Socialist Worker

We've got the power to win

by Sean Vernell, UCU national executive (pc)
Issue No. 2282

Lock step—unions striking and marching together in Glasgow on Wednesday of last week (Pic: Duncan Brown)

Lock step—unions striking and marching together in Glasgow on Wednesday of last week (Pic: Duncan Brown)

N30 was a historic day for the trade union movement. It could be a turning point in the fight to defend our pensions and stop the government’s austerity measures.

We are constantly told trade unions are in decline and don’t hold the power they once had. But the 30 November strike gave the lie to this.

It saw the rebirth of trade unions as a united mass movement. Working people saw a glimpse of their power and their ability to change things.

Every mass strike lights up the way forward and shows how change can be won.

Workers often have to put up with bullying managers and stress over workloads. But on the day of the strike these concerns seemed a million miles away.

At work the next day, employers faced workers who are more confident, less compliant and more determined to take control of their lives.

This is what every government and boss fears. And their only response is to whip up fear and division.

The government paraded around the media reminding public– sector workers how lucky they were to have pensions at all because many private workers don’t.

It offered a deal to buy off older workers with a promise that the “reforms” would not affect them.


But this attempt to divide workers failed miserably. That’s because ordinary workers recognise that this is not simply a fight for themselves. It is also, crucially, about younger workers’ futures.

The strike was a great success. And it had a deeper impact than protesting or letting off steam.

Public sector workers are in this fight to win. There was a clear consensus among strikers that a one-day strike would not be enough to win.

It is important to push a strategy for all-out action. But the key issue facing us now is how to escalate as soon as possible.

The speed at which we move is important for two reasons.

First, another five month gap before the next strike will allow the government time to get better organised. Second, any delay in action will send a message that the unions aren’t serious about this fight.

The strategy put forward must match the seriousness of the task. Otherwise workers will simply ask why they are losing pay for a strategy that will not win.


Some unions have already passed motions calling for further nationally coordinated action as soon as possible, including the NUT and the PCS.

Local joint union mobilising committees that were set up for N30 should meet and be part of coordinating the next step.

This should include winning unions that weren’t part of N30 to join future action.

The UCU national executive met on Friday last week. We unanimously passed a motion outlining a possible strategy as a way forward to be proposed to the other unions.

The motion called for another day of nationally coordinated action as early as possible in the spring term.

This would mean from January onwards. This would be followed immediately with coordinated regional action.

The motion calls for “this action to be rolled out across the country creating a Mexican wave effect acting as a bridge to the next day of nationally coordinated strike action” and “this action to end with a 48 hour nationally coordinated strike.”

We need to ensure that this debate is had in every workplace. Don’t delay—hold branch meetings right away to discuss the next steps and pass motions calling for escalation.

Some union leaders are looking for a way out. They need to feel the pressure from below to stop them making a shoddy deal.

A victory on pensions will pave the way for a wider challenge to the brutal austerity programme of this government.

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