Socialist Worker

Pensions confrontation has reinvigorated unions

Issue No. 1944

“NUT delegates are to discuss pensions at our conference this weekend,” says Kevin Courtney from the NUT in Camden, north London.

“Amongst other aspects, we were set to consider holding a conference of activists across the unions to look at how we maintain the unity and momentum of the campaign.

“That could build on the local initiatives that have brought members of different unions together in the run-up to the planned strikes.

“There’s a debate in the union movement between social partnership with the government versus a preparedness to take effective action.

“What success we’ve achieved, and there’s a very long way to go, is not down to social partnership with New Labour.”

There were many signs across public sector unions that the prospect of seriously opposing New Labour reinvigorated organisation and won new members.

Gemma Fowler, a primary school teacher in Oxfordshire and an NUT activist, says, “The sense of unity between the unions in the run-up to the strikes helped to overcome what can be quite difficult divisions. Other people in the area in Unison and the PCS reported an even more positive spirit.”

Andy Brammer from Unison in Wakefield says, “Over the last few months our branch has grown from 8,500 members to 10,000.

“We’ve been recruiting every week hand over fist. This is where the future of the unions lies, but it depends on people seeing real results.

“We expected over 2,000 people on our march if the strike had gone ahead on Wednesday. We decided to have a lunchtime protest anyway as a sign that we don’t intend to slip back.

“It’s clear the other side has no intention of doing so — you’ve got endless talk of public sector ‘reform’ from Blair and Brown and now we’ve got Paul Wolfowitz to be head of the World Bank. You don’t have to be a genius to spot the signals.

“There is talk from some at the top of our union of calling out millions of workers in an even bigger strike if talks fail.

“If it’s to mean anything, then we have to extend the campaign across the unions, not put it to sleep while talks take place.

“The idea that we have to keep looking to Labour when it is Labour that is attacking us is disarming.

“Building a serious political alternative, as Respect is fighting to do, is not just about hitting Labour from the left at the polls—though that is vital.

“It will also help build confidence in our ability to take industrial action. If there’s a breakthrough on the left it will help answer the argument that the only game in town is between New Labour and the Tories and that we have to stop rocking the boat at crucial moments.”

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