FRIDAY 18 February is an important date for everyone who wants to fight against the attacks on our pensions.
The TUC-affiliated public sector unions have called for a nationwide day of action against making us work for an extra five years and stealing a minimum £20,000 from the pensions of five million workers.
We have less than four weeks to turn this into a day of mass rallies, pickets and strikes against Blair and Brown’s plans to rob us. A London healthworker, domestic Sally Valdez, said, “I don’t want to work until I’m 65. I’m young and the work is hard enough now. We must oppose these plans for the sake of our children’s future.”
Across the country, activists in the public sector are organising planning meetings to push for united and effective action in every locality. In Bolton, Greater Manchester, the Unison and NUT union branches have called for a lunchtime protest outside the town hall on 18 February.
They plan to issue a joint letter to the press from all the public sector unions in the area and hold workplace meetings to push for a huge turnout. Tony Phillips, the branch secretary of London Fire Brigade Unison, reports that a planning meeting in Lambeth, south London, will involve teachers, council workers, firefighters and support staff, rail workers and officials from their various unions.
In workplace meetings for fire brigade support staff over the past two weeks, there has been overwhelming support for strike action against pension cuts and “unprecedented” joint meetings with workers in the GMB and Unison branches there. One London-based GMB activist said, “Members are waking up to what’s happening to their pensions. There is a groundswell of opinion moving from the grassroots up through the union.”
This comes on top of a letter sent to all FBU members by the union executive urging them to join the day of action. Health workers in London have already held a protest against the proposals to end the final salary scheme in the NHS and raise the retirement age to 65.
On Monday this week workers held a lunchtime protest outside UCLH hospital in central London. Another protest was planned outside Newcastle General Hospital on Friday.
Four Unison health branches in the north east of England have called a protest at the Labour party spring conference in Gateshead on 11 February.
As the reality of New Labour’s proposals become clear to more and more workers, anger at the pensions robbery is growing. Sue Bond, vice-president of the PCS civil service workers’ union, told Socialist Worker, “People are boiling mad. Civil service workers have to put up with low pay during their working lives, but at least there was the promise of a decent pension. How dare the government claim there is a pensions crisis—there’s not a crisis in funding their illegal and unjust war in Iraq.
“Many people who you wouldn’t normally call militant want the unions to strike together over this robbery.”
This is echoed in the response of many local government workers to their indicative ballots and meetings about what action Unison’s 800,000 local government members should take. In Oxford City Council, the yes vote for strike action was believed to be running at 85 per cent in the days just before the closure of the consultation process on Friday of this week.
Tony Barnsley, assistant branch secretary of Sandwell Unison, in the West Midlands, said that getting the arguments for strikes out to members has a real impact.
“Sixty members in the planning section and 40 members in the architects’ section voted unanimously to support strike action. Other section meetings have been smaller but have still registered unanimous votes to support strike action. The need to organise a nationwide public sector strike fits hand in glove with the mood. Unity across the public sector is clearly the route to victory.”
Some union leaders have suggested 21 March as a possible date for strike action. The need for united strike action should be pressed home by resolutions to union leaders from workplaces and joint union meetings.
NUT activists in London are planning to lobby their union executive on 26 January for strike action. Such action should be replicated across the public sector.
On Friday 18 February walkouts and big demonstrations across Britain will strengthen the argument for strike action and give confidence to more and more workers to fight for it.
For more on pensions, see the In Focus supplement .