Public sector workers planing a day of action over government cuts are aiming to build alliances with private sector workers and the wider anti-cuts movement.
At least ten unions are expected to take strike action on 30 November, if the government fails to change plans to slash retirement benefits. The workers involved may include civil servants, local government employees, teachers, lecturers and firefighters. The strike could involve over a million workers.
Proposing the motion at the Trades Union Congress (TUC) today, Dave Prentis of Unison said, “Now is the time to make our stand”.
Several of the trade unionists involved are keen to emphasise that the issue is not only about the working conditions of public sector employees but all people affected by rising unemployment and government cuts to public services and the welfare state. Official figures released today show that UK unemployment has risen to 2.51 million.
Prentis told the TUC that the government and right-wing media would seek to “divide and rule” by setting public and private sector workers against each other. “We must stay strong and united,” he said, “All of us shoulder to shoulder”.
Mark Serwotka of the PCS union, which represents civil servants, also offered his solidarity to employees in the private sector.
“It's a disgrace what has happened to you and your pensions,” he said, “But we should not equalise misery but fight for fair pension for all”.
He told private sector workers, “Not a single public-sector worker has ever harmed you. And marching together we can win".
Other unions to join the strike ballot include Unite, GMB, all four leading schoolteaching unions, the Northern Ireland Public Services Alliance and the University and College Union (UCU), which represents academics and lecturers. At least three other unions are considering holding a ballot.
Public sector workers in the UK are more likely to belong to a union than their private sector counterparts.
Campaigners are aiming to promote union membership among large parts of the private sector characterised by low pay, poor conditions and the use of agency staff with few employment rights. Call centres in the UK now employ around as many people as the mining industry at its height, while an even greater number work in supermarkets.
The government said that trade unions have been too quick to propose industrial action, but ministers were criticised for misrepresenting the situation. Several trade unionists said that in many cases changes have been proposed without consultation.
Sally Hunt of the UCU accused the government of running “a taxpayer-funded campaign of misinformation”.
She added, “Industrial action is always a last resort for educators and we will work closely with students to minimise problems where possible”.