The government has gone on an all out attack on the unions whose members have voted to strike on 30 June.
Much of the media has joined in. The Daily Mail declared that “there can be no compromise over modest reforms to gold-plated public sector pensions”.
The Sun ran the headline “Summer of Hate” across two pages of frenzied coverage about the strikes.
But it’s not just the tabloids. Simon Jenkins in the Guardian wrote that strikes were a “primeval” weapon and that “public sector workers did well out of the boom years”.
But even the original report by Lord Hutton, which is the basis for the attacks, did not claim public sector pensions were generous, just that the government needed to cut costs.
Labour has joined in the criticism of the unions. Shadow chancellor Ed Balls said that trade unionists shouldn’t get caught in the government’s “trap” by going on strike.
But it is precisely the strikes that have brought the question of the attacks on the public sector to the forefront of the media.
Now the government says that the lowest paid workers may be exempted from paying the increased contributions.
Even then millions of those who earn just above £15,000 will not be able to afford the extra 3 percent payments and may choose to opt out of the pension schemes.
This will leave schemes underfunded and lead to more people being dependent on state pensions and benefits when they retire.
Workers have no option but to fight. The government has treated negotiations with the trade unions with utter disdain.
Treasury minister Danny Alexander showed this when he laid out the government plans in detail in a speech to a think-tank last week—as if they had already been agreed.
No wonder PCS union general secretary Mark Serwotka denounced the negotiations as a farce. Alexander’s insult was such that Unison leader Dave Prentis threatened a strike on a scale not seen since the 1926 General Strike.
Within 24 hours Alexander had to backtrack, claiming that he had just been putting forward proposals, which were still open to negotiation.
The government is rattled. Vince Cable’s talk of imposing more anti-union laws is on hold. The Tories and the Lib Dems know that an attack on the right to strike could provoke an even greater response across the labour movement.
Many who are not part of the national strikes on Thursday of next week are already planning to offer solidarity on the day.
Prison officers have called a lunchtime walk out. Elsewhere anti-cuts groups will join union demonstrations.
The UK Uncut group has called on activists to take breakfast to strikers’ picket lines. Students are organising to join pickets and demonstrations on the day.
The 30 June strike is only the beginning. But it has given voice to the millions of working class people who are bitter about the Tories’ plans to make them pay for the crisis.
The next step is to galvanise this mood into even greater action in the autumn, involving workers in more unions. This could stop the government’s attacks, and, if intensified, force it from office.
For a list of the universities on strike on 30 June go to www.ucu.org.uk/index.cfm?articleid=5598