The mood is there to take on the Tories. That’s the clear message from public sector workers who are preparing to strike on 28 March.
The NUT, UCU and EIS teaching unions rejected the government’s heads of agreement last year, as did the PCS union.
They are now consulting workers to see if they support that stance and if they back taking further action—and recommending that workers vote yes.
NUT members at City and Islington sixth form college met on Wednesday of last week and unanimously passed a motion to escalate the action.
Mike Govender teaches geography there. He told Socialist Worker, “People are still angry about the government’s proposals.
“There’s a strong feeling that the changes still mean cuts to our pensions.”
Simona Candiolo is a languages teacher at the college. “Some people feel a bit demotivated about the pensions fight as it’s been a while since 30 November,” she said.
“But on the other hand, they can see that things are going to get much worse if the reforms go through.
“We have to get the message through that this isn’t just about having one strike.
“We have to show we’re serious. There’s no going back.”
Workers are going all out to get the biggest vote in the consultations. Lee Short is joint branch secretary of the UCU lecturers’ union at Barnsley College.
He told Socialist Worker, “We’ve been flyering around the college about the consultation and getting round departments and staff rooms.
“We’re trying to get people to vote together—it’s easy as people can vote online. We’re also trying to get Unison members to do something on the day to show their support for the fight.”
Lee said that people are already debating where the struggle should go after 28 March.
“Some people want rolling action, others want to name a big day as quickly as possible,” he said. “I’m hoping that we can stay united and that others will get confidence from 28 March and join us in the future.
“There aren’t any arguments against wanting to strike. The only downside people have is the time it’s taken to get here after 30 November because that was so brilliant.”
In many areas plans for the day are well underway.
Workers have organised marches in Sheffield, Rotherham and Barnsley on the strike day and are identifying important areas to have strong picket lines.
Ralph Dyson is joint divisional secretary of Rotherham NUT.
He said of the strike plans, “We’re all up for it. The pension attacks are just another way of the government nailing us.
“We’ve been visiting different schools and holding school reps meetings to get the vote out. We’re also talking to Unison and GMB members—the heads of agreement has gained nothing for them.
“They hope to be out with us.”
In some places, workers have taken concrete action to reach out to those in unions who won’t officially be on strike.
EIS members in Glasgow, for example, have passed a motion calling on the EIS to support any Unison members who don’t cross picket lines.
In schools in England and Wales, teachers are organising to involve NASUWT union members, who may not officially be striking, in the action.
Anna, a teacher in Somerset, said, “Most teachers in my school are in the NASUWT. I met the rep and pointed out that there’s a petition calling on Chris Keates, the NASUWT general secretary, to support strikes on 28 March.
“Now he’s circulating it around the school.”
Anna said that there is support for more action among NASUWT members. “Quite a few were indignant to hear that the NUT would be striking and they might not be,” she said.
“Several are concerned about crossing picket lines. They crossed when the NUT struck on 30 June, but now they’ve been out on strike they are more confident about refusing to cross.
“NASUWT members will definitely be on our picket lines in the morning. Some are talking about doing collections for us and joining lunchtime protests too.”
Every activist must fight for the biggest votes in the ballots and turn 28 March into a day of militant, mass resistance to the Tories. United we can beat them.
Some 34 NUT union reps in Ealing last week discussed the need for further strikes on pensions.
The session was kicked off by electrician Ian Bradley. He explained how rank and file activity and a national strike ballot had stopped bosses imposing a 35 percent pay cut.
NUT rep Alison Murphy said Ian’s contribution was “really inspiring”.
She said, “It can feel quite daunting taking on a government that seems determined to reduce our pensions, raise our retirement age and increase our pension contributions.
“However a few hundred electricians, by working together and believing in their collective power, can defeat the giants of the construction industry.
“I can’t see why hundreds and thousands of teachers and public sector workers can’t do something similar.”
Rep Amanda Calvar added, “Ian stood up for his rights when they were attacked.
“I don’t want to allow the attack on our pensions to win. After hearing Ian I say ‘bring it on!’—and let’s not be beaten down through a fear of losing.”
Nick Grant, Ealing NUT rep and national executive (pc)
Around 250 trade unionists and anti-cuts campaigners gathered in Manchester on Wednesday of last week at a public launch meeting called by Unite the Resistance.
They discussed the ongoing dispute over public sector pensions, the proposed 28 March strike and the wider fight against austerity.
Mark Serwotka, general secretary of the PCS union, opened the meeting by setting the pensions battle in the context of the wider war against cuts.
He criticised union leaders who had signed up to the government’s “heads of agreement” pensions deal. But he said the strike should be the beginning of a renewed and “faster paced” campaign.
Up to a dozen unions could be involved, including the PCS, NUT, UCU, Nipsa and sections of Unite.
He said this had the potential to “inspire people, draw in the private sector and turn the tide” on Tory cuts.
The meeting also heard from Avis Gilmore, the NUT’s north west regional secretary. She said her union was “committed to fighting pensions cuts and all the cuts”.
Maria Pentaraki, UCU branch officer for Liverpool Hope university, drew parallels between David Cameron’s plans for austerity here and that being imposed on Greece.
Karen Reissmann from Unison’s national executive spoke in a personal capacity.
She said health workers were “furious and scared” about the pensions attack and Unison’s decision to negotiate with the government under the “heads of agreement” framework.
To cheers she said she would not cross picket lines on 28 March.
But she added that strikers should “fight for whatever solidarity we can get” from fellow workers, including collections, petitions, lunchtime demos.
Speakers welcomed the prospect of a 28 March strike. But some warned that momentum had been lost and that further action was needed to go back on the offensive against the government.
Derek Fraser from Trafford NUT said members at his branch wanted the strike to lead to more action. There was a danger of morale being sapped, he added, which made a “drastic escalation” of action more pressing.
Paula from Manchester Metropolitan University UCU said 28 March had to be “a day fit to build on”. Picket lines had to be “a focus for everyone” who worked or studied at universities.
There was also a discussion about the trade union leaders.
Martin McMulkin from Bolton trades council warned that trade union leaders could not be trusted. He said the rank and file of unions had to get organised and hold their leadership to account.
Sharon Green from Manchester trades council replied that as a PCS activist she trusted Mark Serwotka.
She also urged union branches to affiliate to local trades councils and turn them into fighting organisations.
Many speakers noted that the meeting had been one of the most successful and broadest of its kind in recent months.
Paul Rafferty from Unison AQA called on people to help set up Unite the Resistance as a network of trade union activists in the Manchester area. An open organising meeting was planned to set this up.
The meeting also heard from Unite members at the MMP packaging plant in Bootle who are on strike against redundancies (see page 14).
Fifty people came to the South Wales Unite the Resistance meeting in Cardiff on Tuesday of last week.
The meeting was set up by activists from the PCS, Unison, NUT and UCU unions. They want to see the pensions strike that brought millions out in November last year to continue.
Plans have now been drawn up to build a rally in towns across South Wales on 28 March.
And in Sheffield, victorious sparks electrified a meeting of Unite the Resistance last week.
Civil service workers in the PCS union are pushing for a large vote for action in their consultative ballot.
A big turnout with a resounding yes vote will strengthen the 28 March strike and actions afterwards.
Jane Aitchison, the PCS Department for Work and Pensions group president, spoke to Socialist Worker.
“I’ve been to branch annual general meetings up and down the country and they are going incredibly well,” she said.
“People are very confident and determined about 28 March. But people also want to talk about what we can do afterwards.
“People have been holding car park meetings to talk about getting the vote out.
“Members are very buoyed up by the fact that the government looks weak after being forced to make changes over workfare.”
Jon Bigger, a PCS member in the Identity and Passport Service, said, “We’ve been leafletting practically every day since the ballot opened. The mood has shifted among members.
“We need a good turnout because of what the press will be saying about the level of support.
“We’ve been having lunchtime sessions in the rest room to talk to people about what the pension changes mean.
“People are saying there is no other option but to strike.
“They know that strikes work. Labour may say strikes show ‘failure’, but power at work comes through strikes.”
“Everyone in the trade union movement has to get behind the strikes and build the biggest consensus possible for whatever action we can take to defeat the pension reforms and any further attacks.”
And Matt Well, the PCS branch organiser at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs in London, said that they are working with other unions for maximum impact.
“We’re part of the Whitehall Action Group and the trades council and have been working with members in the UCU and NUT unions to plan joint walkouts and rallies,” he said.
“We will be planning joint marches in towns and cities on the day, like we did on 30 November.”
UNITE THE RESISTANCE
London public meeting
With Mark Serwotka (PCS general secretary), Margarita Papamina (Greek striker and teacher), Sean Vernell (UCU NEC) and Steve Kelly (Unite and electricians’ campaign). All speakers in a personal capacity.
Thursday 15 March, 7pm, Conway Hall,
Red Lion Square, London.
Saturday 28 April, 11am-4pm, central London
Tickets: waged £5/unwaged £2
All trade unionists spoke to Socialist Worker in a personal capacity.