Hundreds of trade union reps and activists from around the country today packed out the Friends Meeting House on London's Euston Road to attend an organising conference on the pensions dispute, convened by PCS Left Unity. Opening the meeting, PCS General Secretary Mark Serwotka felt that ordinary union members deserved an explanation for why just days after the tremendous display of union strength and solidarity on November 30th, the leaderships of a number of unions had signalled that the possibility of climbing down and reaching settlements on individual schemes when the government's fundamental position remained unchanged. Those at the bottom are still expected to work longer, pay more and get less at the end of their working lives, just as they were before 2 million people took industrial action.
Unison executive member Roger Bannister (speaking in a personal capacity) argued that this was his union's logic for taking strike action on local government pensions back in November, and that this should remain the case. He joined Serwotka in welcoming the fact that a number of other unions have now also ruled out accepting the government's latest "final" offer - including NUT, UCU, POA and the health workers from UNITE. Speakers including John McDonnell MP called on the TUC to reject the heads of agreement at its forthcoming General Council meeting, and to maximise the unity and resolve of the trade union movement to escalate resistance including a commitment to further industrial action. The meeting united in a call to reject the deep seated self-serving fatalism of the leaderships of some of the biggest unions, and argued that millions of workers are looking to the trade unions not only to protect their pensions but also to lead resistance against the savage attacks of the Coalition government on the public sector and most vulnerable in our society.
Michael Calderbank is a member of Red Pepper's editorial collective. He is also a parliamentary researcher for a group of trade unions.