|Written by Martin Ralph, editor International Socialist League|
|Wednesday, 10 August 2011 01:08|
|The 30 June strike of four public sector unions (PCS, NUT, UCU, ATL) against the attack on pensions gave a glimpse of the strength of the working class. Many young workers, students and local campaign groups joined the lively demonstrations across the country. There was widespread public support for the strike, which represented mass opposition to all cuts in jobs, services, benefits and against all privatisations. It was a focus for anger against the government and a continuation of the student movement of last year.
However we must issue a warning. Instead of joining the strike, some union leaderships such as in Unison (the largest public sector union with 1.3 million members and Labour Party affiliation) continue to negotiate with the government as an excuse not to call strikes. Ed Miliband, leader of the Labour Party, condemned the strikes on the 30 June, “These strikes are wrong” he said repeatedly and demanded that the unions continue with negotiations.
Dave Prentis leader of Unison says, “Our aim is to get a final offer so that members can see whether or not their pension schemes will be maintained or reduced.” Trade unions used to fight for better pensions. However it is also clear to everyone, especially the 100,000s of trade unionists who were on strike that pensions are being hit by this government. At the same time as bankers and business executives are increasing their pensions massively showing that austerity is profitable for the rich and they are getting richer at the expense of workers.
The Unison and Unite leaderships are very close to the Labour Party whose official position is, cuts are necessary. Labour Councils are turning their backs on working mothers, the disabled and many others who are campaigning for services to stay open.
Prentis said at a recent national executive meeting (http://www.labournet.net) that ‘public opinion’ had to be kept ‘on board’ and used this is as another excuse not to strike! But strikes and demonstrations galvanise public opinion. Every retreat by union leaders will be used by the Tories to deepen the cuts.
Speaking before the Unison national conference Prentis had to make some militant sounding noises. He said that walkouts in the autumn would be the biggest since the 1926 General Strike because over a million workers would be balloted for industrial action. However after June 30 Treasury Chief Secretary Danny Alexander stated that the government plans to look at each pension scheme separately and appears to be exempting the Local Government pension scheme from the contribution increases proposed for other public sector pension schemes. This is an attempt to divide and weaken united action.
Prentis and Barber will go down this road if they are not stopped by the union membership. Which would mean that UNISON will not ballot across the different pension schemes and co-ordinate strike actions with the teaching unions and the PCS in October.
Prentis’s method will not benefit Unison members. They must demand that their union prepares to organize all it members to fight in the autumn, and that words are to be turned into action. There are 1.2 million Unison members affected by the pension cuts with 5000 employers. The rank and file and leaders who want to fight must strengthen the union committees in all workplaces.
Demand all unions ballot for strike action against pension cuts.
Closing and privatising the NHS
There is a growing movement in the unions and in the working class to fight for the National Health Service to prevent its collapse into private hands that will be funded by public money and charges for treatment.
The government is driving its privatisation plans forward with the opening £1bn of NHS services to private companies and charities. Announcements of this move were conveniently overshadowed by the blanket coverage of the Murdoch scandal.
Already hospitals are being forced to cut back on simple but important operations as part of £20 billion in cuts before privatisation kicks in. Operations are being delayed, 54,000 jobs have gone and 4,000 are axed every month which includes nurses, midwives, doctors and consultants.
Build a national inclusive anti-cuts struggle
Children’s wards are closing and specialist services for older people, the terminally ill, and those with drug, alcohol or mental health problems are being lost.
Patient care is being jeopardised as the NHS is closing down before our eyes. The question is how can the government be forced to retreat?
Unions and community campaigns must enter the struggle now and demand joint union and class action. Unite the hospital staff, the patients and all those who believe in the NHS.
The Secretary for Education, Michael Gove, also announced, at this time a £2bn PFI (Private and Finance Initiative) programme to finance a new PFI school building programme for up to 300 schools.
During the student movement, in the anti-academy movement and in the fights taking place to stop closures of nurseries and other social provisions new organisations of struggle have been formed.
Local union representatives and rank and file activists who are determined to save their services must lead a fight against their own union leaderships to demand they carry through this fight.
For international and union action
Workers organisations in Greece and in other countries have called for coordinated European action and a day of common action across Europe.
We need to build direct links with those unions and social movements calling for united action. It will be shop stewards committees and the rank and file committees that will have to organise these links.
Workers united against Franco in 1930s and workers from 52 countries across the world went to fight in Spain. In the beginning it was often workers’ self-organisation who forced their leaderships to act. Today we need to build a unity in action against the European Union and capitalist Europe.
The immediate crisis is sharper in certain countries today but they show where Britain is heading. All public services and public pensions are under attack in countries like Greece, Portugal, Ireland and Spain.
In Greece the government is planning to privatise the Hellenic Postbank, OTE telecoms, the ports (Piraeus and Salonika) the Public Power Corporation and other public assets. It is clearly an European offensive against all workers’ gains.
The European governments, the European Union, the European Bank, the IMF and the World Bank are fighting to ensure profit levels are secure by privatising Europe. Workers are suffering mass unemployment (especially the youth), increased part-time and casual work, removal of the right to health care and education, attacks on immigrants, women, and the young.
A national and inclusive anti-cuts struggle must be created. Today about 200 anti-cuts groups have been formed and the most representative body of unions, the trades councils are growing because of their fight in the anti-cuts fights. Trades councils are striving to link trade unions, communities and students and they have a greater task, that is, to assist the struggle against those union leaders who are preparing to betray those struggles.
Trade unions must both lead and assist a national struggle. Those union leaders who think that it is possible to negotiate with the government to avoid the mobilisations and strikes, who turn their backs on building European days of action and who allow the NHS to be cut apart are part of the problem. The new struggles will have to develop new leaders and the best of them will be socialist and internationalist.
• We will not pay for their crisis. No to cuts. More money for public services not less. Make the rich pay.
• Against privatisation of public services and all privatisation schemes.
• Build local committees of resistance led by local people.
• Strengthen work place union committees.
• Over 500,000 stroke on 30 June. Build on that.
• Defeat the anti-trade union laws.
• No cuts and fees in education, for free access to education.
• Full employment.
• No scapegoating of immigrants.
• For the right to work, access to free health care and education for all.
• Build an international committee of unions; make the links with workers fighting in Greece, Spain, Ireland, France, Portugal and Italy.
• Call a European General Strike.
• Support the Arab revolutions.
• For socialism and internationalism.
• For a United Socialist States of Europe.