The Tory cabinet office minister, Francis Maude, made a fantastical offer to the TUC and leaders of the public sector unions last Friday when he announced in the bourgeois press that he would sanction a 15-minute token strike on November 30 with no loss of pay.
November 30 is the date on which millions of public sector workers are due to take strike action against the coalition governments’ plans to drive up pension contributions while cutting back the actual amount of pension to be paid out.
Such is the widespread anger of workers to this theft of their pension rights, a theft that is designed solely to provide the government with money to bail out the bankers, that the union leaders have been forced for the first time in living memory to call co-ordinated strike action in defence of their members’ conditions.
The strike on November 30 will be the largest industrial stoppage since the 1926 general strike, and with the union leadership promising further action it has become the stuff of nightmares for the government, hence Maude’s unprecedented offer of the government allowing workers to take 15 minutes off work – during their lunch break – as ‘some kind of token action’ which would enable them to ‘get their point across without costing them pay’.
The sting in the tail of Maude’s offer to the unions was the open threat that if the one-day strike goes ahead then the government will turn to the law courts to make any future action illegal.
Maude made this clear when he remarked: ‘The turnouts were very low and, you know, I’ve got to say to the union leaders, if they actually call a strike based on a ballot where only just more than a quarter of those balloted actually bothered to vote at all then the pressure to change the law to set some kind of turnout threshold will really become very, very hard to resist. . .
Unison leaders dismissed Maude’s offer as a PR stunt but it is much more than that; it goes hand-in-hand with last week’s appeal by his fellow minister, Danny Alexander, for scabs to come forward and break the strike.
Alongside this appeal for an army of scabs, Alexander explicitly attempted to divide the unions, stating: ‘I think most of the unions, the moderate unions, want to reach an agreement, but there are some who seem desperate, hell-bent if you like, on strike action.’
Now Maude has stepped in with an offer for the union leaders to save face by agreeing to a token 15-minute protest while threatening new anti-union laws that would see trade union leaders jailed for the crime of taking strike action in defence of their members’ pensions.
Clearly the coalition has realised that they may not be able to rely upon the TUC bureaucrats holding back the tsunami of anger building up in the working class and that anger is driving workers and vast sections of the middle class into open revolutionary confrontation with this government.
Public sector workers must demand that their leadership not just dismiss Maude’s statement but organise for the defeat of this government.
This means breaking off all the meaningless talks still going on, behind which ministers are preparing to make strikes and even trade unions illegal, and declare that the November 30 strike be transformed into a general strike of all workers.
This in turn must become the start of preparations for an all-out indefinite general strike to bring down the government and replace it with a workers’ government that will end all attacks on pensions and jobs through the nationalisation of the banks and industry and advance to socialism.