The Spark

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.” — Karl Marx

Great Britain:
June 30th Strike in the Public Sector

Jul 18, 2011

The following report from Great Britain appeared in the July 8th issue of Lutte Ouvrière (Workers Struggle), the paper of the revolutionary workers group of that name active in France.

At the time of the national mobilization on March 26th in London, Mark Serwotka, leader of the Public and Commercial Service Union (PCS), with 750,000 members, announced “coordinated strikes” to protest attacks on public sector pensions for June 30th.

This appeal by PCS and the three main teachers’ unions was the first call for a national strike since 2006, and the response was good.

Marches and rallies were organized in most cities, with good participation for a Thursday work day. There were 30,000 striking in London, according to the police.

According to the PCS, the proposed changes will cut pensions by 30% to 50% compared to the current payout, which is already inadequate. To get this reduction, employees would pay 3% more for pensions. And they would have to retire at age 66 instead of 60. It’s no surprise that so many were angry.

And more attacks are expected: for example, on retirement systems for city workers and for national health care workers.

But there are two other urgent threats affecting these workers whose pensions are under attack, that is, job cuts and increases in the cost of living.

The loss of jobs has affected all sectors, but especially the state and semi-public sectors. For example, 20,000 postal jobs are supposed to be cut (in addition to 65,000 lost over the past three years); 15,000 job cuts at Lloyds Bank (which the government took over in 2008, already having eliminated 43,000 jobs); 25,000 job cuts in municipal services and national health care (bringing the total announced in one year to 180,000); not to mention job cuts disguised by the use of temporary workers.

Not only has inflation been about 5% for two years, but wages have also been cut from the moment the crisis was announced, especially in the public sector.

These attacks pushed thousands of city workers to go on strike in several cities on June 30th, including in Birmingham, the second biggest city in Britain, even though their union didn’t call them out.

For the moment, the public sector unions have proposed no follow-up to the June 30th strikes. And the Trade Union Congress, the organization of all unions in Britain, didn’t support the June 30th action, because the Labor Party to which it is tied opposed it.

But there must be more actions. The government is still taking the social temperature in Britain, deciding it is better to retreat openly on certain points of its attack on national health care. It fears a clash with the medical professions, who are expressing their anger.

It’s the same with all these attacks. It’s vital that the government and the capitalists who dictate its policy get their fingers burnt facing a workers’ resistance. And the sooner the better!