THE MEDIA has begun to talk about strikes again for the first time in almost a decade. This is because pressure is growing among groups of workers for action over pay, privatisation and other issues.
An unofficial walkout over pay by over 400 hospital workers in Inverclyde and Paisley, near Glasgow, last week was a sign of that (see page 15 for full story). They were inspired by the Glasgow Royal Infirmary workers' victory over the multinational Sodexho two weeks ago.
Victories by journalists on papers in the north of England have also encouraged a ripple of strikes on other titles, such as the Rotherham Advertiser this week. Workers on Arriva Trains Northern struck for the 18th time on Saturday. They are now hoping to escalate their action. Workers in Tory-controlled Westminster council are battling against privatisation.
This feeling for resistance could lead to action by significant groups of workers over the next two months. Unions representing council workers have given a deadline of 12 September for the employers to come up with a decent offer on allowances for working in London. If there isn't one they are talking about a one-day strike across London, possibly on 1 October.
Further education college lecturers took two days strike action over pay earlier this year, and Natfhe union general secretary Paul Mackney has suggested a further strike during Labour Party conference in the first week of October. Further education support staff are to ballot for strikes.
The RMT rail union is looking to launch a national dispute over the safety role of guards in mid-September. The ballot for strikes over pay on London Underground closes on Tuesday of next week. The result of a strike ballot by 6,000 call centre workers is due on 12 September.
Some 300 workers at the Caparo steel company have struck over attacks on their pensions. The steel workers' union is talking of strikes at Corus, the biggest steel company. There is a strong feeling of solidarity for anyone who takes action, and calls for united action across unions and industries. But there are no guarantees that union leaders will match that. The leaderships of all the unions feel let down by New Labour.
The TUC conference in two weeks could pass strong motions opposing government policy, not least over war on Iraq. There are, however, also pressures from within the TUC to limit union opposition in the hope of gaining the ear of 'old Labour' cabinet ministers.
The postal workers' fight against privatisation shows the potential to knock a core government policy off course, but also the danger when union leaders delay. The Communication Workers Union (CWU) has put back a ballot for strikes over outsourcing of a part of the post office by a week, to next Tuesday. The deputy general secretary of the CWU John Keggie, said, 'Constructive discussions are still taking place. It was agreed to make more time for negotiations.'
Council union leaders called a magnificent one-day strike of over 750,000 workers in July and then accepted a shoddy deal, which union activists are fighting to reject. A one-day strike by members of the National Union of Teachers (NUT) in London in March gave a snapshot of the anger.
NUT leaders have not built on that, and there is now a serious danger that they will abandon the pay fight in London. But the calls for action over pay are increasing. Coping with housing costs, long hours, flexible working and the threat of privatisation is producing greater anger.
Focusing that now is vital in pushing the unions to take a serious stand. That means ensuring solidarity for those groups of workers who do take action, and organising at the base of the unions to draw activists together. The next couple of months provide a chance to do that in an atmosphere where left wing political opposition to the government, such as the anti-war movement, is growing.