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12 weeks to pensions showdown

The pensions confrontation clock is counting down. Twelve weeks from now, at the end of October, the leaders of the trade union movement will either have to put up or shut up in the wake of yesterday’s provocation by the ConDem government.

While negotiations are still ongoing, the coalition unilaterally announced that more than two million NHS workers, teachers and civil servants will pay £1.1bn in extra contributions from April 2012. They are just the first of three annual increases planned by the government and amount to a substantial cut in take home pay.

What is clear is that the government is actually preparing for a showdown, using divide and rule tactics by exempting lower paid workers, while challenging union leaders to take up the gauntlet.

Leaders of the PCS civil servants union and the major teaching unions who mounted major strike action on June 30, expressed anger at the announcement and declared their readiness to resume the fight. PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka said the proposals "made a mockery" of the ongoing talks. "These highly detailed proposals show that the government has made its mind up and is not negotiating seriously," he said.

The Fire Brigades Union said it was making preliminary arrangements for a strike ballot, warning that industrial action looked "increasingly likely" in the autumn. "Members have taken strike action before to defend their pensions and will do so again," said NUT teachers’ union leader Christine Blower.

At TUC headquarters, however, there is little sign of a parallel determination. Dave Prentis, general secretary of the biggest public sector union Unison, accused the government of putting the talks in “jeopardy” by their ”naïve tactics” in making public how much workers will have to pay in higher contributions.

“The government must take its responsibilities seriously, and stop treating these talks like some kind of playground game,” he said. No threat there then, even though the Unison conference gave Prentis a mandate to call a strike ballot over pensions.

From the other big unions, there was similar reluctance to take up the challenge. Unite, the largest union in the country with 250,000 members in the public sector, said the government’s announcement was “an exercise in ineptitude” by ministers.

Assistant general secretary Gail Cartmail stated the blindlingly obvious when she said that the coalition was “not interested in genuine negotiations, but just in pushing through these changes”. And, then what?

The statement concluded: “Unite said that it will keep its members fully informed and consult them on the final package when it finally emerges.” That will have them shaking in their boots in Downing Street!

The three big unions – Unison, Unite and the GMB, which described the proposals as “reprehensible” and left at that – are closely aligned with the fortunes of Ed Miliband, the Labour leader. He opposed the June 30 strikes and clearly has no intention of supporting co-ordinated action being demanded by Serwotka and other smaller unions if and when negotiations fail.

The big three are self-evidently determined to reach an accommodation with the government and leave others, which are not affiliated to Labour, to sink or swim.

In the end, the major unions may not get the opportunity to make a deal. The coaltion does not intend to give way on a policy that is central to its plans for reducing the budget deficit that results from the capitalist economic and financial crisis.

Their bluff may be called, leading to calls for a general strike over pensions. Such an eventuality is simply not under consideration by the TUC. As in 1926, the year of the last general strike, all the preparation is on the side of the government and the state. When push came to shove after nine days of massively supported action, the TUC leaders sued for peace and sold the miners out. This time the betrayal may well come earlier.

Paul Feldman
Communications editor
29 July 2011

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Jonathan says:

One of the biggest organising tools of the 1926 state against the general strike was Churchill's paper, the British Gazette – it won't wash will it? Too little 'big society' to motor, too much distrust and discredit – soon the identity of 'ideology, the press, and the state' will become clearer – if demonstrated. For it will not fall, as truth, from the sky. The control of the press barons – is with Murdoch and Conrad Black: kaput, the Sun is just waiting to be outed. The crisis in the British press means this is all thrown into disarray; the uncontrollability of the web a nightmare. The only counter they have devised is the intervention on sites to 'edit' out the 'facts', and replace with palatable platitudes as to themselves and their motives. John Milton is alive and well, the pamphleteers learning a new trade.

The sensuous attack on workers, their families and communities comes from all sides and its source is the world crisis. That it expresses itself in these two factors: pensions and lack of leadership, concentrates the activities that are separate from the pressure they can bring on either trade union leadership or government: answers, and solutions remain elsewhere. In '26 they, also, organised separately: in communities. The miners strike of the mid 80's triggered the memories – and sometimes it was more immediate than that, of the '26 strike. That in turn will feed into the arguments now. Do not put any faith in the union leadership.

And if the Big society is a measure then these Etonians can only organise hedonistic flings, and note, cabals, now at Chipping Norton or wherever – and they didn't did they, they just paid, batmen to hold whatever. Whitehall, and the core of the state machine is the issue. Murdoch praised the Metropolitan Police as to what anyone at Wapping knew: it was a private army, more exactly had always been an organised capitalist force, just was more naked. A regatta is always 'nice'.

The two major struggles of that period, the miners strike and Wapping was a preparation FOR THE WORKING CLASS AND COMUNITIES. Any other view of it as some 'abstract lesson from history' is not only false in-itself but fails to grasp the continuities of struggle. Therefore as the cries of 'defeat' at the time tried to elicit – cry 'mum', and the attempt to portray the heroic march back to work heads held high as some empty or shallow showmanship, and the twists and turns of those to interprete this united experience of communities and international solidarity now must be dealt with. Now is not isolated issues, they are not non-historical issues.

On the 'other side' stands the state. Mervyn King stated: 'whoever wins the next election will be out of power for a generation.'

One of the central roles of the News of the World was to create, albeit a low level one, a state of siege mentality. So also the Sun, a much more subtly devised paper – study its style. And interestingly aimed at differing 'social groups'. Humming in the background all the time, upsetting and penetrating even in the abstract is the two factors: state of siege and be vigilant for the state against 'it'. All crap as to 'prurient interest', all talk of 'Investigative Journalism' ought to hold that in mind. I read a short story once on a cat that lived inside out (not of the same ilk as Dorian Gray, and Kafka's Metamorphosis, but still making a point as to form and content), there are many horror orientated Movies and books. It is quite clever writing to create both the state of siege and the salacious, indecent, horrified; the prurient access to the decayed society that is the social form of the civil society needed to allow Capitalism to go about its business, which, in fact the governance of which (some would have interference in) propels capitalisms from one crisis to the next, out of one crisis into the naturally occurring next. As degenerate edges were in the earlier form better portrayed by Dickens.

It is not our job to advise the bourgeoisie on how to run a better ship; best mutiny. Clever writing to have 'them' crawling up the walls with fear lest they look out the door, lest they rebel: lest they question the source of it all. To access it one needs more often than not: look in the mirror, if not at self as such, then at the mode of thinking one is trapped in, at the very venal attitude we may share – and fight against, at the type of culture or style that is looking back at us. These are only some of the categories needed to be grasped and 'turned over', given a real beating, till they 'learn a lesson'. However, even the 'best' human rights lawyer' – and the rights to access to not being 'prurient', in its worst sense – for why not in the privacy of ones relationships – one would think a basic human rights -, blames the 'people of Britain'. Other cynics, much as the Nazi guards at Auschwitz having had scrappy potato peels served up to starving undermench, had their 'world view' solidified on seeing - - - Yellowmen and  Muslemen, had their world view shaped and continually reinforced (for social practice would always 'set it straight'). Not even hard work for the PR men and women who, Russian Television showed now far outnumber journalists in the same 'industry'. 

Certainly the most venal, corrupt, and leaving us all crawling up the walls at the moment turn into Hayman, Mulcaire and Co.; a trick a lot of the press now take to heart with real gusto, with a serious Poxman The Dog's face, a-tapping at the knee, a question here, a penetrating glance there.

It ought to be noted as to the differing social groups aimed at. For there is a difference between a bellwether – as false of course – to show those positively alienated the state of siege and those negatively alienated one, i.e. those who benefit in some way from society as it is, and those who don't. Both live in alienated expectations, desires, hopes and dreams. And then subtle suggest there is a difference: really good writing. A nexus of those who benefit from 'as it is' and no it is not, even now, as they present it. A better example of a castrated social being than these in the spot light, each and every one of them (and some that are putting them in it) would be hard to find – we have an opportunity all round to dissect. On one they hope to draw strikebreakers, on the other an 'officer' core. And that brings me back to the general strike preparation, those in the Cabinet Office and those in Whitehall – and those in Sandhurst are in preparation, and not always in their assembly at Westminster.

A State of Siege is waiting in the wings within this generation, and the Police lose credibility: so who, who is feeding the frenzy? For there is a sense of stampede in the air, for all the twaddle – or innocents – as to a new democratic atmosphere forgets the conclusion of the above: CRISIS DEEPENS! Miliband is no more fit for purpose, even with a PR nasal operation – led by the nose takes on another meaning – as all had it for the election ' Tweedledum and Tweedledumber'. For they certainly had the scent of an insult to the 'electorate' an insult the press in general stayed well clear of. And doesn't the insult feed cynicism: the conspiracy theorist may think: planned? Forces of the state on the streets never quite achieve the 'atmosphere' of tweeness, however dumb they are.

While before the enemy was 'society-as-such' now it must be redefined within the elite. Whether this fits into the review of Real Enemies or not; a cabal as such, a clique, or a Brutus, or The Grown up Bullingdon club, Chipping Norton set– the chattering classes, and the officers mess have matters on their mind.

We have to see behind the moves over the pensions, and the need to organise with the trade union movement.

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