This is a slightly revised piece from the PCS magazine VIEW
June 30th and barring a dramatic change of heart by the government then not since 1926 could so many people be on strike.
The reason? Normally mild mannered public servants disgusted at being made to pay for a crisis they never caused. Going out the door won’t be easy and many will do so with a heavy heart. But what’s the alternative if you’re going to be asked to pay much more for a significantly reduced pension that isn’t going to allow for a few luxuries in later life? Pour into the pot cuts in services, wages rises well below inflation and large-scale job losses then no wonder people are angry.
So as 290,000 PCS members wait to see if the union’s annual conference will back the national executive’s plans for a ballot for strike action plans are being advanced by teachers, lecturers and health workers for action. If everything goes to plan then those right wing media critics and politicians who argued that the massive March 26th TUC demo was a ‘one-off’ and that ‘unions are finished’ may find themselves realising, that unlike Liberal ‘leader’ Nick Clegg, ordinary people aren’t poodles when it comes to standing up to the Tories.
The National Union of Teachers [NUT] is the largest teachers’ union in Europe with close to 300,000 members. In April delegates to its conference backed a ballot for strike action in the summer term. The moves followed a series of unproductive meetings between the government and the TUC after the former announced without consulting teaching unions that it intended pushing up the retirement age to 68 and replacing final salary scheme with a career average one.
As each teacher will also be expected to contribute around £100 a month extra the fear according to Jim Taylor, a NUT rep in the northeast, is that “not only will older teachers lose out by a considerable sum when they retire but younger people who might previously have considered becoming teachers will now look elsewhere for a better paid job.
We need to send a clear message to Cameron, Osborne and the other millionaires making these decisions – that is why an overwhelming vote in favour of action is necessary.”
There are high hopes that the NUT will get one with Andy Willis, an elected lay official in Peterborough saying: “members feel the government hasn’t listened to our case and that the proposed changes are not based on economics but on ideology. NUT members will take action.”
If members of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers join them it will represent the first strike in the union’s history. If the ballot currently being organised indicates support the ATL has already said it will strike ‘towards the end of June and co-ordinate activities with the other education unions.’
Merton ATL branch secretary Catherine Garnett said “members wouldn’t consider taking strike action unless it’s over something that will have a detrimental effect on the profession as a whole. We feel it is going to stop young people entering it. The pensions have always been a draw as it’s not a profession you go into because you are going to earn a lot of money. ”
University College Union [UCU] members have recently lost two days pay when they took strike action in late March over changes in their pension scheme, a below inflation pay rise and compulsory redundancies. Nevertheless according to Pura Ariza, the secretary of Manchester Metropolitan University UCU branch, who was speaking in a personal capacity “people are prepared to take further action as long as it’s in conjunction with other union members.”
There’s a possibility that these might include the 28,000 in the National Association of Head Teachers [NAHT]. Radicals they most certainly are not but at it’s recent conference those present agreed to a motion that leaves the door open for a ballot on action ‘to defend pensions.’
The educators could be joined by NHS workers, showing the government’s plans are an attack on all public sector workers as in April Unite’s national health committee voted in favour of co-ordinating industrial action with other public sector unions on 30 June.