the n30 strike day and a 2012 of struggle

Steve Ryan, a PCS activist in Wrexham, looks at the aftermath of the November 30th pensions strike and the opportunities for class struggle in the year ahead.

November 30th. I was dropped off by the picket lines outside  a large government building in Cardiff. The line was well attended, the PCS yellow jackets bright in the dawn light, The wood was already blazing in the brazier, The mood was upbeat and determined.

As the dawn broke a rainbow appeared over the building: that’s where our pensions are, someone quipped. Pictures were taken, reports sent in.

From the lines we travelled into Cardiff to join the march. 5,000 people, some say, certainly it was big, biggest for years, The march was noisy, with music and chants, Crowds thronged the pavements clapping and cheering, We debated when we could last remember this happening. The march needed with the usual speeches from union bosses and sympathetic politicos, By about 3pm we were done and drifting home, or to cafes and pubs. It had been a momentous day , reports had been received from comrades all over the UK with similar stories, biggest ever march, solid picket lines, huge support from the public.

The above is a picture of November 30th, a snapshot. It will be familiar to thousands of workers, It was the biggest strike for decades , and came on the back of a the demo in March in London, the strike on June 30th, and a small but significant rise in industrial militancy generally, including HMRC workers over sick absence policies and privatisation, strikes in the private sector over pay and pensions, and the resurgence of rank and file action via the Sparks in the building industry

More widely 2011 saw the Arab Spring, riots in UK inner cities, general strikes in Europe, massive demonstrations against the Chinese and Russian governments. All over the world the Occupy movement sprang up, and Time magazine had “the protestor “ personality of the year

So 2011 was an exciting time for communists… but the inevitable question is, what next?

That there has been a rise in militancy is clear. However, there is still a way to go.

Despite the demos, strikes etc, it could be argued that little has changed, Europe presses ahead with austerity cuts, Egyptian workers are back on the streets, the Occupy movement seems to have already run out of steam.

In the UK, November 30th may already have been futile as the TUC and bigger unions look set to sell out over pensions, leaving the more militant PCS union isolated. The Sparks have not yet gained wider rank and file support to the extent many may have wished for,

But, but… all is not lost yet.

Whist the movement is at a crossroads , there is always hope as to the direction of travel.

There is a growing mood of anger , all over the world.  Moreover that anger is translating into the confidence to act from strikes and demos to occupations.

Speaking to PCS members about the possible sell out over pensions , and the refusal of PCS to give in, the response was angry and supportive of PCS. Such a mood is growing within the rank and file of the other unions. The role of anti-cuts groups has helped here by uniting rank and file union members with community activists, unemployed groups etc. making it harder to isolate the struggles but moreover making it easier to generalise the fight back .

Also the usual role of the social democratic parties as the defenders of capital has collapsed as they adopted neo-liberal policies. In the UK this is especially so: no one has any illusions in New Labour. This will create a vacuum as workers, pensioners, unemployed and so on begin as they have to seek reasons for their situation but moreover a solution, Such a vacuum once filled by illusions in reforms can just as easily be filled with a communist solution, as has happened many times in the past, such as before the First World War in the UK.

Workers will also be considering what action to take next . The lack of gains from the one day strike will be, and already is being, questioned. More imaginative action will develop, often as per the Sparks, outside of the control of the union structure.

Action also needs to develop from passivity, demos and marches  to active resistance. Non payment of the Poll Tax was  a good example, more will be found as opportunities arise, and the resistance need to go to the bosses, politicians and the rich in general,

The role of communists in all this is not be with those fighting back , to assist, to argue the direction of travel towards revolution and communism but also to learn from those fighting back, who will undoubtedly throw up structures and methods that suit the circumstances and are innovative and challenging.

It will be an exciting time.

8 thoughts on “the n30 strike day and a 2012 of struggle

  1. i like the revolutionary optimism of steve. But I would like to make some points for an all round assement of the current state of play of the pensions strike or the balance of class forces at the moment.

    My impression is that the anti cuts groups led by the main left wing groups,SWP,SP have not generalised the fight back. They have been looking and responding to the official Trade Union movement. Making calls of the official movement and acting as its foot soldiers.

    The anti cuts groups,sheffield being a good example, have restricted themselves to suporting the officials of the trade unions who have called for limited one day action and trying to pressure those union officials who have been reluctant to support the strikes or who have been reluctant one day strikers.

    I dont think there is a poilitical vacuum or a political and social space for us to fill automatically. This notion has been around since at least the early 1960’s. Reformisms death has been greatly exaggerated. It simply takes different forms or in the absence of confidence in an alternative, results in support for a right wing solution. The leader of the coalition is riding high in the poles and general popularity.

    The capitulation of the leaders of two of the Biggest public sector trade unions-Unison and the GMB will not just lead to questions, but demoralisation. If the grand old duke of york can march the troops to the top of the Hill and then march them down again, the troops are going to say why should we march up the hill again. we are not doing that to be told to go back down again. what a wasted effort.

    The membership of trade unions is at an historic low. Many in the public sector where the union density is highest will leave the Unions as well as the pension scheme. unless some grass roots alternative is ld


  2. i agree in some ways,l my article does point out we are at a crossroads, However i think we should look to the best of what has happened to learn . Some , maybe many, anti cuts groups have managed to avoid the problems spoken of, also, the leaders of unison and gmb have not yet capitulated as there has been resistance, union density is low, but unless we pose a true alternative that will simply translate into apathy or worse


  3. But what makes you say the leaders of Unison and the GMB have not capitulated? Take the example of the GMB. The GMB leaders have called off or suspended the strike and agreed to the govenment pension proposals in principle. They have surrendered on all the core issues we went on strike to defend : Working longer. Age 67 for those under 57/68 for those under 34, paying far more ,getting far less. career average not final salary, loss of RPI which is replaced by CPI. Only minor concessions are to be discussed. These are things the government wanted to concede to soften the blow of the new LA scheme. Delay in introduction of the new measures by two years, but full hike in contributions brought forward one year. some protection for those within ten years of retirement. . There is no new money so to speak .There is no agreement from the State or employers side. The agreement is from the union side. cameron threatened to impose a settlement if the unions did not sign up. But in effect they have imposed a settlement. The GMB has accepted.Thats why Brian Strutton has been congratulated by the coalition government for moderation and cooperation. The strike of GMB members is off,the build up and momentum lost. As I have written elsewhere the pension protests have been managed by the government with the help of strutton and prentice and the governments industrial relations minister Brendon barber. cameron is stronger,serwotka is weaker. Are trade unions fit for purpose ? Its not a crisis of leadership. Its a crisis of trade unionism . In the past they have aquiesced in mass unemployment and mass job cuts. the rotten tradition continues. At a recent meeting in shefield the GMB regional officer told workers the GMB accepted cuts were necessary, this followed the management announcment that cuts were necessary. Well the management were better they said (lies) they would try to avoid them . you could say it was a sell out but Strutton , Pentice and Barber were not on our side to begin with.But is trade unionism? This is the question some are asking.


  4. because my understanding is that many unions have now stated they do NOT agree plus any such decision wil need to go to the membersship. Whilst i agree of course we need aqcommunist movement rather than trust in unions for example, we are not there yet and many workers still see unions as a good thing, however they have been lured into forgetting that THEY run unions, through elections ballots and conferences not union bosses, That is why we need a rank and file to give power back to workers , and allow them to think more broadly about there own power, i think we should be argiung for no sell out in all unions but pointing out the limitations to the one day strike strategy and reliance on just unions , hence the importance of anti cuts groups etc in amny areas, lets be frank, if we are not careful the workers movement will face a huge defeat in its last organised area , this cannot happen


  5. We will not know the fulll details within each union until the conference on saturday. But Unison have signed up,GMB have signed up Unite have signed up. only the leader of your union of the big unions clearly refused

    There has been apolitical game played out or a managed process from the government and its supporters. Cameron has the measure of the union bosses. He had Lord Hutton ex labour minister to come on the the public stage to state that the economic situation might require the government to withdraw their current proposals and impose somthing worse . Following the strike he had the lib Dem finance minister play Mr nasty and said sign to agree in principle to the core proposals or else to to ensure the union chiefs played the game. Just in case Pickles was brought in to put the frightners on . Then the Gmb said they might stir up the private sector. Short of twicking some minor concessions the deal has been done.

    The unions members do not run the unions, nor more than the members of the leninist groups run their organisations. There is some formal democracy, but general secretaries regional officers and the union machine have enormous powers. And what are voting rights worth when you are a militant leader of a UNISON and they close the branch and expel you on trumped up charges of bringing the union into disrepute? Regional officers run unison branches and can over rule or block branch decisions however democratic. Unison do not have branch meeting on a regular basis and this presents a big obstacle in building up an oppposition.

    In My GMB branch the officials are elected every four years. Convenors are appointed. The regional offical and the regional council and the central executive determine most things. I can have my membership
    cancelled for putting out a circular or bulletin without the authority of the regional committee. Most union require industrail action to be authorised by the leaders.

    The nature of trade unions is to win concessions however small. The GMB will not ballot because there is not a settlement . Agreement in principle simply curcumvents that. Talks will continue until it is to late to do anything about it.


  6. In addition to the points I have already made. the bureacracy often disregard Ballots. In the sparks disput a ballot result of over 80% in favour of action over cuts in terms and conditions was ignored.


  7. Interesting document posted by leo. Its very similar to the trade unions against the working class published by ICC. But the discussion was specifically about the current pension dispute. It would have been helpful if Leo could have given his views on the Trde Union response to the coalition.

    The NUT and the health section of UNITE have rejected the heads of agreement deal. Some branches of UNISON have also rejected the deal.


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