Twenty trade unions representing around 175,000 public sector workers in the Six Counties have voted to strike next Wednesday, November 30. They will join million of workers in Britain for what union leaders there believe will be the biggest strike action since 1926.
This mass strike has been declared in response to the assault by the Tory-led government in London on the pensions of workers in the public sector.
This assault has come in a number of ways. The first is that the Tories wish to change the way pensions are adjusted each year for inflation. They want to change the way this is measured from the retail prices index (RPI) to the consumer prices index (CPI), which will cut 15 per cent from the value of public sector pensions.
The second is that the Tories will increase the pension contribution public sector workers make by 3.2 per cent by 2015. This is taken from workers’ wages and amounts to a new tax directly solely at public sector workers. Traditionally pension contributions are agreed through negotiation but in this instance the British government has decided to ram it through unilaterally.
The Stormont executive voted in September to follow the Tory line and introduce this measure to the Six Counties, though its Scottish counterpart has opposed the increase as long as the pay freeze remains in effect in the public sector.
The third measure is that the age of retirement in the public sector will be increased. So, the Tory-Lib Dem plan for the future of pensions is that workers will have to work longer and contribute more for pensions that are worth less.
Attacking the conditions of public sector workers is merely the thin edge of the wedge. The agenda of the Tories is ultimately to attack all public services – health, education, public transport, social welfare, and more – services that are of no use or importance to the millionaire-filled British cabinet and their capitalist masters.
November 30 will see teachers, classroom assistants, lunchladies and principals stepping out of school to join other public sector workers in rallies all over the Six Counties. Marches and rallies will take place in Belfast, Derry, Newry, Ballymena, Cookstown, Downpatrick, Magherafelt, Omagh, Portadown and more.
These rallies will send a strong message, but more will be needed. The trade unions have all voted in favour of further action beyond the strike on November 30. This ongoing campaign will include work-to-rule actions, lunchtime protests and more, with the possibility of more all-out strike action in the future.
In the end, only a concerted effort by public sector workers and the working-class communities who depend on their services will defeat the anti-social policies being implemented by the London government and its Stormont administration.