Announced on the final day of this year’s TUC by Unison, the long-awaited call for industrial action to resist the attack on public sector pension schemes has been warmly welcomed. Eight months of phoney negotiations with ministers and civil servants who played dumb and deaf throughout are over.
The proposed strike on 30 November will embrace all TUC-affiliated public sector trade unions. Non-TUC trade unions – including the doctors’ union the BMA, the Royal College of Nursing and others – are in discussions with the TUC about what they might do. Unison alone will be issuing over 9,000 notices of intent to take industrial action to employers. Tens of thousands of other employers will receive notification from Unite, GMB, PCS, civil service unions, teaching unions and health unions.
All trade unions involved in the decision have to mobilise the Yes vote in ballots which will be running in October and early November. Leadership forums of trade unions will be deciding the tactics and action on the day in the weeks leading up to the strike.
Of special concern is how the strike will affect the NHS and patient care. It is over 30 years since the last national industrial action in the NHS and many of the services and staff who spearheaded that action have been privatised, outsourced and may no longer be members of or covered by the NHS Pension Scheme. Many NHS workers will never have been involved in a collective dispute before, so this will be a challenge to organisation, leadership and determination.
The ballots are fraught with complexity as anti-trade union legislation gives the opportunity to the employers, prompted by the government, to lodge legal challenges blocking the industrial action. The unions have been going through frantic work in recent weeks and months to get membership records fit for a legal ballot. Sections of members not in the relevant pension schemes or in clusters of poor density have been put to one side, but the potential number of those to strike will be several million strong and will be the largest joint trade union action since the General Strike of 1926.
Luckily, despite the moronic mantra from some for the TUC to call a general strike, this isn’t. This is the opening shot of a protracted war which will see guerrilla tactics deployed, selective action, “smart” tactics, further strikes targeting employers, regions as well as joint national strikes. To maximise the ballot return is the order of the day, to maximise joint trade union effort in the all public sector workplaces to deliver the most effective action on the day is the challenge. ■