Balloting is well underway across 1.25 million local and central government workers for strikes in defence of pensions, beginning in three weeks time.
“There is a really strong response in my depot,” says a steward in the UCATT building workers’ union in Nottingham council.
“We had 93 percent of members supporting the idea of a ballot. Now it’s a question of getting round to everyone and ensuring there is a big yes vote. Thousands of council building workers have stayed in the public sector even though you can earn better money working for private construction firms.
“One reason was job security. That’s been under threat for years. The other was the promise of a decent pension. Now that’s under attack as well. Across the unions we need to deliver a resounding vote for action.”
Anna Owens, a PCS union rep in the Inland Revenue in central London, says, “Management won’t allow us to have union meetings on site.
“But we leafleted all 19 floors of my building for a union meeting held nearby. There was a tremendous turnout. Even before that, everyone from my office had turned up to a meeting to discuss the pensions issue.
“Of course, people have questions about taking action. But when you explain that there are eight unions involved on 23 March and there could be even more on 14 April, when schools and colleges might strike, then it helps to clinch the argument for action.”
There was no progress last week in attempts to cut a deal over the part of New Labour’s pensions attack that will hit local government workers on 1 April.
News emerged that two weeks ago leaders of the Unison union were given “the run around” when they tried to meet deputy prime minister John Prescott for negotiations.
However, union leaders are still hoping to achieve some kind of deal. A major strike on 23 March would cut against attempts to rally union activists behind New Labour’s general election campaign.
The executive committee for Unison members in the NHS last week voted against consulting branches on holding a strike ballot.
But activists in the health service and in other areas that are yet to ballot are continuing to argue for a show of solidarity on 23 March and for joining future action.
Activists inside the sections that are already balloting are pushing for big yes votes. “That means getting round every section with leaflets, stickers and arguments,” says one council worker in the West Midlands.
“There’s no point speculating over what the government may or may not do between now and 23 March.
“We’ve got to organise the maximum pressure in every workplace.”
The national executive of the largest teachers’ union, the NUT, is to hold a special meeting next week to consider the results of a consultative ballot on taking action.
Pressure is mounting in the second largest teachers’ union, the NASUWT, to join the revolt, though no decision is likely before its conference at Easter.
The Natfhe lecturers’ union is already balloting for a strike on 14 April. As with the PCS and Unison unions, the ballot will allow for further days of strike action.