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Successful meeting to organise pensions campaign

(January 09, 2012)

Successful meeting to organise the pensions dispute


By Glen Watson, delegate from South Midlands branch of the CWU

470 trade unionists attended the Public and Commercial Services (PCS) union's Left Unity conference on 7th January, to discuss further action in the fightback against the coalition government's public sector pension attacks, which will force people to work longer, pay more and get less in retirement.

Emergency conference

This was an emergency conference, called at short notice, and open to all members of all trade unions, intended to formulate and organise a strategy for escalating the action, which has so far seen public sector workers take co-ordinated strike action on 30th June and 30th November.

This last day of action (N30) rocked the government, as over 2 million workers in 29 different unions, took co-ordinated strike action in defence of their pensions.

Cameron attempted to label it a "damp squib" but try telling that to the millions on strike and the millions more who supported the strikes and wanted to part of it!It should have been the beginning of the co-ordinated fightback, not the end.

Threat to unity?

However, the decision of several union leaders and the head of the TUC, Brendan Barber, to agree to look at the government's so-called improved pensions offer (which really contains nothing new from before N30) has dented the unity gained from much hard work between union activists, and alarmed workers who took strike action.

Which is understandable because why accept a deal now which was unacceptable on N30?

Of course the coalition is delighted that some union leaders have taken this potentially divisive position and has already begun to demonise those unions, and union leaders, which have correctly rejected the "improved" offer.

Position of Unison and GMB

The position of Unison and GMB in particular was alluded to by PCS president Janice Godrich, as she opened the conference by declaring that the dispute is in danger of being derailed and the momentum of N30 lost, as these unions depart from the agreed tactic of maximum unity.

Working class hold the power

Janice compared the current situation to the General Strike of 1926, when the workers held power - until they were sold out by timid and fatalistic union leaders.

And in this she was not being over-dramatic. Because the working class, the producers, hold power in society. So by withdrawing their labour, i.e striking, workers can demonstrate their power. The more who do so, the better to show the elite (governments, employers and "the markets") just who the country relies on for it's wealth.

Such a show of force, sustained and unified, can make them retreat on their attempts to roll back the gains made by the working class over the last 100 years.

Janice continued by urging that N30 should not end as the 1926 General Strike did and called for further, co-ordinated resistance to be developed across ALL unions.

Mark Serwotka outlines the situation

This theme was then taken up by Mark Serwotka, PCS General Secretary, as he outlined the position of certain unions, which has led to attacks on the PCS. Not just from government but from within the union movement itself! Even personal attacks from prominent union officials.

Mark reiterated the point that the current deal is no different to the one on the table on N30. Pay more, work longer, get less in order to pay off the deficit caused by bailing out the banks.

Mark also pointed out that ordinary people had shown that they were not prepared to accept the cuts agenda, of which the pension attacks are just a part. On 26th March, 750,000 people demonstrated in London against the cuts, from all walks of life and trade unions.

On 30th June, 4 unions (PCS, UCU, ATL, NUT) brought the same number of workers out on strike, as the first rumblings of the pension dispute were heard.

Then came the magnificent N30, with over 2 million workers out and millions more wishing they were.

The central issue of the conference was the aim for maximum unity, to urge the complete rejection of the pensions "deal" by all unions and to call on the TUC to name the next day of strike action, with the real possibility of further and more prolonged action after that.

But if Unison and GMB decide this week to accept the shoddy "deal", then those unions prepared to carry on fighting for their members, should co-ordinate action themselves, and escalate it further. So that their members are NOT sold out.

We must remember that N30 really did rattle the weak coalition, as well as the Labour Party, who denounced the strikes as "a failure of negotiation". But this position completely glosses over the main reason why there's a pensions dispute in the first place.

That is, the coalition's "pay more, work longer, get less" deal is non-negotiable!

So the unions have rightly said "we don't accept that."

Shoddy pensions deal will open the door to further attacks

This is why it's so important for maximum unity across the affected unions. Because by accepting a shoddy deal for their members, some unions are opening the door to further attacks on ALL workers.

Also, maximum unity on pensions can inflict a defeat on the government on the wider cuts agenda, as the confidence of ordinary people is raised and they see that by fighting back, they can win. The coalition CAN be stopped and  would make Labour think twice about continuing to agree with the cuts consensus, to which all the main parties subscribe.

Weakness invites aggression

To pull back now would invite further attacks as the government would conclude that the organisations of the working class aren't up for the fight.

So pressure must be put on those timid and defeatist union leaderships by the members, through branches and officials; for them to remember who they're supposed to represent; to ensure they continue to fight the attacks, alongside all the other unions; and call the next 24 hour strike as within the next few weeks.

In addition, public sector workers' disputes must be linked to those disputes in the private sector, where workers face the same attacks from their employers. For example Shell Oil and Unilever.

Other excellent platform speakers reiterated, and agreed with, the above while adding an analysis of their own union's positions, which were broadly similar.

Among them were, John McDonnell MP (sponsored by RMT); Kevin Courtney (Deputy General Secretary, NUT); Zita Holbourne from Black Activists Rising Against the Cuts (BARAC); Padraig Mulholland from Northern Ireland's NIPSA union; Kevin Donnelly (Unite United Left). As we'll as, in a personal capacity, Roger Bannister (Unison NEC) and Mark Campbell (UCU NEC).

Following the speakers, around 40 delegates spoke and each gave a flavour of the fighting mood in their unions. And urged the TUC to call further action, of 24 hours and more if necessary.

This was a conference of trade union activists but the mood and wishes of ordinary union members was to the fore.

We WILL fight. And we WILL win.
NO to splits and divisions.
TUC - name the next day for action.
If you won't, WE will!

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