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United Action Can Defeat Bosses' Attacks
FIREFIGHTERS, RAIL and tube workers, civil servants, health workers and local government workers - all appear to be lining up to 'have a go' in the next few months over pay, pensions, working conditions and job cuts.
On 19 June, after decades of inactivity, the TUC has been forced to call its first national demo since the late eighties. This time it is over the issue of pensions, following a resolution moved by the civil service union PCS at last year's TUC conference (see page 12).
Unlike France or Italy, for example, the British trade unions have been singularly lacking in any urgency about getting together to fight back against the bosses' offensive against workers conditions. Is there now the prospect of a united fight back?
The firefighters, as a result of the bosses' attempts to whittle away hard won conditions, are in the first line of this battle (see below). Civil servants, especially in the biggest department, DWP (JobCentres and benefit offices), started taking action in early spring and could continue their battle against low pay and the hated appraisal scheme into the summer period.
Health workers in Sunderland (see page 11) could be in the first wave of strike action against the government's attempts to cut wages and worsen conditions through the despised Agenda for Change, encompassing up to one million workers in the NHS.
Another million workers in local councils could also be involved in strike action in July over the miserable pay 'offer' of 7% over three years. Meanwhile, London Underground workers are being balloted for strike action over pay and rail workers in RMT have voted in favour of strike action over pay and pensions.
Whilst most of these actions are separate, the issues are similar and the workers involved will increasingly draw the conclusion that some form of coordinated action should take place. Rail and tube workers could be taking action together. Local council workers are already raising the possibility of coordinated action with civil servants.
Firefighters, after the heroic struggles last year, are perhaps understandably cautious about going into battle again so soon. But they could be forced to by a recalcitrant employer.
Though only pending and subject to negotiations, most of this action is undoubtedly the result of genuine rank and file anger in the unions. Workers are demanding that the union leadership do something to defend them against the employers' assaults.
For too long the union leadership have allowed New Labour to attack their members' interests with impunity. The election of new left leaders in some unions was a direct response to the inertia of the previous right-wing incumbents.
The pressure will be on these leaders to act together over pay, pensions and jobs, and this pressure will grow. The left union leaders should push the TUC to name a day for coordinated action on the June 19 demo. If the TUC doesn't respond, then the left leaders themselves should call a midweek national day of action against the attacks of New Labour and the bosses.
This day of action should be seen as a prelude to a one-day strike of all public sector workers, linking up with workers in other sectors. This would demonstrate in concrete form to workers that they have the power to end the bosses' attacks on them.
In The Socialist 29 May 2004:
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