said, “Our members are proud to have taken two days of strike action already. The UCU is ready, willing and able to stand to with other unions in industrial action.”
During the debate, the Prison Officers’ Union committed to balloting those members it could—and breaking the anti-union laws where it couldn’t to join the strikes.
Speakers from the NASUWT, ATL, EIS and NUT teaching unions also backed action.
Helen Conner from the EIS Scottish teachers’ union said, “Teachers have had enough and they will be there in November.”
Christine Blower from the NUT said, “This is a raid on our pensions to fill a hole in the public finances. Enough is enough we must all stand together.”
The depth of the anger is such that even the FDA, the senior civil servants union, is balloting. The National Association of Head Teachers is due to announce a strike ballot later this week.
The debates at TUC conference will have given a boost to workers everywhere.
The key for every worker now is to turn the mood for united resistance into reality.