26 trade unions representing more than three million members in the UK will come together next week to launch a National Day of Action in support of public sector pensions, in what is predicted by industrial relations analysts to be the biggest strike in generations. This follows on from the last Day of Action on 30 June, which saw 750,000 employees go on strike and a small number of anarchist activists hijack some of the central London protest points to attack businesses. This latest protest is designed more as a show of force for larger national trade union bodies to nudge the Coalition Government back to meaningful concessions at the negotiating table, rather than the beginning of a wave of destructive strikes. Influential figures in the Union movement, such as Unite’s (the UK’s largest Union) newly elected General Secretary Len McCluskey, have so far belied the past assertiveness characterised by his team during the recent strike against BA.
The bigger unions, co-ordinated through the Trade Union Congress (TUC), have so far adopted a measured strategy to demonstrate strength and the potential ability to cause high-impact political damage to the Coalition on the one hand, yet have been careful not to sabotage their own carefully constructed negotiations with government officials and ministers on the other. Nevertheless both sides are aware of their limitations.
Depleted Union finances will struggle to provide hardship funds for members during any sustained wave of strikes. Nevertheless, the Government will also be aware that the level of support from members within the Unions voting for industrial action (strikes), at around three-quarters of those who voted, indicates a concerning bedrock of anger and resilience within the Union leadership and wider movement not recorded for many years. In opposition to increased tuition fees, student leaders have also indicated that their groups will join public sector demonstrations to form the strongest Labour movement for thirty years.
Although unions are careful not to predict numbers, it is hoped by TUC co-ordinators that 2 million public sector workers will join the national one-day strike on Wednesday 30th November. Local town centre demonstrations and workplace picket lines are planned for more than thirty towns and cities across the country.
Bus and travel routes across the UK could be severely impacted by industrial action (including in Northern Ireland ‘Translink’) and local transport services will need checking. In the North East, DB Reggio and services run by Nexus are also subject to RMT workers taking action on 30 November, although the companies are still assessing the scale of disruption, if any. Baggage handlers at John Lennon airport, Liverpool, will also take action for part of the day (although this follows part-time industrial action all through this week.)
Unions are acutely aware that if domestic transport is too disrupted, then this may interrupt the volume of numbers that they would attract to their own ‘actions’. London Underground services are not expected to be impacted directly, as most employees are not part of the Civil Service or Local Government Pension Scheme (London Underground train drivers represented by Aslef are instead being balloted for a strike on Boxing Day). However, bus, ferry and railway services operated by Unite workers across London and the entire UK are vulnerable. Likewise, indications are that some customs and immigration workers will actively support industrial action and airport services will depend on contingency measures. Some airport support services such as cash desks and shops could also be closed. Tourism and leisure will be impacted by the closure of publicly-run cultural and leisure facilities.
The central focus for national organisers and media on 30 November will be the official London March and Rally:
Timings and locations of London March:
12 noon: assembly point at Lincoln Inn Fields, WC2A
1pm: march to Victoria Embankment (between Horseguards Avenue and Westminster Bridge
2pm: rally at Victoria Embankment
Major unions on strike include:
Unite: The largest UK and Ireland trade union with 1.5 million members; many in the private sectors including: bus and rail services; distribution; clerical; media, advertising and print; airport and airlines; manufacturing and engineering; utilities; agricultural; ports and coastguards
Unison: The UK’s largest public sector union, representing more than 1.3 million workers mainly across local councils, NHS services, education, probation and police support staff
GMB: representing some nurses, council workers and private sector workers, the union is also organised in 34 of the UK’s biggest 50 companies
Public and Commercial Services union: 300,000 members across the UK national civil service, including government agencies and (usually ex-privatised) private sectors
Teaching and university unions: industrial action is being taken out by all major education trade unions including the NUT, UCATT, Unison (see above), leading to school closures across all regions of the UK
Separately, the Occupy movement has called for an alternative global day of action to take place on 10 December, in conjunction with Human Rights day whereby the week beginning 10 – 17 December will be a time for alternative forms of protest. This is likely to inspire more creative forms of action including workshops, flash mobs and activities in schools and the workplace. Black Friday in the US (25 November) and Cyber Monday (28 November) are both also likely to draw significant attention from Occupy supporters, including the Anonymous hacktivist collective.