The Tories are under pressure in more ways than one. They may have hoped the withdrawal of some larger trade unions from the pensions fight might have finished it off.
Indeed it might well have been over had it not been for a heroic struggle by activists to keep at least some action going on 28 March.
The successful strike of teachers and lecturers in London that day was tremendous achievement. It was vital in ensuring the pensions dispute was kept alive.
Now more strikes are planned. Members of the Unite union in the NHS are set to strike nationally on 10 May. PCS and UCU have policy to join other unions in national joint action over pensions. Activists in both unions will be arguing to join Unite health workers on strike.
The vote to join the 10 May strike was lost at the NUT teachers’ union conference last weekend. Delegates voted instead for regional and rolling strikes with a national strike day in June—which could open the door to some regions striking on 10 May.
Meanwhile the NASUWT teachers’ union voted for more industrial action in autumn over pensions and the prospect of regional pay.
So there is still a strong mood to fight—despite the confusion and anger caused by union leaders’ failure to escalate action against the government after last year’s magnificent 30 November strike.
Workers will see the extra pension contributions taken from their wages this month. This could cause demoralisation. But it can also motivate workers to fight if they feel there was a strategy that could win.
That strategy has to be to intensify the resistance. In the coming weeks socialists will be fighting to maximise the next round of strikes in those unions committed to action. In other unions, the task is to organise solidarity with strikers and put pressure on union leaders to join the strikes.
There have been long gaps between the one-day strikes. The lost momentum has threatened to derail the dispute. Calls for unity in action should not mean holding the struggle back to the pace of the slowest or most conservative unions.
Now we need to build the potential of every strike to escalate the fight against the government.
This battle will take place against the background of the local elections in May. This contest has been transformed by George Galloway’s stunning victory in the Bradford West by-election last month.
Galloway’s win was fuelled by both anger against the government and frustration at Labour’s lack of fighting spirit. People voted in their thousands for a candidate they felt would put up effective opposition to Tory attacks.
Lenin argued that mass strikes were necessarily worth more than parliamentary elections. Strikes involve the self-activity of workers using their collective strength. That is why they are the critical struggle that can challenge the ruling class.
Sometimes elections are no more than a crude barometer of political opinion. But at other times they can give expression to a mood of resistance and have a wider political impact. This is the case in the aftermath of Bradford West. Galloway’s win has sent shockwaves through the political establishment.
Politicians from the three mainstream parties struggled to explain Galloway’s victory. None of them wanted to admit that it represented a dramatic rejection of them all. They fear the Galloway effect could now ripple across the country.
Imagine if on 3 May Respect won council seats in Bradford while elsewhere radical left candidates such as Michael Lavalette and Dave Nellist won their seats. This would provide a platform for the left as whole to regroup and create a serious left of Labour alternative.
There is no time to waste. The left needs to campaign hard over the next three weeks in the hope that the momentum created by Galloway’s victory can be extended. This would prove it is possible to put forward a left opposition to both the government’s cuts agenda and Labour’s cowardice.
It is why we need to take the fight to the Tories on every front.