Socialist Worker

Pressure builds for a huge strike as Tories try to divide workers

by Sadie Robinson
Issue No. 2278

More workers have voted overwhelmingly to strike against the government’s assault on public sector pensions.

The Tories have repeatedly tried to confuse and divide trade unionists. Francis Maude’s ludicrous talk of 15-minute “strikes” last week was the latest example of this.

But workers remain committed to taking the fight to the government. Six more unions had announced votes for strikes as Socialist Worker went to press (see 30 November strikes: Which unions are balloting and when?).

They include civil service workers, physiotherapists, radiographers and headteachers. Around two million are currently set to strike.

Two of Britain’s biggest unions, Unite and the GMB, were set to announce the results of their ballots by Thursday of this week. If they vote yes it will mean hundreds of thousands more strikers on 30 November.

Ucatt, the construction workers’ union, was set to announce its result on Wednesday.

Every result reflects the mood of defiance and determination that exists among large sections of workers. They mean that the coordinated strike on 30 November will be the biggest for nearly a century.

On that day, Britain will be transformed. The country will be full of picketing workers, mass protests and rallies. People who have never taken any kind of action before will be on the streets.

Effective

Union members from the smallest towns to the biggest cities are planning to make the action as effective as possible.

Students, pensioners and others are organising to support their local strikes and demonstrations.

Joel Byers is branch secretary of the Unison union at the North East Ambulance Service. He told Socialist Worker, “Ambulance service workers will be striking. We’ll be putting pickets out on the ambulance stations.

“We’re not going to leave the public without emergency cover. We’re meeting to sort that out this week. We would never knowingly put a patient at risk.

“But like any other worker, what else is there to do to show your anger and frustration? If the government doesn’t want us to strike, they should treat us right.”

The unity of the strike is tremendously popular. Time and time again, workers say how they are boosted by the fact that they will be out on strike with people from other unions.

And they are making the most of that unity to pull more people into organising for the day.

Sue Gainey, assistant branch secretary of Unison in Essex, told Socialist Worker, “Essex normally is not that militant. When we’ve had strikes before there haven’t been as many people going out as I would have liked.

“But this time there will be lots more. In a school it’ll be the teachers, the cleaners, and the headteacher as well.

“We’ve got a committee up and running to deal with the strike, together with other unions like Unite and the GMB. The pensioners and Essex Against the Cuts have reps on the committee as well.”

The government claims that public sector workers have cushy lives. It’s a lie. Workers are already facing huge attacks on their jobs, pay and conditions. If the Tories batter public sector pensions, this will get much worse.

Lorraine Parker is a GMB member from Plymouth. She has recently taken “voluntary release” from her local government job, after working there for 30 years.

“I feel like I was forced out of a job,” she told Socialist Worker. “They changed my contracts. I would have had a pay cut of £5,000 a year. With the pay freeze it was effectively £6,000 a year.”

Lorraine says it’s “near impossible” to find work where she lives—and that the only option is to fight back. “We must stick together,” she said.

“We must fight for a decent standard of living for all public service workers and people in the private sector.”

Bluster

Workers don’t buy into the Tories’ bluster about “unaffordable” pension schemes and “gold-plated” payouts. They know that the attacks are about looking after the rich.

It isn’t just the most militant who point this out. As the Society of Chiropodists and Podiatrists says, the attack on pensions “is not because your NHS pension is unaffordable, or even because people are living longer. It’s to pay for the government’s deficit reduction programme”.

And the headteachers’ NAHT union describes the cuts as “unfair, ill thought through and purely being used to pay for the mistakes of the financial sector”.

The strikes have become a magnet for other workers in dispute. Bin workers in Birmingham could strike for the entire week, including Wednesday 30 November, to defend their pay and conditions.

The mood is there for a massive, militant and united strike. This could be a turning point in the battle against the Tories.

The bigger and more militant 30 November is, the more likely it is we’ll stop the Tories’ war on workers. We have to seize the moment.


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