The government has tried to wipe out the revolt by millions of workers over pensions. But it has failed for now.
There is an immense danger of a sell-out by union leaders. But there is still everything to fight for, and a real chance to overturn those who want to choke off the resistance.
“Heads of agreement” (outline deals) with the employers have been signed by all the unions representing local government workers, some health workers and some teaching and civil service unions.
These “heads of agreement” rule out striking in the immediate future and accept broad outlines. But they are not final deals.They commit unions to seeking the view of members on the government's offer and continuing talks in the new year.
It was wrong to sign these agreements because they break momentum and unity. They take the focus away from organising action and towards considering surrender. Such agreements give a spurious positive cover to the Coalition’s continuing attacks. But they do not end the struggle.
In the talks on 19 December some union leaders – particularly TUC head Brendan Barber and leaders of Unison and the GMB – showed they are ready to end the fight now. But other unions did not buckle, with the PCS playing a prominent role in leading resistance.
And even in local government, where the talks process has gone furthest, no final decision can be made until it is agreed by the executives or group executives of the unions involved.
They should reject it. Full details have not been released, but it appears the local government deal involves postponing the rise in contributions for two years, but at the cost of other elements of the assault on workers coming in earlier.
Across all the schemes, the central elements of pay more, work longer and get less are unchanged. To accept them is a sell-out of the massive potential we saw on 30 November.
Some health unions have agreed to put a deal to their executives. But most are not recommending it. It can still be overturned.
Meanwhile, talks continue in the education schemes. Christine Blower, general secretary of the NUT, said after the 19 December talks, 'The NUT was not able to sign up to the government’s headline proposals. There was insufficient progress in terms of the government’s position that teachers should work longer, pay more and get less.” The NASUWT is taking a similar line at the moment, as is the Welsh teachers' union UCAC. The ATL did sign the agreement.
The UCU has not signed the heads of agreement, nor has the POA. And the talks do not directly affect a settlement in Scotland.
In the civil service the PCS rightly rejected the deal. And others have signed up grudgingly. The Prospect union said it would hold further talks and its deputy general secretary added, 'While we will not call for further industrial action while these outstanding issues are being resolved and we are consulting members, we reserve the right to do so if the discussions fail to produce an acceptable outcome.'
This is an absolutely key moment in the development of working class resistance. The 30 November strikes were so powerful, and so important, because of the unity in action between so many unions. The government has used threats and blackmail to puncture that unity – and some union leaders have played along with them.
It is wrong for any union to agree a deal while others are still fighting over the same issue of public sector pensions.
But there are strong forces demanding no sell-out and that the unions should call further action. Mark Serwotka, general secretary of the PCS union, said after the talks, 'We should call further industrial action in the new year because this is so unfair, we have got to stand up against it. We all came out together.'
Even if local government workers were removed from the battle, there are still over a million workers who could be fighting on. Their union leaders need to seize the initiative and call the next strike now.
Every union executive member has a responsibility to push for rejection of the deal and to call more action. It is clear, for example, that members of Unite‘s Health Sector National Committee played a key role in stopping Unite signing up to the NHS deal.
It is not just public sector workers who are watching this battle intently, it is not just all trade unionists: it is also the millions of unorganised workers, students, unemployed, pensioners and people on benefits who know this is a crucial fight in the struggle against the government’s £100 billion cuts plan and its attempt to reshape Britain in the interests of capital and profit. At a time of howling economic crisis, the pensions issue is a critical early battle in a longer war. It is crucial for our side to win.
That is why we have to organise now, and push for victory in 2012. Two particularly important meetings will be the summit of Unison’s service group executives (health, local government etc) on 10 January and the TUC meeting on 12 January. But a key role also falls to Unite and its leader Len McCluskey. Unite is a giant union which would have a huge impact if it opposed the deal clearly and led resistance. Its leaders must now speak out clearly for no sell-out and for more strikes quickly.
Unions should publish the full details of the proposed deals so that members can discuss the detail of what are always complex matters. Some apparent concessions, for example on accrual rates, may actually produce even worse results than the previous offer!
Ministers and the media are trying to isolate the PCS (which has now been excluded from talks because it would not sign the agreement) and to slur Mark Serwotka. Unite can play a central role in maintaining a broad front of fighting back.
Unite the Resistance will hold a major meeting in the days immediately after the TUC meeting on 12 January. (For updates go to http://uniteresist.org )
This is the moment when everyone is counted.
No to surrender! More action, not retreat!
- Sign the statement from leading trade unionists against the deal. Sign here: http://bit.ly/sVyIla View the signatories here: http://bit.ly/rJ8SGJ
- Trade unionists should flood their local, regional and national union bodies with demands to keep up the fight, reject the latest deals, and to name the day for another mass strike in January.
- Unison members should lobby the union’s service group executives when they meet on Tuesday 10 January at Unison headquarters in London. Put this date in your diary now! Start organising among your workmates and in your union branch.
- Everyone should lobby the TUC when it meets on Thursday 12 January.
- Email your general secretary, national executive and service group executive members.
- Pensions fight: Reject the ‘deal’, more action now: Unite the Resistance emergency national meeting, Saturday 14 January, 12 noon to 4pm, , central London – venue to be confirmed. For details go to http://uniteresist.org/
- Defend pensions – escalate action – name the day!Organised by PCS Left Unity: http://www.leftunity.org.uk/ Saturday 7 January, 11am – 4pm, Friends Meeting House (opposite. Euston Station), Chair: Janice Godrich PCS President, Speaker: Mark Serwotka PCS General Secretary (other speakers to be announced)