No one can seriously doubt that it was the threat of united strikes in the course of a general election that knocked back New Labour’s attack.
Mark Serwotka, general secretary of the PCS civil service union, says, “Through our positive campaigning and vote for industrial action, what was previously deemed as set in stone and non-negotiable is now open for negotiation.”
Some trade union leaders, however, claimed the concessions were a result of the Warwick agreement struck last summer between the big Labour-affiliated unions and the government.
“But the credit for what was achieved lies with union members and activists, who delivered the momentum for what would have been a huge strike,” says Andy Brammer, a Unison union steward in Wakefield council.
“There was no listening by the government until they were forced to listen,” he says. “And it was unified action by the unions that got that to happen.
“If anyone loses sight of that, they risk throwing away the strength we’ve built up so far. We’re going to need that strength.
“We haven’t killed off the government’s plan. The battle has been postponed, and the pressure to compromise with New Labour won’t go away after 5 May.”
Steve Sinnott, general secretary of the largest teachers’ union, the NUT, warned, “This offer of talks on all the issues must not be just a ploy to avert industrial action in the run-up to a general election.”
A steward in Nottinghamshire for the building workers’ union, Ucatt, saw it as just that: “I’ve seen this so many times before—a government in trouble plays for time and then comes back to take you on one after another.
“We got votes of over 90 percent for action in my area. People wanted to have a go—over the pensions certainly, but there was pent-up frustration over so many other issues.
“You can’t wind people up for a battle and then keep calling it off. Part of putting it off is about bailing out Labour at the election. But after it, they’ll still be asking the unions to bail them out. We have got to have an alternative to giving in to that blackmail.”