By Mark L Thomas
Downloading PDF. Please wait... Issue 367

Vital steps: the 28 March strike

This article is over 10 years, 3 months old
Suddenly, the government seems to be reeling from a number blows. Already embroiled in a bitter row over Andrew Lansley's plans to accelerate the opening up of the health service to competition and private health providers, it must have felt on firmer ground over its plans to force the unemployed to work for their benefits.
Issue 367

But as the row over the “work experience” scheme shows, the government can’t even rely on its big business friends, a number which deserted the schemes at the first sign of public opposition.

The links between David Cameron, Michael Gove and other Tories and Rupert Murdoch’s media empire also remains a ticking time bomb liable to explode at some unexpected moment.

All of this can act to increase our side’s confidence. Under pressure this is a government that looks vulnerable. Cameron may increasingly look like Thatcher’s heir, but his government appears far less prepared to fight hard battles. This reflects the fact that the coalition lacks a mandate for its programme of austerity and assaults of the welfare state.

But breaking that austerity drive will require a sustained fightback, and crucially one that mobilises workers’ most powerful weapon: strikes.

There has been a rising arc of industrial action over the last year, above the public sector strikes on 30 June and 30 November. The Office for National Statistics (ONS) reports that the number of strike days was higher last year than in any year since 1990 – the last year of Thatcher’s premiership. In fact, the figures are a significant underestimate, putting it at 1.4 million working days “lost” in 2011 when more people struck on 30 November alone. This is partly because they record anyone who works part time as only taking half a day’s strike, but mainly because the ONS simply accepts the employers’ own figures – in this case the government for the bulk of last years strikes.

Interestingly, the ONS also noted that private sector industrial action doubled last year over the previous year and was the highest since 2004, although still at a low level. The victory by electricians (see page 6) over big multinationals’ plans for wage cuts and erosion of terms and conditions in the industry is a sign that the battle against austerity isn’t restricted to government employees. Successful battles in the public sector can help feed resistance across the board.

This underlines the importance of the decision by the PCS, UCU, NUT and EIS, the Scottish teachers’ union, to name 28 March as a day for a further co-ordinated strike over pensions, despite the decision by some unions to stand aside from the fight. This will in turn place renewed pressure for those unions to rejoin the battle. If the Royal College of Nurses can overwhelmingly reject the pension deal the government offered in December, why isn’t Unison?

A strike on 28 March, if combined with confident picket lines that win solidarity from those who struck in November but haven’t been called out this time, and which leads to further hard hitting action, can cause the government real headaches.

Further strikes over pensions will also occur against the political background of mass strikes and resistance in Greece to the bankers’ diktats and the growing bitterness among trade unionists over Labour’s decision to refuse to commit to reversing any the government’s cuts once implemented and its endorsement of the public sector pay freeze.

Above all, another strike, especially if it is big and militant, can be another vital step on the road to rebuilding working class organisation and confidence.

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