public sector pensions dispute

The Nasty, Meek and Militant: How to get the unions back in the fight

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The great potential of the 30 November strike is in danger of being frittered away after unions called off national strikes on 28 March. Martin Smith looks at why the pensions fight has hit a roadblock and how we can restart the fightback

I write this article on 28 March (M28), the day that around 70,000 teachers and lecturers belonging to the National Union of Teachers (NUT) and the University and College Union (UCU) struck across London to defend their pensions.

'Changing the game': how 30 November can transform the unions

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In the build-up to the planned strikes across the public sector on 30 November
Mark L Thomas and Estelle Cooch spoke to socialists in different unions about the mood in the working class and how we can beat back the Tories and rebuild union organisation

"For many years we were told the working class is dead, but we're going to have the biggest strike in generations. We were told that you won't have revolutions, but the 21st century is becoming a century of revolutions," says Brett Davies, the Unite convenor at a Ministry of Defence (MoD) company in Telford.

Why won't Labour back strikes?

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Many people have been rightly outraged that Labour leader Ed Miliband has refused to back the public sector strike that is set to rock the government at the end of this month. But, argues Amy Leather, it is mistake to think that Labour has ever consistently supported strike action

Cries of shame greeted Labour leader Ed Miliband as he spoke at the TUC conference in September. Despite his declaration of pride in the relationship between the trade unions and the Labour Party, he went out of his way to denounce the strike planned for 30 November when millions of workers will take on the Tories.

Pension Battles

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The autumn is likely to see a renewal of strikes over the assault on public sector pensions. Charlie Kimber looks at the pressures on the big unions to join the fight.

The coalition's assault on the pensions of public sector workers is the most direct and concentrated aspect of its war to make ordinary people pay the cost of bailing out the bosses and the bankers. It is, of course, part of a much wider strategy, involving not just the £81 billion of public spending cuts but also a reshaping of the whole of British society in the interests of capital and profit. And the pensions attack goes alongside a vicious offensive against benefits, jobs and services everywhere.

In the spotlight

Towards a mass strike

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There are times, decades even, when events drag and nothing seems to happen, and there are weeks and months when history seems to leap forward. There can be no question that the announcement, by a host of public sector unions, at September's TUC conference of plans for a one-day strike on 30 November marks a sharp escalation in the class struggle in Britain

The decision by more unions to ballot their members over the assault on pensions and coordinate a strike with the four unions that struck on 30 June means that up to 3 million workers could strike together in what is effectively a public sector general strike.

Time to escalate the fight

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The anger over pensions runs much deeper than this single issue. But some in the trade union movement have argued to keep the fight focused on this question alone.

They believe that workers, at the moment, are not interested in fighting a wider battle over privatisation and the defence of the welfare state. This is a mistake. The attacks on pensions act as a lightning conductor for the rage felt about the coalition's attacks as a whole.

After March 26: how do we beat the Tories?

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The TUC march against the cuts can become a springboard for strikes on a scale that can begin to break the government's austerity drive. Martin Smith looks at the debates inside the trade union movement and asks, how can we move from the streets to the picket lines?


Photo: Geoff Dexter

In politics as in comedy, timing is everything. Given the choice, I suspect that David Cameron and George Osborne would not have picked 10 March 2011 as the day for ex-Labour minister Lord Hutton to publish his report on public sector pension reform. Reform is something of a misnomer for what was a full-scale assault on the pensions of

Hutton's pension heist

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Much of the coverage of John Hutton's proposals for what amounts to a major attack on public sector pensions concentrates (rightly) on the planned changes and their likely impact on workers. But little light has been shed on what Hutton and the government are trying to achieve.

This is an important omission, because the proposed changes, especially the plans for increased employee contributions, represent an attempt to shift much of the cost of providing pensions from the Exchequer to public sector workers.

Round One to Us

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The right wing media and the three main political parties constantly tell us that the trade union movement is an anachronism - that working class people are powerless to organise against neoliberalism. But this was not the message sent out by the government's retreat over public sector pensions last month.

Tony Blair, faced with the prospect of two waves of strikes by over 2 million workers, ordered ministers to promise union leaders a 'fresh start' and negotiations just days before changes to the local government pension scheme were due to come into effect. The CBI bosses' federation criticised the government for 'backing down in the face of political pressure'.

A Taste of Things to Come

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New Labour is presenting its attack on pensions as a necessary response to the ageing of the population. But in reality something else is at stake - the latest stage in ratcheting up the stakes in intercapitalist competition.

Three years ago the leaders of Britain, Italy and Spain established the Blair-Berlusconi-Aznar axis to give an added push to the copying throughout Europe of the attacks on workers' conditions and rights pioneered by Reagan and Thatcher in the US and Britain. Aznar fell off the axis a year ago, but the push has been joined by the French government with its renewed attacks on pension rights and its rescinding of the 35-hour week, and by the German government with its slashing of unemployment benefits.

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