Link to this page: http://www.socialistparty.org.uk/articles/12237
All out together on June 30th and after?
How to put pressure on the union leaders
The incredible votes for strike action on June 30th by PCS and the teaching unions have given a huge impulse to the struggle against the ConDems' attack on public sector pensions specifically and their cuts agenda in general.
For the traditionally 'moderate' ATL to achieve a 83% majority in favour of action is a real indication of the mood not just in that union but surely suggests the potential for action within the whole union movement, at least in the public sector.
These votes will also increase the pressure on the bigger unions - Unison, Unite and the GMB - who have not yet balloted to join the fight. This was portrayed in Unison leader Prentis's comments this week: "Be in no doubt that this union is on the road to industrial action in the autumn.
"This will not be a one day action as we know that will not change anything".
While these words are very welcome, union activists in Unison and other unions will not be getting carried away. The strategy of the National Shop Stewards Network (NSSN) of putting the union leaders under pressure must be maintained.
This has been done through raising demands on protests and demonstrations and also through concrete motions at union branches, particularly in those unions that haven't yet balloted.
The NSSN lobbied the TUC last September to demand that it call a national demonstration against the cuts. On the massive TUC demonstration on March 26th, the NSSN gave out 40,000 flyers calling for a 24-hour private/public sector general strike to defend pensions and to fight the cuts.
In the successful 5th annual NSSN conference on Saturday 11th June up to 350 shop stewards and trade union activists unanimously voted to pass an emergency motion from the NSSN Officers and Steering Committee to build for the maximum support for the June 30th strike as well as town and city-wide solidarity rallies on the day.
As part of this, NSSN supporters are also taking part in any meetings and rallies in the run up to June 30th. The NSSN motion supports the words of Mark Serwotka from PCS: "We have to turn 750,000 into four million later in the year".
This means that we have to campaign to reach out to those unions - Unison, GMB, Unite, NASUWT etc - who haven't yet balloted their members in the public sector to defend pensions.
To further this aim, the NSSN motion concluded by making a commitment to organise a march and lobby of the TUC conference in London in September, to call for wider coordinated strike action to defend public sector pensions.
There's an argument to offer places on platforms on June 30th or before to the unions that aren't balloting, to put demands on them.
'Unite the Resistance'
Unfortunately, the NSSN's approach of exerting pressure on the official movement has not been adopted by some others on the left. We believe that the organisers of the 'Unite the Resistance' (UtR) rally in London on June 22nd, which was initiated by the Socialist Workers Party (SWP), have made a mistake in not offering the South East and Eastern Region of the TUC (SERTUC) the chance to host the event and that, by failing to do so, they have let sections of the London trade union leadership 'off the hook', instead of exerting pressure on them to organise a public display of support for the 30th.
This is particularly regrettable after Unison delegates, and others opposed to coordinated action before the summer, had been defeated at the SERTUC regional council in April and a motion was carried committing SERTUC to 'respond positively to any calls from the PCS and/or any other public service unions for support and solidarity'.
As a result of this, advanced discussions had already taken place about SERTUC organising a rally under its auspices before June 30th.
Therefore, at the UtR organising meeting on May 25th, NSSN supporters argued that UtR should offer SERTUC the opportunity for the meeting to be under its authority.
This would have increased the pressure on the unions who haven't yet balloted to engage more fully in the preparations for the strike on June 30th and to be fully involved later in the year.
Despite this approach being agreed at the UtR organising meeting it was not put to SERTUC. Instead SERTUC was only offered the opportunity to sponsor the event.
Unfortunately, because of the approach taken, SERTUC has decided not to support the rally. This mistaken attitude made it easier for right-wing SERTUC members to oppose doing so but it also included militant trade unionists who were keen to build support for the 30th but were not willing to put SERTUC's name to a rally initiated by the SWP, given the latter's serious mistakes in the industrial field - both condemning the London FBU for suspending its strike action, and alienating British Airways strikers by occupying their talks and later making an ultra-left and crude attack on the call for a yes vote in the ballot on the BA deal.
Unfortunately, this will also mean that the resources and contact networks open to SERTUC will not now be available to the organisers. Ironically, this is in stark contrast to the SWP's approach in dealings with the TUC on a national level.
Through 'Right to Work' they have been eager to set up meetings with the TUC. The NSSN attended the meeting with the TUC before the March 26th demonstration along with other anti-cuts organisations and will do so again before June 30th.
As it has done with SERTUC, the NSSN has tried to put demands on the TUC, such as being alone in pushing for Bob Crow of the RMT and Matt Wrack from the FBU to be asked to speak on March 26th and now raising what the TUC can do to assist the strikes and rallies on June 30th.
Now an opportunity has been missed to use the TUC's biggest region to bring more pressure to bear.
The NSSN and the Socialist Party have a responsibility to give constructive criticism to ensure that such mistakes are not repeated again so that any opportunities aren't missed by the movement.
Nevertheless, despite this, the NSSN and the Socialist Party are fully committed to making the June 22nd rally as successful as possible. The platform, which includes Mark Serwotka of the PCS and Kevin Courtney of the NUT, will hopefully attract members of the bigger unions who will then go away saying: "Next time there's a strike, we should be out as well".
All unions and their members should be encouraged to attend the event, as with all other activities up to, including, and after June 30th in order to build a movement to defeat this government.