after May 3rd and after May 10th, what next?

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15 May 2012

The ConDems got another slap in the face when, having seen their share of the vote cut by almost a third on May 3rd, they were faced with a 1-day national strike by 400,000 civil servants and other public sector workers, just a week later.

So much for Cameron's ministers' claim that the working class majority of the population has finally agreed to the alleged "need" for austerity measures - which are entirely aimed at filling the coffers of big business! The worn out slogan "we're all in it together", used by the ConDems to disguise their policies doesn't fool anyone.

Whenever workers are given a chance to have a say about the government's job cuts and public service cuts, or its attacks against the welfare and health system, their verdict is unmistakable: "enough is enough"!

A success, against all odds

The strike on May 10th was certainly a success - even though the media mostly tried to black it out with its poor reporting. And like the 1-day strike which took place on November 30th last year, it was over the government's attacks against public sector pensions, which are being forcibly implemented, without union agreement. Workers are meant to pay higher contributions, get lower pensions and retire at 68.

But the success of this 1-day strike was certainly not thanks to the determination displayed by the union leadership as a whole. The two largest public sector unions - UNISON, for local government and health, and the main teachers' union, the NUT - didn't join in. Instead, disregarding the vote of their own members last year, UNISON leaders have embarked on a secretive "partnership" with Cameron, to negotiate the implementation of the pension cuts. As to the NUT leaders, they chose to go it alone, with a 1-day strike in April, confined to teachers in London only, and what next, is unclear. The PCS says it may call another 1-day protest in June, but the TUC is being urged to call one only in... October!

In fact, what helped to boost the profile of the strike was the rather unexpected contribution of two sections of workers who do not even have the right to strike. So, in a number of jails across the country, prison officers staged what amounted to illegal stoppages by organising on-the-spot protest meetings. Meanwhile, a national march brought together over 30,000 off-duty police in Central London - the largest demonstration of its kind in decades. Ironically, this was organised by the Police Federation, which has always had strong links with Cameron's Tory party!

Common objectives for all workers

Ironically too, it was the same police march which raised demands which all the unions calling a strike that day, should have raised, but did not - over the current wage freeze, on-going job cuts and the ongoing privatisation threats.

As if these issues were not as vital as pensions! In fact, they are all intertwined with the pension issue. The government claims that the public sector pension system is "unsustainable", but at the same time it makes it even more "unsustainable" by reducing the numbers of those contributing to it and cutting their real wages! Shouldn't such cuts be stopped?

And wouldn't public sector workers be stronger if they fought for demands with which the whole working class can identify?

Doesn't the current wage freeze in the public sector combined with increased pension contributions, amount to a cut in workers' standard of living comparable to what is happening across the whole economy? At a time when inflation is eating up our purchasing power, wouldn't all workers need a substantial wage increase, particularly those surviving on the minimum wage at its present appalling level! And not just a wage increase now, but one which takes place regularly, to reflect price increases?

Likewise for job cuts. All over the economy, workers live under the threat of the axe. Every company, just like every public organisation, has its own version of "restructuring" underway. Shouldn't a common objective for the entire working class aim to make it illegal for employers, public or private, to cut jobs - as a matter of urgency, at a time when unemployment has become an unacceptable social blight?

Contrary to what union leaders would have us believe, the capitalists' all-out offensive against the working class cannot be dealt with effectively section by section, let alone on a local basis. It requires an all-out counter-offensive of the working class, bringing together all its forces, behind objectives which can unite its ranks.