The contours of the next major phase in the pensions battle are now finally taking shape. This comes after months of sellouts and backtracking by union leaders.
The industrial action by the doctors’ BMA association on 21 June could and should become a rallying point for those unions who struck on 10 May.
It would certainly bolster action taken by health workers in the Unite union. It should also ensure that civil service workers in the PCS can now strike. The recent annual conference of the PCS voted overwhelmingly to strike in June as long as another public sector union joined them.
The BMA action should also strengthen the hand of activists in the lecturers’ UCU union as they go into their conference this weekend. The union’s leadership under Sally Hunt is trying to pull the plug on further action.
Strikes in June can be a bridge into what could become a “hot autumn”. There are going to be at least three major events.
First and foremost is the TUC’s decision to call a national demonstration against austerity on Saturday 20 October. This could play a vital role in reigniting and widening the fight.
We shouldn’t forget that the massive demonstration on
26 March last year, where well over half a million marched, led to the four big one-day strikes over the last year.
Second is the historic “joint declaration of intent” signed by the NASUWT and NUT teaching unions. These unions represent 85 percent of all teachers in England and Wales—over half a million workers.
This opens up the possibility of an education-wide strike and rolling action in the autumn.
Finally the National Union of Students plans to hold its own national demonstration in the autumn.
Like many other countries in Europe, Britain is witnessing the return of open class struggle. That may not always seem apparent to activists frustrated at the pace of events.
But in the last year we have seen four major strikes against the government and over the next few months we could see another two involving more than half a million workers.
According to the Office of National Statistics, 2011 saw the highest number of strikes since Margaret Thatcher was in office.
While the overall direction of the struggle is upwards, there are dips and troughs and the pace of the battle is depressingly slow. This has led many activists to ask: can we win?
While the strikes have not yet beaten the government, they have produced a version of trench warfare. They have slowed down the speed of the government’s attacks.
The government is also very weak and vulnerable. So far the coalition has made 29 U-turns.
Tom Clark put it well when he wrote in the Guardian, “There is, undeniably, a strong sense of a government losing its grip. Back in May 2010, the new coalition could abolish the child’s trust fund—literally grabbing cash from the hands of newborns—without a dissenting murmur. These days it can’t put a few pence on a pasty without whipping up a storm.”
Without union leaders holding back the action Cameron could have been dead and buried—washed away in a sea of strikes and protests. Even the best union leaders have pulled back from calling action at crucial points.
The Unite the Resistance conference takes place in London on 23 June. This gives activists the opportunity to link with others in order to build the united resistance we so desperately need.
And the conference will hopefully play another important role. It can help create a network of rank and file militants who can oppose the backsliding and betrayals we have seen in recent months.
AUSTERITY, RESISTANCE AND THE PENSIONS FIGHT
Unite the Resistance national conference
Speakers include Gill George (Unite Health NISC, pc), John McDonnell MP, Jackie Turner (BMA), Mark Serwotka
Debate: EUROPE'S FIGHT AGAINST AUSTERITY
Themis Orfanakos (Greek doctor), Enric Rodrigo (Madrid Indignados movement) and a Quebec student
Forum: WHERE NEXT FOR THE PENSIONS CAMPAIGN?
Sean Vernell (UCU NEC, pc), Jane Aitchison (PCS DWP group president 2004-12), Steve Hedley (RMT Regional Organiser London Transport)
Saturday 23 June, 11am-4.30pm, Bloomsbury Baptist Church, 235 Shaftesbury Avenue, London WC2H 8EP