As autumn 2012 approaches, the UK’s trade union movement is gearing up for concerted action against what Unison’s Dave Prentis dubs the Coalition Government’s “mindless austerity agenda.”
The trade unions’ agenda is wide-ranging, with pay expected to become “the next industrial battleground” and pensions also expected to figure prominently.
The 2012 Trades Union Congress kicks off this weekend in Brighton.
Here we look at what’s likely to be on the agenda for some of the UK’s biggest trade unions going into the Congress. The list includes:
- mass demonstrations;
- possible co-ordinated strike action;
- suggestions that the Coalition Government is deliberately increasing unemployment; and
- calls for a major increase to the national minimum wage.
Unions adopt collaborative approach for 2012 and beyond
The unions are adopting an increasingly collaborative approach.
TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady says that the TUC wants to build “an alliance not just of trade unionists and our normal allies but good employers too.” She continues
The TUC’s new slogan ‘a future that works’ sets a profound challenge. Austerity and rapid deficit reduction is failing in its own terms, but even at its best it is short-sighted, muddle-through politics with no vision of a new economic model.
Increasing unemployment is a “deliberate policy aim of this government,” claims O’Grady
Increasing unemployment is a “deliberate policy aim of this government,” claims Frances O’Grady. In an interview with the Guardian this week, O’Grady said:
There was certainly a strong view in the 1980s, not just amongst trade unions, but also amongst a number of intellectuals and commentators, that unemployment was being used as a deliberate measure to keep pay down, and to keep people scared. As long as the No 1 worry for people, keeping them up at nights, is whether they’re going to have a job in the morning, then they are less likely to resist unfair changes, or unfair treatment, or cuts in real pay at work.
O’Grady also suggested in her Guardian interview that the rise in part-time working seen over recent months could be interpreted as a move to keep union membership down.
TUC-organised mass demonstration to take place in London on 20 October 2012…
Next month sees a TUC-organised mass demonstration in central London (on Saturday 20 October 2012).
O’Grady predicts a significant turn-out:
Our demonstration on 20 October will bring hundreds of thousands on to London streets once again to show the depth of opposition.
Pay is emerging as a key issue for the TUC. O’Grady says:
British workers are now suffering the biggest decline in their living standards in generations. There has been a huge growth in vulnerable and insecure employment. Joblessness is not as high as many of us feared, but the number of workers in involuntary part-time employment, casual work or precarious self-employment is at record levels.
…with co-ordinated strike action to follow in 2013?
Unite General Secretary Len McCluskey warns that co-ordinated strike action in response to public spending cuts could be in prospect for 2013, the BBC reports.
There is a real chance of co-ordinated action, if not this winter then certainly early next year. [...] We would certainly support calls for co-ordinated industrial action on pay and indeed other issues. It was never going to be one single march on 26 March , or indeed one dispute over pensions – it was always going to be an ongoing fight.
The Guardian reports that McCluskey will use his speech at the Trades Union Congress in Brighton to “urge the government to raise the minimum wage by £1 to £7.19 and introduce a cap on energy bill increases.”
He argues that this would result in “a huge injection of funds into the economy.”
Statements from the Unison, GMB and PCS unions
Recent statements of renewed militancy and an increasingly collaborative approach from other unions include the following:
- The Unison and GMB unions are combining efforts to create what the Guardian describes as an “anti-austerity alliance.” Unison General Secretary Dave Prentis says: “It makes absolute sense for us to join forces, and speak with one voice against this mindless austerity agenda which is only dragging the country down.”
- PCS General Secretary Mark Serwotka says: “[W]e need unity across the trade unions, in campaigning organisations and in parliament. That unity is built around opposing this Tory-led government’s attacks on the people we represent.”
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