ConDems will stand or fall over pensions
The largest and most powerful strike for a quarter of a century, in defence of public sector pensions, must lead to a movement to bring down the ConDem government or it will have no chance of success.
Prime minister Cameron has nailed his colours to the mast over pensions, claiming that they are “unaffordable”. In practice, the attack on pensions is part of a calculated two-fold strategy.
The first part is to make civil servants, teachers and council workers pay for the financial crisis in higher contributions to help reduce the government’s budget deficit. Secondly, by making people work longer before getting a pension of any kind, exploitation is being extended closer to the grave.
With the Lib Dems on board over pensions – unlike the NHS changes now mostly abandoned – the coalition has chosen to stand or fall over pensions as well as other cuts imposed by chancellor George Osborne.
The magnificent response yesterday by 750,000 teachers and civil servants from four trade unions in response to a one-day strike call shows that workers are ready to fight to a finish on this issue.
Up to 100,000 took to the streets of Britain’s town and cities in demonstrations – more than 20,000 marched in London – and shut thousands of schools in England and Wales. Over 90% of the police support workers in the capital went out on strike. Courts were shut along with many museums.
The action by four unions came on the day that doctors overwhelmingly backed a ballot on industrial action over NHS pensions plans. The Royal College of Nursing, representing more than 400,000 members, warned that it may end up doing the same.
Mark Serwotka leader of the Public and Commercial Services union hailed the turnout as proof of the anger felt towards the government by public sector workers, and said of the government:
What they now need to do is get around the negotiating table and try to negotiate an agreement. They haven't done that yet, but hopefully having seen how strongly feel today they will have a change of heart.
It's a very, very clear signal to the government that they have been rumbled. This is not about pensions, this is about making public sector workers pay for the economic problems, and we are determined to keep going until they change direction.
There was contempt for Labour leader Ed Miliband who denounced the strikes as “wrong”, saying the “the public have been let down by both sides”. Mary Bousted, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, told the London rally that his comments were a "disgrace”. Bousted, whose union has never before gone on strike, said Miliband should be ashamed of himself. "If our strike is a mistake, what has he done to oppose this devastating attack on our pensions?"
The four unions who took action yesterday are not affiliated to Labour and Serwotka called on the major unions who were not out yesterday to join a big strike movement in the autumn if talks fail.
But suspicions are mounting that the leaders of Unison, Unite and the GMB – urged on by Miliband – are desperate to reach an agreement with the government and avoid a confrontation that could assume general strike proportions.
They may not get the opportunity to do a deal, however. "If Cameron backs down on this one, he's a busted prime minister," Nottingham University politics professor Steven Fielding told Reuters. "He's nailed his colours to the mast."
In this context, calls for a one-day general strike to browbeat the government are seriously wide of what is required. Such actions have had no effect in Greece, for example. An all-out confrontation is looming, despite behind-the-scenes manoeuvres.
Those unions who took part in yesterday’s action have to mobilise the rest of the labour movement and the community at large to bring down the ConDem government. With Labour clearly no alternative, this would create the conditions to create fresh political solutions to deal with the capitalist crisis.
1 July 2011