Manchester unionists prepare for June 30 strike
Article published: Tuesday, June 14th 2011
As trade unions ballot their members across the country for authorisation to call a day of coordinated strike action on June 30, unionists in Manchester are urging the public to turn out and support them.
A picket line at the UCU strike in March
The results of the ballots are due to be released in the next few days, but it is likely that the National Union of Teachers (NUT), the University and College Union (UCU), the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL), and the Public and Commercial Services Union (PCU) will all vote in favour, bringing nearly a million workers out on strike.
It will be the first major strike action since the Coalition government entered office, and the first co-ordinated strike action in decades. This and other signs of increased militancy amongst British trade unions prompted the Business Secretary Vince Cable to convey a warning in his speech to the GMB union last week that the government would consider tightening the UK’s already restrictive anti-strike laws.
The primary reason for the strike action is the government’s attempt to make public sector workers contribute more towards a shrinking pension whilst retiring later, in what unions argue amounts to a major pay cut. Recent research by the University of Manchester and the Open University has challenged the findings of Lord Hutton’s Independent Commission on Public Sector Pensions, which the Coalition is using as justification for its reforms, saying that public sector pensions are currently both affordable and fair. The increased burden on public sector workers in terms of their pension contributions comes as their wages remain frozen and inflation creates large increases in the cost of living.
There is however more to the strike than this. Roy Wilks, NUT Rep at Prestwich Arts College, told Mule how “over two years ago a review was suppressed because it made the suggestion that no cuts were needed to pensions for teaching staff. We know these cuts are not necessary, they are ideological, so these strikes are a reaction to these unnecessary cuts.”
The public sector in Manchester has taken a large hit, with many council workers being made redundant and a range of services being stripped back. Wilks argued that the confrontation between the government and the public sector unions is intentional:
“With the new anti-union legislation coming up it is obvious that the government want to demonise the public sector as being overpaid and greedy. They are trying to smash public sector unions because they are the last and strongest of the trade union movement. What they don’t point out is this will affect people in the private sector as well, as they will offer less to lure people out of the public sector and the quality of public sector provision will be driven down.”
Chris Sheehy, a Salford University UCU branch member, insisted it is important to focus on the wider political debate as well as the economic one.
“Job security, pensions, the defence of education, these are moral questions we must be asking of ourselves – what kind of society do we want to live in?
“Salford University expects around a 20 per cent drop in applications once the new fees come in. The people who don’t apply are going to people primarily of a similar background to myself – of working class background – with limited to no member’s of the family who have completed a degree.”
It is widely expected that more strike action will be called in the autumn, this time involving bigger unions such as Unison and Unite. Wilks hoped that people in Manchester will be prepared to lent their support:
“We want to see as many anti-cuts groups out on the streets with us as possible, workers taking their lunch breaks to join us, disabled and unemployed workers, and especially students of all ages. There will be an NUT march to join, picket lines to support, and we hope many other exciting things happening, with live music and stunts.
“Make sure, wherever you are, you support the strikes on the 30th”