Activists from the GMB and Unite unions gathered in central London today, Wednesday, to discuss the upcoming public sector strikes.
The planned action on 30 November involves some 14 trade unions. They are united in fighting the government’s attempts to attack their pension schemes—and general fury at the Tories is driving the action too.
The mood of the meeting, mainly made up of union reps and officials, was determined. People took for granted that they would be striking on 30 November.
The key questions people focused around were how to stop government attempts to divide unions and what action to take after 30 November.
“I presume you’ve got some plans for what’s going to come after,” one activist said to Unite general secretary Len McCluskey. “Where do we go from here?”
Another urged that union leaders should decide on further action quickly—so they could “keep up the momentum”.
McCluskey made clear that he didn’t think a one-day strike would be enough to stop the Tories. As he put it, “We don’t expect them to fall the following day.”
But he stressed that “people power” could bring down governments and that workers didn’t “have to sit back and take it”.
He said people should consider all forms of action, including “civil disobedience”, and spoke of the battle going into next spring and summer.
Paul Kenny, general secretary of the GMB, won several rounds of applause when he spoke.
He said, “If we’re good enough to teach people’s children, to look after them when they’re sick, to care for the elderly, then we’re bloody well good enough to have a decent pension.”
He stressed the significance of 30 November. “Unions that have never actually balloted for industrial action are out balloting now for one of the major stoppages this country’s seen in modern times,” he said.
Kenny also promised to maintain unity between the unions.
A number of people expressed unease at the involvement of the TUC in negotiating with the government. They pointed to previous disputes where the TUC had failed to call action that could win.
It sparked a relatively good-natured discussion.
McCluskey said that it was “not the easiest task” to coordinate action between unions and that he didn’t “envy Brendan Barber”, the general secretary of the TUC.
“You need to understand Brendan’s difficulties,” he went on. “Be a little kind to Brendan.” But after much muttering and sharp intakes of breath, he gave up, saying, “Don’t be then.”
Union members left the meeting determined to win their ballots and launch a campaign that can stop the Tories.
As Jayne Taylor, a local government worker from Bristol, told Socialist Worker, “The attack on our pensions is just one step too far for people. I feel like 30 November is just the beginning.”