The prospect of a Britain closed by a public sector general strike took a giant step forwards last week. Up to 3 million workers could strike over pensions in November after union leaders announced raft of new ballots.
The biggest public sector union, Unison, will ballot all of its 1.1 million public sector workers. The union’s general secretary Dave Prentis formally announced the ballot at the TUC conference in London on Wednesday of last week.
The Unite and GMB unions announced strike ballots too.And the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) also gave notice of a national dispute.
Prentis said the Unison ballot would hit 9,000 separate employers’ groups. He described it as “unprecedented” in scale.
“We’ve been patient, we’ve cooperated, but there comes a time when we say ‘enough is enough’, because if we don’t, they’ll be back for more,” he told TUC delegates, to a standing ovation.
TUC general secretary Brendan Barber said that as well as strikes, 30 November will include “lunchtime meetings and rallies with community groups and service users.
“The intention is to take the call for pensions justice for both public and private sector workers to every corner of the land in the biggest trade union mobilisation in a generation.”
Several other public sector unions—including the PCS civil service workers’ union and the NUT, ATL and UCU education unions—struck together on 30 June. They are now set to take part in even bigger coordinated strikes.
Mark Serwotka, general secretary of the PCS, described the six months of union negotiations with the government as “an absolute farce”. He said, “While we were talking, they announced the attacks.”
Brian Strutton, GMB national officer, said that 300,000 GMB members in the public sector would ballot
Gail Cartmail, assistant general secretary of Unite, told conference that the 250,000 Unite members in the public sector would also ballot.
And Matt Wrack, general secretary of the FBU, announced that 43,000 firefighters were moving into dispute, and attacked the government’s Hutton review into pensions.
“This debate is built up on a lie. Working people shouldn’t have to apologise because they are not dying soon enough to please the banking industry.
“We stand together, we fight together.”
The mood was reflected on the demonstration in Birmingham last weekend against the Lib Dem conference (see right).
Yvonne Swingler is chair of the West Midlands Women’s Committee of the Unite union. She said the Tories’ arguments for the cuts were “a load of twaddle”. “I don’t think there’s a need for the cuts,” she said.
“The announcements of new ballots at the TUC conference made me feel that the fight is there. It’s time we stood up and said we won’t accept it.”
Jerry Langford is a Unite member in the private sector. “If they smash pensions in the public sector it won’t benefit us,” he said. “It will be worse. Bosses will say, we won’t pay this because no-one else is paying it.”
The key for every worker now is to turn the mood for united resistance into reality.