Strike votes are massive show of defiance

by - 18th November 2011, 7.38 BST

If anyone doubted the fury or determination of public sector workers in Cameron’s Britain, the union strike ballots are a much-needed injection of reality.

Members of Unison, the GMB, Unite, Napo, UCATT and even those well-known militants in the First Division Association – representing top mandarins in the civil service – have decisively thrown themselves behind the November 30th day of action.

The majorities exceed the hopes of many privately cautious union leaders: ranging from 3-to-1 to 4-to-1 in support. Throw in the unions that balloted earlier this year  – PCS, NUT, ATL and UCU – and the scale of the action becomes clear.

Up to three million workers, ranging from lollipop ladies to teachers, bin collectors to probation officers, will take part. We are on the eve of the biggest co-ordinated industrial action since the 1926 General Strike.

The Tories and their media allies are inevitably attempting to undermine the legitimacy of the strike before it’s even begun. A majority of eligible workers didn’t vote for action, they argue. But you could apply the same argument to nearly every MP or to the Conservative-led Government – after all, the Tories won the support of significantly less than a quarter of the electorate last year. Ignore them. This is an extraordinary show of defiance.

We’ve seen a growing wave of protests under Cameron’s rule. The students kick-started the resistance, giving others the confidence to fight back. Occupy has refocused attention on those who caused the crisis, and those who have been made to pay.

But this is the biggy. Hundreds of thousands of workers that society depends on to function will take the fight to the government. Ostensibly this is about pensions– or, rather, against an attempt to impose a tax on public sector workers to pay off the deficit, using the deceit that their pensions are becoming less affordable. It’s a hugely important issue.

But this is really also about cuts, privatiaation, attacks on the welfare state, and the whole illegitimate neo-liberal programme of this government.

The strikers need a broader movement to back them, and to fight ‘divide and rule’ attempts to turn fellow private sector workers against them. Expect the right-wing press to wage a venomous campaign against them.

But public support for the government’s austerity programme is confined to a minority, and it is hardly enthusiastic where it exists. When the greatest expression of solidarity in a generation hits our workplaces and our streets, Cameron’s cabal may look weaker than ever.