Don't lose pension strike momentum
The commitment shown by at least 1.5 million workers in 29 unions who staged a 24-hour strike against attacks on pensions, and marched in cities and towns in their tens of thousands, is now in jeopardy.
Union leaders are resuming talks with the ConDem coalition today in a bid to reach a settlement before the government’s imposed deadline of December 31.
But if they were really serious about defending their members’ interests, union bureaucrats would be boycotting the talks because, in reality, there is nothing really to negotiate about.
For yesterday’s historic action was, as every striker knows, not about winning an improvement in their hard-won pensions but about stopping the government from cutting them through higher contributions and having to work longer before entitlement.
So any “compromise”, along the lines called for by the wretched Ed Miliband – by the way just nine out of 258 Labour MPs backed a Commons motion supporting the strike – must mean worse pensions in one form or another.
A contributions increase will slice even more off the value of real wages, already reduced by a government-imposed, pay freeze – which union leaders did nothing to oppose. With chancellor Osborne imposing a below-inflation 1% pay limit for the next two years, incomes in the public sector are set to plummet by 15% by 2014.
We repeat: what is there to negotiate about?
While the government has declared class war on behalf of the banks and corporations, union leaders continue to live in a fantasy world where “common sense” will prevail and an all-out conflict can be avoided.
Worse, they consider their members as cannon fodder to be sent over the top before suing for peace. Conscious of the feebleness of their opponents’ officer class, the Coalition is playing a divide-and-rule game. Their plan is to get the teaching unions to agree a separate deal and split them from other unions.
The major Labour-affiliated unions like Unison have no plans for further co-ordinated national action – not least because of the dangers (for them) that it could lead to calls for strikes that are more than a one-day affair (which the government can handle).
Instead, if there is no deal by Christmas, there is talk of local, rolling so-called “smart” strikes. These will have no impact whatsoever and contain the danger of demoralising and isolating groups of workers.
Yet the conditions exist to maintain the momentum of yesterday’s tremendous strike. Osborne’s budget will slash the incomes of every household, not just those in the public sector as the Institute for Fiscal Studies report today shows.
The British economy is heading for recession, along with the rest of global capitalism. While trade unions were marching for their rights, the major central banks took desperate measures to try and prop up the euro. But it’s too late – another credit crunch is under way, leading to a second financial meltdown worse than that of 2008.
The deepening crisis will hit everyone very hard and provides the opportunity to bring all sectors of society together in new ways. Local, alternative seats of power such as people’s assemblies can maintain the energy of November 30 and more.
Limiting our response to calls for more strikes or days of action is inadequate. In Greece, for example, a number of general strikes have failed to end the massive attack on living standards.
Overriding every government’s actions are the demands of the financial markets and the recession that makes it impossible to return to the “growth” that is the lifeblood of the capitalist system.
The success of the pensions strike confirms without a shadow of a doubt the will to confront the government. Now is the moment for the rank and file to demand an end to negotiations and seize the initiative through the creation of democratic assemblies that can mount a serious challenge to the failed profit system itself.
1 December 2011