“Once more unto the breach” goes the rallying call from my Union Reps as we prepare to strike on May 10 2012. Following up the N30 strike on public sector pensions which I have written about previously on this blog, I issued an alternative rallying call – to get round the table and negotiate. But unsurprisingly ignored.
I find myself weirdly ambivalent this time. I shouldn’t be. It is fundamentally about funding my life throughout retirement and yet, the approach taken by the union since the previous strike does not do anybody any favours.
The three tests for me are: Do we have a clear unambiguous rationale for striking at this time? Did the union do everything it could to avoid striking? Are we striking as a last resort?
The answer is no in all cases. Although this action is part of the same mandate as the June 2011, we have had any numbers of “final offers”. The latest of which came in the middle of a consultation ballot on whether to continue with the campaign. The ballot asked a question of such ambiguity that when I talked to other members about it, the question could not be recalled easily. In fact, attempting to find out the actual word for word question (as opposed to a summary of the question) has proved rather difficult. For a union that prides itself on its democratic structures, this is disappointing. There was enough significant change between June and the final offer for it to be worth putting a clear question along the lines of “Do you accept or reject the government’s offer on the pension scheme”. This never happened.
Mark Serwotka’s response to Francis Maude on Newsnight on November 30 was reminiscent of Charles De Gaulle and his Non. This was the resigning issue for me. I wrote that Mark was “dismissive and negative… shows bad faith… we are in danger of missing the boat here and ending up with a deal that could be imposed and worse.”
With the inclusion of the reforms in the Queen’s Speech, the fear that I expressed all these months ago have come true. The leadership could have spent all that time getting changes like the teachers did. Instead, the behaviour of the union led to the PCS being kicked out of negotiations before being reinstated. This does not feel to me like behaviour of a union out to get the best possible deal for members but to block.
The days of 70s militancy went with Wapping and Thatcher’s confrontation with the miners. A strike of the last resort suggests when all else fails, when all the negotiation, conversations, backroom deals fails, then we go out.
We ballotted and took action pre-emptively, in the middle of negotiations causing problems for both sides. The government determined to treat this as a re-run of the miners in 1984 and a union implacably ideologically opposed to the government.
For the first time in my working life. I will cross a picket line.
* The author has been a Lib Dem member since 1995 and a PCS member since 2001. He writes in a personal capacity.