Up to half a million public sector workers could strike on Thursday 24 April.
Teachers, lecturers, civil service workers and council workers could come together in a powerful blow against Gordon Brown’s public sector pay limit.
Demonstrations and rallies will take place on the day, which can become a rallying point for all workers under attack.
Members of the National Union of Teachers (NUT) in England and Wales are in the middle of a ballot for strike action over their below-inflation pay offer.
Further education lecturers in the UCU union last week also began a ballot for strike action over pay.
Mark Serwotka, the general secretary of the PCS civil service workers’ union, has argued that PCS members in dispute over pay should strike alongside teachers and lecturers.
Workers in a number of civil service departments are resisting what is in effect a pay cut, including 80,000 in the Department for Work and Pensions who struck for two days this week.
At mass meetings in Birmingham last week, council workers fighting the imposition of the single status pay deal voted to take action on a number of days, including 24 April.
Activists have fought for a strategy of unity across the public sector unions, as united action has the potential to beat back Brown’s attacks.
There is now a serious chance that this will become a reality. Any other group of workers looking to take action should aim for 24 April.
The attacks on pay have become a focus for the bitterness that workers feel over a number of different issues, which has politicised the pay campaigns.
The UCU and NUT have launched an unprecedented united campaign – Our Schools, Our Colleges, Our Communities – to fight the government’s agenda of privatisation in education.
In many areas the pay campaigns have been a trigger that has given a new lease of life to union branches.
Alex Kenny, an NUT executive member, told Socialist Worker, “In Tower Hamlets, east London, we’ve had lots of well attended union meetings and the response has been great. There is real momentum building.”
Lecturers and teachers have been working closely together to build the pay campaigns.
“We had a fantastic union meeting of 60 people addressed by two NUT members that discussed the pay campaign,” said Sean Vernell, a member of the UCU executive and a lecturer in Islington, north London.
“At my college everyone has been spoken to about the ballot, there are leaflets everywhere and posters on noticeboards.”
In areas where union branches are strong it may be no surprise that building for strike action is going well.
But the ballot is having an impact on areas with smaller union branches as well.
Paula Champion is a nursery teacher in Cambridge. She told Socialist Worker, “We’ve discussed why it is important for us to join the strike, even though there are only four of us.
“The key thing is that, this is a national strike and we know we are part of something bigger. Striking will give confidence to other nursery teachers.”
It’s important not to be complacent. Teachers and lecturers have to work until the last day of the ballots to fight for every union member to cast their vote.
Paul McGarr, a teacher in the East London Teachers Association, said, “We need to go through lists of all union members systematically to make sure everyone has voted.
“Every member has to be spoken to face to face. In secondary schools where the campaign is going well, teachers need to visit local primary schools to make sure members are voting.
“This is about building up contacts and developing a new network of activists.”
A strike on 24 April will be just the beginning of the battle.
“It’s vital that this is a rolling programme of action,” says Barry Conway, secretary of Bolton NUT. “A day’s strike sends a signal that we will resist the government’s attacks but by itself it won’t get us what we want.
“We need to energise the union. Members have to demonstrate that they are no longer passive and that they want to fight.”
For more on the public sector pay revolt see » Civil service strikers taking on Brown’s pay freeze and » Mass meetings call more single status strikes in Birmingham
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