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Last night, Leeds Against the Cuts, the city-wide anti-cuts campaign initiated by Leeds TUC hosted a public meeting to discuss the upcoming public sector general strike on 30th November (N30). The meeting, held in the civic hall, was attended by over 40 people, predominatly trade unionists from Leeds.

Iain Dalton, Hyde Park & Headingley Socialist Party

The meeting had several themes that ran through the contribution of the speakers. As Cindy Gavin from the GMB pointed out, over the last few months the right wing press have been trying to divide public and private sector workers by referring to so-called ‘gold plated public sector pensions’ – getting a resounding no when she asked the audience whether any of them had a gold plated pension. Daniel Maguire, a bus worker from Harrogate UNITE, emphasised the need for private sector trade unionists to explain the issues around pensions in their workplaces to help cut across this, arguing that instead of the Tories suggestion that public sector pensions are too good and should be cut, all workers should have the right to a decent pension.

In his contribution, Daniel also pointed out the appauling role of the Labour Party in relation to the pension issue. As a local labour party member he had been invited to a meeting of Progress, a Blairite group in the Labour Party, where its Vice-President Rachel Reeves (MP for Leeds West) spoke blaming workers with inadequate pensions for not having saved enough or, as Daniel put it, ‘that I haven’t put enough money into a fund for the city speculators to gamble away’.

Leeds Met UCU branch secretary, Paul Blackledge, recounted another meeting with a Labour Party figure, brother of current leader Ed, David Miliband, where he as the only Professor of Politics available on the day had to interview him in front of some students. With the N30 strike coming up, he asked Miliband whether he and the labour party would be supporting the strike. Mindfull of his audience, David didn’t denounce the strike as his brother did at the Labour Party conference, but refused to say he supported it, adding ‘you lost in 1926’!

Although unstated, it was vitally clear that the political alternative to the cuts that most trade unionists are looking for, will not be supplied by a Labour party that is differing with the Tories on the pace and extent of the cuts rather than the need for the cuts themselves. An element of what that alternative could be was provided by PCS DWP President, Jane Aitchison, who highlighted the alternative policy her union has recently put forward for welfare and public services in a series of pamphlets (‘There is an alternative…’ and ‘Welfare: An alternative vision’) which PCS members have been distributing at anti-cuts meetings across the country, and one point of this that was raised by many speakers was the idea that workers shouldn’t pay for the crisis that the banks and the super-rich have created.

But for some trade unionists, the focus was on making sure their unions come out and join the action on N30. Brian Mulvey, Branch Secretary of Leeds Local Government UNISON, stressed his concerns that even at this stage the national leadership of UNISON may try to de-rail strike action by agreeing a dodgy deal with the employers due to an energised rank and file within the union that may start to question the unions lacklustre policies on other questions. Despite this, he reported that he had not yet met a member of his branch that wasn’t going to be voting yes and he expected an overwhelming yes vote for action.

Alex Gordon, RMT President, announced that his union would be balloting some rather unusual members to take action, including workers in the Navy auxilliary who supply the Royal Navy and Ferry workers in the North of Scotland who link there to the Orkney and Shetland Isles. Alex repeated the sentiments that private and public sector workers need to link up, indeed RMT members are a case in point with many of them being private sector workers in the past. Alex highlighted the case of the Bombardier plant in Derby which is threatened with closure and the attacks on the railways contained in the McNulty report that threatens to solve the problems caused to the network by privatisation and fragmentation by more of the same medicine. Alex stressed that N30 has to been the starting point for a fightback, not just on pensions but all the attacks that this government, and the bosses they represent are making against us.

This was reinforced by Steve Leadbeater, a member of the North West rank and file committee which is currently organising the action around the attacks of the Big 8 (now 7) companies in construction contracting to attacks the Joint Industry Board terms and conditions, which have been the standard in the industry for 42 years, including attacks such as 35% pay cuts, scrapping the pension scheme, scrapping travel allowances and getting rid of direct youth training. He said that due to the pressure of the rank and file demonstrations in London, Manchester and the North East that Unite had now agreed to ballot Balfour Beatty directly employed workers (ie excluding contractors), and would try to co-ordinate action with other workers on N30.

There was limited time for discussion from the floor at the end, with many various points been expressed of how best to build for N30 and where the movement should go after that. In the opinion of the Socialist Party, N30 cannot be just another one day to let off steam and must be followed up by further national industrial action to force the government to back down on its attacks.