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After 10 May: where next for the pensions dispute?

by Martin Smith, SWP industrial organiser

10 May in Birmingham (Pic: Liz Jolly)

10 May in Birmingham (Pic: Liz Jolly)


May Day came late for hundreds of thousands of public sector workers. Nine days to be precise.

Up to 400,000 struck against the government’s planned pension cuts and austerity measures on 10 May.

It was a hard hitting strike—many courts, galleries, benefit offices and ministry of defence sites were shut. Even the Welsh Assembly was closed for the day.

There was chaos at airports and ships were forced to remain in dock. The impact of the day was heightened further when prison officers staged an unofficial “wildcat” strike and thousands of police officers took to the streets over their pensions.

The unions also won the political argument. A poll last week showed four out of five of those questioned, and seven in ten Tory voters, agreed that making people work to 68 was unfair.

And the strikers definitely won the media war. Even the rabid pro-Tory newspapers were forced to acknowledge the strike was well supported.

For many workers this was the fifth time they had struck to defend their pensions.

Resist

The day clearly showed the determination of rank and file workers to resist the government.

The stakes are high and the commitment of the rank and file to this struggle is strong. Therefore it would be wrong not to address the weaknesses on our side.

Even before the last picket sign was taken down on last week, the NUT national executive voted 24 to 16 against a possible strike in June. Socialist Workers Party members on the executive voted for a strike.

The vote went against the overwhelming decision of the NUT’s annual conference at Easter and it should be condemned.

It is further evidence that those at the top of our unions, even in one controlled by the left, are not pursuing this fight with the same determination as the rank and file.

Activists in the NUT have to fight to get the action reinstated and build the proposed autumn strikes.

While last week’s strike was well supported it was weak in some sections of Unite health and the UCU.

Of course there are union specific factors that come into play. In the case of Unite health it is a relatively weak sector. In the case of UCU some argued that the fact it has struck more than any other union had an impact.

But they are peripheral factors. In both unions, sections of the bureaucracy are not throwing their weight behind their members.

UCU general secretary Sally Hunt is doing her best to undermine the action.

Most importantly—and this applies to all unions—strikers are desperate for a winning strategy.

The SWP is supporting the call for the next one-day strike to take place on 28 June.

But we will have to go further. We need a sustained programme of strikes to force the Tories to back down.

We have to put an end to the stop-start nature of the dispute in order to win. It’s also important that other unions enter the fray.

GMB members in health will announce their ballot result this week and the doctors’ association, the BMA, is balloting its members.

Not only do we need a strategy to win but we need it implemented and fought for among rank and file workers.

The last five months have revealed for many activists that we can’t put our faith in the union bureaucracy to lead this fight.

It is imperative that we strengthen the rank and file.

This can give it confidence to pursue the pensions battle to the end—and overturn officials who constantly shy away from this fight.


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Tue 15 May 2012, 16:57 BST
Issue No. 2303
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