2 July 2012
The support for the national strike action on 10 May was a demonstration of the huge opposition that exists to cuts in public sector pensions to pay for bank bail-out. Government ministers, and political leaders across Europe, show contempt for the protests of trade unionists and ordinary people, but I believe that they do so at their peril.
The cuts in Greece are creating a dreadful level of misery and pain for ordinary people. At our annual conference Despina Spanou, the women’s secretary of Greek civil service union ADEDY, told us: “We are going through a humanitarian crisis that we have never faced during peace time.”
But in the Greek election a party which totally rejects the grinding austerity policies being imposed upon the country – Syrzia – nearly won and is now a major opposition force. In fact, a majority of Greeks voted for parties opposed to the austerity plan, despite the open interference in the election and outrageous scaremongering from European politicians and bankers. As one Greek commentator put it, Europe now seems frightened of democracy.
Across Europe the austerity plan is making the situation worse – economies are falling back into recession, and are shrinking, leading to a lack of demand, lower tax revenues and a spiral of decline.
Austerity is being implemented because the driving force is an ideological commitment to private profit and a hostility to state intervention, despite the overwhelming evidence that private sector jobs are not compensating for cuts in public spending, or that deregulation is creating growth, as George Osborne imagined.
What can we, a union of about 280,000 people, do to defend ourselves and our communities? The first objective must be to force the government to engage with us seriously in negotiations over pensions, pay and jobs. Therefore, maintaining our bargaining power in the face of job cuts is crucial.
In the last year, thousands of new members have joined PCS and we have increased our density in the civil service by 1.8% in 2011. But, because of the job cuts, ongoing recruitment is vital and every rep must make it a priority.
Secondly, following the strong support for national strikes over the last year, we must build more united action with other unions.
The pensions campaign continues, aimed at stopping government plans for more increases in contributions over the next two years and in the pension age. So, following annual conference discussions, we discussed further joint union action in June with other unions. It’s now clear that the best option is to build the biggest possible coalition for action in the autumn, alongside building the TUC demonstration on 20 October.
Our experience over the last year shows us that the problem of disunity is a pressing one that we must address. For successful joint action we must learn lessons from the way the coalition we assembled for the massive strike on 30 November last year was broken up. Even as the sixth largest union in the country, we can still be buffeted by decisions taken by some of the biggest unions.
Developing our joint working with Unite, Britain’s largest union, will be important in the months ahead.
We are not going to sit back and wait for action in the autumn. Groups such as the DfT and HMRC are taking action over jobs and working conditions, increasing the pressure on our employers to engage with us. Reps in every group need to be implementing their action plans and making submissions for industrial action wherever appropriate.
We must use every campaigning weapon at our disposal. That may be assisted by the result of our political campaigning ballot, which was due as I wrote this column. I hope that members have voted decisively to give the union the authority to intervene in elections where that will boost our campaigns to defend jobs and services and build the case for an alternative to austerity.
A ‘yes’ vote would be a significant development, demonstrating that politicians should not take the ordinary people of this, or any country, for granted for too much longer.