Unison ballot yes ahead of mass strike action

Posted: November 4, 2011 in Strike, UK

Britain’s biggest public-sector union, Unison, one of more than a dozen unions locked in a row with the government over pension reform, said on Thursday its members had voted in favour of a national strike later this month, piling pressure on ministers. With 1.1million members across the public sector, from nurses to probation officers and librarians, a yes vote from Unison brings more certainty that November 30th will see the biggest example of industrial action since the general strike of 1926. The union’s general secretary Dave Prentis, said the “decisive” yes vote reflected deep concerns over the changes. “Today’s yes vote signals the green light for the first day of strike action, and we will be joining with other unions in the TUC coordinated day of action on 30 November,” said Prentis. About three million public sector workers could take part in the 30 November strikes, with the GMB and Unite unions also due to announce ballot results soon.

The government is irritated with the unions for triggering strike action while negotiations are still going on. Rachel Reeves, shadow chief secretary of the Treasury, said: ‘We are on the side of all those people who rely on services which may be affected by strike action.” The planned day of action with incorporate regional rallies, but not a national demonstration akin to the March for the Alternative staged by the TUC earlier this year, which saw more than a quarter of a million people take to the streets of London over government spending cuts. On Wednesday Brendan Barber, general secretary of the TUC, acknowledged the “material” shift in the government’s position but said that preparations for protests would not be shelved. Brian Strutton, general secretary for the GMB said: “ Turnout is always an issue in the large-scale industrial action ballots and, checking back on previous disputes, it seems 20-30% is the norm,” he said “So Unison’s result looks very respectable, the majority is clear enough to dispel any doubts.”

Fourteen unions representing teachers, health workers and civil servants are planning one-day strikes on Nov. 30 to protest the plans to make government employees retire later and contribute more to their pensions. Ministers say the overhaul, part of Prime Minister David Cameron’s £80 billion program of spending cuts, is fair as the more than five million workers who contribute to public-sector pensions get benefits no longer available in the private sector.

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