Statement by REVOLUTION National Council – 28 MARCH 2012
Trade Union leaders have sold out the campaign against pension cuts right, left, and centre. Despite some of the biggest strikes in British history, with over 750,000 people on strike last June and nearly 2 million last November, backed by huge levels of public support, it seems that none of the union leaders have the stomach to stay in it to win it.
First the most right-wing trade union leaders pulled their members out of the struggle- Unison leader Dave Prentis and GMB’s Paul Kenny were quick to accept the government’s pension offer in December which made some minor reforms to the rotten deal. The leaders of Unite were next to duck the struggle.
With the big three unions all out of the picture for the time being, the leaders of the NUT, PCS, and UCU dithered over their next steps, before eventually deciding to do very little. Initial plans for a joint strike on March 28th were cancelled after the NUT decided to only strike in London (despite 73% of its members supporting national action). The UCU agreed to do the same, and the PCS said that it wouldn’t strike unless other unions were willing to do so nationally.
Unless the NUT agrees to some significant action at its upcoming conference (April 6th – April 10th) then it seems unlikely that the more left-wing union leaders will challenge the right-wingers by going ahead with strikes or calling on grassroots Unison, Unite and GMB members to join them.
The two big socialist groups in Britain- the Socialist Party and Socialist Workers Party- have also failed to offer us any alternative. While SWP members have certainly voted in favour strikes every time the issue has been raised (unlike the SP leadership of PCS which ignored its members’ 70%+ vote in favour of action), they seem to be content merely cheerleading the left-wing leaders’ (like Mark Serwotka of the PCS) strategy of occasional one-day strikes.
This is a huge setback for young people, as well as current public-sector workers. With the retirement age raised, huge numbers of jobs being slashed, and more experienced workers joining millions of others in the search for work, our chances of getting a decent job are getting slimmer by the day. What’s more if we do manage to get a job in the public-sector, our pensions will be a pittance, our unions will be weakened, and our pay and conditions will be far worse.
The trade unions have a duty to organise and fight, not only to their own members, but to young people and the unemployed who can’t take strike action to defend the public-sector and their futures. The trade union leaders who back down in the face of government threats, right-wing leaders’ sell-outs, or a fear of striking alone, are letting us down.
But all is not lost and the battle against cuts is far from over. Recent campaigns have shown how workers and the unemployed can organise without having to wait for their bureaucratic union leaderships to give them the go-ahead. The electricians’ victorious fight against 35% pay cuts often seemed more like a social movement than a trade union campaign. There were blockades and occupations of building sites, building industry award ceremonies stormed, and a constant series of protests and pickets of workplaces, even by people who didn’t work there.
A number of trade union national conferences are coming up soon. Young people need to get down to them and cause a stir- we need to make it clear to ordinary trade unionists that the leaders’ strategy isn’t working for them or us. We also need to convince the union members of the desperate need to organise young people and the unemployed; to prevent them from being used to undermine wages and strike action – like during the last Royal Mail strikes, where students were recruited to break picket lines. Most importantly, joining unions gives us a voice and a fighting chance to challenge the leaders’ sellouts.
The NUT conference at the start of April in Torquay will be crucial. If national strikes aren’t supported by those present then it seems unlikely that the other union leaders will take the initiative to strike alone. NUT members need to emphasise the importance of taking the lead in the fight to save not just their own pensions, but the futures of the students they see graduating into a nosediving labour market.
In the meantime we should not just wait for the unions to take the lead. The occupation of Millbank and the student movement of 2010 helped invigorate trade unionists, non-organised workers and the unemployed last year. We have the power to take inspiring action, and this time we have to make the demand ‘students and workers unite and fight’ a practical reality.
As young people with the least to lose and the most to gain, we have to be prepared to take our place at the head of the struggles, taking direct action to the heart of the capitalist system. We cannot change society on our own, but we can show that we are determined to fight for our futures – with or without the fat-cat union bosses.