Dead Men Left

Monday, March 21, 2005

Victory (for the time being)

When I first heard, very early on Saturday, that Unison were calling off their strike on Wednesday, like many people I instantly assumed the worst. It's a familiar story: another greasy sell-out, union leadership strings pulled by a Labour government, defeat from the jaws of victory. Over a million workers, from all the major public sector unions, were set to put the boot into the government on Wednesday - but their supposed generals had taken fright.

Only after seeing the story on the front cover of the FT did I realise how wrong I was. Here's the Guardian, with a slightly fuller account:

John Prescott, the deputy prime minister, said he was prepared to revoke a parliamentary order forcing more than 1 million local government workers, from April 1, to have to work to 65 to get a full pension. The move looked to be enough to call off next Wednesday's one-day strike .

Alan Johnson, the works and pension secretary, wrote to the TUC offering a fresh start to negotiations on pensions and asking Brendan Barber, the general secretary, to broker talks between Whitehall unions planning to strike.

And it's annoyed all the right people:

The CBI employers' organisation has responded to a climbdown by ministers on changes to public sector pensions by accusing them of "backing down in the face of political pressure" ahead of the general election...

John Cridland, deputy director-general of the CBI, said: "There is real cause for concern over this. The cost of public sector pensions appears to be spiralling out of control and that would suggest that immediate and robust action is needed. This is sending the wrong signal when the government seems to be backing down in the face of political pressure in the run-up to an election."

Had it been the CBI's "political pressure", he wouldn't be objecting. Nice to see them not get their own way. Come May 6, the government will just as suddenly drop its new enthusiasm for negotiation and compromise - but after this demonstration of their own strength, union members should be all the more confident about taking them on.