Link to this page: http://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/425/4975
What We Think
United mass action can defeat Blair's pensions plans
AFTER THE government's climbdown in signing the framework agreement on public-sector pensions, the socialist warned that this was just one battle in the pensions war but that the war itself was far from over.
The recent closure or threatened closure of final-salary schemes in the private sector has raised the temperature about possible strike action to protect these pension schemes. And, the temperature is rising in the public sector as well as over one and a half million workers in local government and the fire service have begun balloting to stop any detriment to their schemes.
After the government climbdown in October 2005, union leaders such as Dave Prentis of UNISON thought that the deal achieved which protected the rights of existing scheme members in health, education and the civil service would be automatically extended to local government and fire service workers.
Indeed, they thought that being affiliated to the Labour Party would bring them extra 'influence' in securing such a deal. However, the bosses and Gordon Brown have had other ideas.
Stung by the bosses' reaction to the framework agreement, the government appears to be pushing local government employers - led by the Tories - into taking a harder line. The government and local government employers are also mindful of the local government elections taking place in May and want to keep any increases in council tax to a minimum.
It seems that they are more determined to face down any threat of strike action by over a million workers. The unions conducting the struggle on their members' behalf have a responsibility to show equal determination.
It is positive that all the unions involved in this new round of pensions' action are looking to co-ordinate strike dates with a view to starting action at the end of March. It's also possible that other unions - such as the PCS - could also be taking action around the same time on other issues.
The government could be faced with a generalised strike wave in the public sector. At the same time private-sector workers could be taking action on pensions and other issues.
But, behind the scenes some local government union leaders believe they only have until the end of February to use their 'influence' to win a deal from the government or "the game's up". And they have raised the possibility of going for selective action, bringing out smaller groups of workers, to continue the strike action rather than calling further days of generalised strike action.
It is believed this is to avoid embarrassing New Labour in the run-up to the local elections. The idea of paying for small group guerrilla action as a way to win a dispute can possibly appear attractive. But as a tactic it has not been proven to be successful anywhere since 1989.
Instead of it being an auxiliary tactic to action by all members it soon becomes the only tactic, leaving the mass of the members passive in the dispute and relying on small groups on full take-home pay. This then runs the risk of money dictating the dispute not what is required.
The success in forcing government climbdowns in March and October 2005 was down to the threat of co-ordinated mass strike action. That is what is needed again.
And, with the prospect of other groups of workers taking action at the same time on other issues then it would be entirely possible for another pensions defeat to be inflicted on the government. However, union members in local government need to ensure that their leadership remain firm and do not dissipate any action.
In The Socialist 2 February 2006: