Up to three million public sector workers from more than ten unions could strike against the Tory assault on pensions on 29 November.
The date coincides with the government’s next round of cuts.
This week’s trades union congress (TUC) conference in London was angry. Union officials lined up to attack the government.
Unite assistant general secretary Tony Burke summed up the mood. He said, “There is no room for bystanders in the coming battle. It not about a winter of discontent. It is about a winter, spring, summer and autumn of struggle.”
Brendan Barber, general secretary of the TUC, warned of cuts so severe they “even make Margaret Thatcher look like a spendthrift.”
He called them “the deepest cuts in the UK since the 1920s”.
Conference instructed the TUC’s general council to “support and coordinate campaigning and joint union industrial action against attacks on pensions, pay and/or public services”.
The PCS, along with the NUT and ATL teachers’ unions and the lecturers’ UCU all have live ballots and are committed to strikes in the autumn. Now other unions are preparing to ballot.
The TUC was set to discuss specific plans to coordinate action on Wednesday. GMB general secretary Paul Kenny said the Tories were talking up attacking union rights because “millions” would strike over pensions.
Dave Prentis, general secretary of the largest public
sector union, Unison, said, “We will ballot for industrial action—it will be the biggest ballot this country has ever seen. It will include strikes in our schools, our civil service, our fire brigade, our local government service, our health service.”
However he did add, “We have still time to negotiate, two to three months to sort things out, we want to sort things out.”
TUC conference is slimmed down this year, with some 320 delegates compared to last year’s 680.
This has cut the number of lay delegates and changed the level of political debate at conference and in fringe meetings.
Yet speech after speech showed that the argument for resisting the Tories has won. The debate now is about the best way forward.
Mark Campbell, a UCU
delegate, won loud applause when he addressed conference on Tuesday. He spoke about education, following a speech from Labour leader Ed Miliband attacking strikes (see page 5).
Mark said, “The Tories are removing the chance of a future from working class children. It is disgusting—and Ed Miliband should have said that.
“There is a neoliberal assault, but there is resistance. In Greece there are 200 university occupations. In Chile there are massive demonstrations. We have the chance to move forward here when millions strike together.
“Lecturers will be fighting alongside students for education as part of that—even if Ed Miliband isn’t.”
The move towards a strike of millions follows the 750,000-strong demonstration against cuts on 26 March and the public
sector strikes on 30 June.
These actions, and the government’s determination to attack public services, have pushed union leaders to move.
Mark Serwotka of the PCS civil service workers’ union said, “Our action on 30 June put pensions at the heart of public debate.
“We need to take forward that unity and stand together this autumn.
“We will be striking to defend our pensions, jobs, welfare system, NHS and communities. Let’s fight like never before.”