Between 2 to 3 million workers went on strike on November 30 in the UK's biggest strike for several decades over the imposition of changes to pension schemes as well as the general cuts in the public sector by the current ConDem government. The question is, however, what next?
November 30 was impressive. Despite extremely tight industrial relations legislation making it very difficult in the UK to go on strike, 30 trade unions predominantly in the public sector co-ordinated their actions to ensure the largest possible turn out (Pensions Justice). And participate they did. About two-thirds of state schools were shut and thousands of hospital operations were postponed. Local council workers mounted pickets and university lecturers cancelled seminars to mention just a few activities. Up and down the country, the strike was combined with large demonstrations. Tens of thousands of people participated (BBC News, 1 December 2011).
And yet, despite the success it is not clear what comes next. No new strikes have been called, there has been little attempt to follow up on the one day strike. Of course, in times of economic recession and high levels of unemployment, trade unions are in a comparatively weak position. Many colleagues are afraid of drawing attention to them and risking being possibly the next person to be made redundant. Employers can easily abuse the crisis and replace critical colleagues with more docile workers. Trade union leaders may be wary in these circumstances. There is nothing worse than calling a strike and then members don't participate. Nevertheless, there is also the danger of being too timid, of underestimating members' willingness to continue with action. November 30 has demonstrated what is possible.
There is no alternative to increasing the pressure. Employers will not make concessions out of good will, the state will not suddenly see reason and scale back the cut-backs. Only continuing pressure can ensure change and positive results. Mobilisation is difficult, but has to be attempted nonetheless. This is the moment for trade union leaders to show strong leadership. Negotiations with employers and the state are important, but they need to be backed up with further industrial action.
Prof. Andreas Bieler
Professor of Political Economy
University of Nottingham/UK
Personal website: http://www.andreasbieler.net
22 December 2011