It’s on—30 November promises to be the biggest day of strikes for almost a century.
That fact was underlined by last week’s ballot results from 1.1 million Unison union members. The ballot delivered an overwhelming vote to strike.
Across the union 79 percent voted to strike. And in the NHS the result was even better—82 percent backed a walkout.
Ballots in the Unite and GMB unions continue.
All together, up to three million workers could strike on 30 November.
The size of the Unison vote tells us how deep the anger at the government runs.
“Everywhere I go, people say enough is enough,” Andrew Anderson of Derbyshire Unison told Socialist Worker.
“People are 100 percent up for going on strike. Across the board they’re saying it’s not on. I’m no militant—but now is the time. We’re being shafted.”
Andrew is furious at the government’s claims that workers have to pay more because they’re living longer.
“The money’s not for pensions—it’s for the government’s coffers,” he said. “Why should we have to pay for their mistakes?”
The government claims it has made a new, improved offer to the unions on pensions. Lib Dem minister Danny Alexander called it “generous” and “the chance of a lifetime”.
But Andrew is far from impressed.
“They’re the biggest bunch of swindlers ever put on this earth,” he said.
“We’ll still be contributing a day’s pay extra each month to get a smaller pension at the end.”
Jo Rust of Norfolk Unison agrees.
“What they’ve suggested isn’t ‘generous’,” she said.
“The fact remains that we’ll have to pay more in and work longer to get less out.
“We’re being made the scapegoats for a worldwide banking crisis. People are angry and upset. They don’t want poverty in their old age.”
She adds that workers are “not just prepared to put an X on the ballot paper but also to come out and be seen taking action”.
And workers will draw strength from coming out together, she notes.
“The government has picked on an issue that cuts across the unions. When a worker strikes, they will know their child’s teacher is coming out on strike with them—and the headteacher too.”
Three million workers walking out of their jobs will have a huge impact and bring much of Britain to a standstill.
Schools won’t open as teachers, teaching assistants, caterers and cleaners all walk out together. Hospitals will only run minimum emergency cover. Councils will be shut.
East London health worker Yonatan Mosquera will join the Unison strike across the NHS.
“The media will be vicious,” he said. “They will try to blackmail nurses over patients being ‘abandoned’.
“But the only way we can respond is by demonstrating the scale of our support.
“We don’t have the big media corporations on our side—but we do have our numbers.”
Many workplaces will be on strike for the first time in decades. Yonatan has worked for the NHS for six years, but has never been on strike.
“It’ll be a big challenge,” he said. “But the nurses are up for it. We’re starting to organise. There are lots of people in my work who are going to go round and help.”
Lee Mannion is a council worker in Rossendale, Lancashire. “We’re a small council—we’ve never had local strikes, only the national ones,” he said.
“But I think this will be even better supported than the last national strike. People have had enough.”
Lee is enraged by Tory politicians who say that public sector pensions are “gold-plated”. “Look at the MPs’ pensions,” he said. “They’re the gold-plated ones.”
And he had a simple answer for those who say there isn’t enough money to pay for decent pensions.
“The banks are still paying massive bonuses and making billions in profits. We should make the bankers pay for what they’ve done.”
‘Our strike will be rock solid’
“I’ve been a shop steward for decades and I’ve never known a ballot like it. But I’ve never known a mood like it either.
It was rock solid. And the strike will be too.
Our 2006 pensions strike was the most solid we’ve ever had. This one will be even better.
I think from this week we’ll see a series of yes votes in all the unions. Who’s going to vote no?
The press said that only 21 percent of Unison members voted yes overall. But if you count it that way, only 7 percent voted no.
I’ve never heard a single member mention the turnout anyway.
Around 20 percent of members can’t afford to be in the pension scheme. But they still see why they need to be out.”
Paul Holmes, Unison executive and Kirklees council (pc)
‘I can’t make ends meet’
I’ve been working in local government for 22 years.
For me and other members, this is not just about our pensions. I’m in a three-year pay freeze. The cost of food, heating and everything else is rising.
Every month it’s harder to make ends meet.
I don’t shop anymore. I don’t treat myself to things. I save to try and get by. I think I’m very, very typical of women who work in local government.
We’re not highly-paid. We work hard and there’s fewer of us—but the job still has to be done.
I’m really concerned for the future. This is the fight of our lives.
People used to say to me, ‘Jayne, I can’t afford to go on strike’. Now people say, ‘I can’t afford not to go on strike’.”
Jayne Taylor, Unite member, Bristol city council
Health workers tour the wards to organise for N30
“We had lots of people out leafleting when we were building the ballot,” says Oxfordshire health worker Ian McKendrick.
“We’ll be going straight back to those people to start organising picketing.
“We’ve got a whole new job now.
“We’ve won the ballot, but we have to get round to as many people as we can and push the argument about us all coming out together.”
Ian says activists are setting up as many meetings as they can. “They’ll be open to all sections,” he added.
Strikers have already started planning a demonstration on the day.
It will have three feeder marches—health workers, education workers with students, and local government with civil service workers.
“We’re going to come together for one big march through Oxford,” says Ian.
Discussions have started over what to do about emergency cover in the NHS—but Ian’s branch already has a plan.
“We’re saying it’ll be a Christmas Day level of service—a skeleton staff for the wards,” he said.
“We’ll let the non-union managers do it.
“The managers can come onto the wards, do the portering, empty the bins.
“That idea is going down well.”
500-strong picket line shows militant mood
Unison members in Northern Ireland are one step ahead when it comes to strikes. They have already balloted and walked out last month.
Hundreds of health workers picketed at Belfast City Hospital (pictured below). Every activist can follow their example.
Tommy Steenson, chair of the hospital’s Unison branch, spoke to Socialist Worker about the strike.
He said, “We weren’t sure what our strike would be like, because we hadn’t struck for so long. But we took a decision—we told everybody that it’s all out.”
That was despite the bosses asking for emergency cover at the eleventh hour.
Tommy said, “We said, how many managers have you got?
“There’s your emergency cover.”
The branch put posters up everywhere saying there would be picket lines from 6.45am.
“We’ve got seven entrances,” said Tommy.
“We picketed all of them—and we had 500 people on the main gate. And this was in the rain too.”
The picketing transformed the mood of the strike, he added.
“We had porters and domestics on the picket line saying they hadn’t slept all night because they were so excited.
“It’ll be even better on 30 November when we’re out with the other unions too.”
The politicians’ pensions-grab
Treasury secretary Danny Alexander is leading the government’s war on public sector workers.
He says their pensions are “gold-plated”. So let’s look at his pension entitlement:
- Alexander can choose how much he contributes and the rate at which his pension will grow
- He can retire at 55
- His pension comes on top of a £134,565 salary
- The Treasury pays a sum equal to 20 percent of its total MP salary bill into MPs’ pensions