THE GMB is the latest major union to consider strikes against New Labour’s public sector pensions robbery.
The union, with 250,000 members in local government, made the announcement the day after thousands of workers took to the streets on Friday of last week in protest at the pensions attack.
Plans for strikes on 23 March by 1.25 million local and central government workers, and by lecturers and possibly teachers on 14 April, have already put the government under pressure.
Deputy prime minister John Prescott met local government union leaders repeatedly last week in an effort to head off action.
On Tuesday of last week leaders of the Unison union were confident they had agreement for the government to abandon moves to effectively impose a rise in the pension age for hundreds of thousands of workers from 1 April this year.
They hoped they would then be able to negotiate over the other parts of the pensions attack. They delayed issuing ballot papers for four days. But by Thursday the deal had fallen apart.
Unison insiders say last minute demands by local authority employers for the unions to agree an increase in workers’ pension contributions scuppered an agreement.
Many union activists, remembering the firefighters’ dispute, also believe that powerful New Labour figures want to stymie any deal that could be seen as a capitulation to union power.
The government used negotiations during the firefighters’ campaign to get strikes called off and to tie up the Fire Brigades Union (FBU).
Last week’s delay in issuing ballot papers also hit the unions’ momentum.
It was a factor in the decision by the leadership of the FBU not to call a strike ballot now alongside other public sector unions.
Full time officers of the Prospect union, which represents middle grades in the civil service, overturned a decision by elected executive members and called off a planned ballot last week, causing uproar in the union.
Some local government union leaders are already saying the issue is just the right to negotiate.
However, leaders of the National Union of Teachers say negotiations over the pensions attack in their sector have been “exhausted”.
Talks over the changes to the local government pensions scheme—set to be introduced from 1 April—are to continue, with Unison leaders putting the chance of getting the bulk of the attacks dropped at “50-50”.
Union activists and left wing officials told Socialist Worker it would be a disaster to become mesmerised by those talks.
Instead, every effort has to go into delivering huge votes for strike action, extending it to other sectors and arguing for the unions to unite to defeat the government’s attack on five million workers in the run-up to the election.
For full coverage of last week’s pension protests, see the pension protest roundup