The threat of co-ordinated strikes by hundreds of thousands of public sector workers in protest at cuts in jobs, services and pensions, is set to come a step further this week.
Delegates at the annual conference of the Public and Commercial Services union (PCS) are expected to agree to a national ballot for industrial action during a debate on Wednesday.
The union’s leadership is pressing for a ballot for strikes and other forms of industrial action, and for talks with other unions to co-ordinate any protests.
Three teaching unions - the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL), the National Union of Teachers (NUT) and the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT) - have already agreed to ballot members over national strike action.
They are concerned that the Government’s changes to the pensions of public sector workers will leave them working longer, paying more and receiving less when they retire.
Both the NUT and ATL, traditionally seen as the most moderate teaching union, are due to begin balloting members within days. If approved, these two unions could take strike action this summer, in a move that would affect millions of children at virtually every school in England.
ATL general secretary Dr Mary Bousted said: “Up and down the country we are having packed meetings where our members are learning that the Government proposes to make them pay 10% of their salary in pension contributions. Teachers are going to work longer, are paying more and getting less in return. They’re outraged that the Government is not negotiating in good faith.”
She added: “We are reasonable people and we are not going to negotiate with a gun to our heads.”
NUT general secretary Christine Blower said: “The NUT along with the other teaching unions remains fully committed to reaching an acceptable outcome by negotiation but believes the Government is not taking negotiations seriously.
“We cannot stand by and see our pensions eroded. Our ballot is intended to help in those negotiations and help us secure a fair deal for teachers.”
The PCS is also unhappy at the “attack” on pensions, although the union is also fighting a pay freeze and cuts in civil servants’ jobs.
An emergency motion by the PCS executive to the annual conference condemns spending cuts and calls for a strike ballot. Calls are expected to be made for co-ordinated strikes involving hundreds of thousands of civil servants, teachers and other public sector employees, including a walkout on 30 June.