Socialist Worker

Ministers fear united action over pensions

by Tom Walker
Issue No. 2262

“We face a real risk, if we push too hard, of industrial action involving staff groups delivering key public services.” That was the verdict of Tory health secretary Andrew Lansley in a leaked letter this week.

The clearly nervous Lansley was telling the Treasury that the government’s pension reforms are “inappropriate” and “unrealistic”.

It’s our task to make his strike nightmare come true and defeat the attacks.

Plans are starting to come together for another round of united public sector strikes in early November.

The NUT, UCU and ATL teaching unions put out a joint statement last week saying they will “consider taking further industrial action in November”.

Welsh teachers’ union UCAC and the headteachers’ union NAHT will also ballot. And the NASUWT, another teachers’ union, has said it will “explore joint activities with other teacher unions campaigning on pensions”.

It’s not just teachers, either—civil service workers’ union PCS is still at the centre of the action.

“We will not stand back and watch while everything that public servants have ever worked for is taken away from them, and we will continue to build wider support for maximum unity,” said PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka.

The government tried to scupper this unity this week by announcing that workers earning less than £15,000 will not face a contributions rise for their pension.

The price of this is a much bigger rise for better-paid workers—up to 6 percent, almost double the average increase (see illustration, right).

But we can’t let them divide and rule by contrasting relatively better-paid workers like teachers with the lowest paid workers in the public sector.


Karen Reissmann, a nurse who sits on the union’s national executive (pc), told Socialist Worker, “If we allow the government to come out of this strengthened then they’ll come back with more cuts for the low paid.”

The government has already been able to draw the big unions, including Unison, into saying they will not strike while “scheme-specific” talks are ongoing.

The talks, coordinated by the TUC, are timetabled to last for three months.

Unison organised a “pensions summit” last week.

There, Unison general secretary Dave Prentis said, “Our aim is to get a final offer so that members can see whether or not their pension schemes will be maintained or reduced.”

But the very premise of the talks is to reduce the schemes.

However, he does add that “we are accelerating our planning of future industrial action strategy… should those talks fail”.

The battle inside Unison is far from over.

“We’ve called a meeting of activists in Unison from around Manchester to talk about what to do around pensions,” said Karen.

“We were all geared up after Unison conference, but it seems the executive have cooled a little.

“We’re going to think about what we might do to influence and shift the union leadership.”

We need to keep up the pressure from below on Prentis and the rest of the union leaders.

We don’t just want hundreds of thousands out on strike in the autumn—we want millions.

Activists’ meeting: 6pm, Thursday 28 July, Friends Meeting House, Mount St, Manchester

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Article information

Tue 26 Jul 2011, 18:32 BST
Issue No. 2262
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