Mark Serwotka on mass strikes, privileged Tories and Arthur Scargill

A sneak preview of my interview with the Public and Commercial Services Union leader in this week's

This week's New Statesman includes an interview with Mark Serwotka, general secretary of the Public and Commercial Services (PCS) union and one of the brains behind the mass strike scheduled for 30 June. The PCS will be joining three teachers' unions in staging a co-ordinated walkout, shutting down schools and government offices in the process, in protest over pension reforms, pay freezes and job losses.

Serwotka tells me that the Conservative-led coalition government is waging "class warfare" against public-sector workers and believes coalition ministers are indifferent to the fate of his members:

I don't think they give a shit," he says. "People who have lived in a bubble of privilege all their lives have no concept of what ordinary life is like."

The PCS leader warns that strikes by public-sector workers could "possibly" continue over the course of this parliament. Does he have a bottom line?

No one should have to pay any extra money unless their pension scheme valuation deems it necessary; there should be no central increase in the pension age and the government should be prepared to negotiate the inflation-indexing of pensions." But Serwotka doesn't believe that coalition ministers are interested in negotiations.

He says that, without strikes, the chances of the unions' negotiations with the government being successful are "nil". He also says he admires Arthur Scargill: .

"I admire a lot of what Scargill did," he says. "I don't share his politics but I admire the bravery of the National Union of Mineworkers leadership and I have no doubt that they were right to do what they did."

But they lost, I point out. "I don't take the view that we can't win," Serwotka insists.

Read the full interview in this week's NS, out on the news-stands tomorrow.

Mehdi Hasan is a contributing writer for the New Statesman and the co-author of Ed: The Milibands and the Making of a Labour Leader. He was the New Statesman's senior editor (politics) from 2009-12.

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How Theresa May laid a trap for herself on the immigration target

When Home Secretary, she insisted on keeping foreign students in the figures – causing a headache for herself today.

When Home Secretary, Theresa May insisted that foreign students should continue to be counted in the overall immigration figures. Some cabinet colleagues, including then Business Secretary Vince Cable and Chancellor George Osborne wanted to reverse this. It was economically illiterate. Current ministers, like the Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, Chancellor Philip Hammond and Home Secretary Amber Rudd, also want foreign students exempted from the total.

David Cameron’s government aimed to cut immigration figures – including overseas students in that aim meant trying to limit one of the UK’s crucial financial resources. They are worth £25bn to the UK economy, and their fees make up 14 per cent of total university income. And the impact is not just financial – welcoming foreign students is diplomatically and culturally key to Britain’s reputation and its relationship with the rest of the world too. Even more important now Brexit is on its way.

But they stayed in the figures – a situation that, along with counterproductive visa restrictions also introduced by May’s old department, put a lot of foreign students off studying here. For example, there has been a 44 per cent decrease in the number of Indian students coming to Britain to study in the last five years.

Now May’s stubbornness on the migration figures appears to have caught up with her. The Times has revealed that the Prime Minister is ready to “soften her longstanding opposition to taking foreign students out of immigration totals”. It reports that she will offer to change the way the numbers are calculated.

Why the u-turn? No 10 says the concession is to ensure the Higher and Research Bill, key university legislation, can pass due to a Lords amendment urging the government not to count students as “long-term migrants” for “public policy purposes”.

But it will also be a factor in May’s manifesto pledge (and continuation of Cameron’s promise) to cut immigration to the “tens of thousands”. Until today, ministers had been unclear about whether this would be in the manifesto.

Now her u-turn on student figures is being seized upon by opposition parties as “massaging” the migration figures to meet her target. An accusation for which May only has herself, and her steadfast politicising of immigration, to blame.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.

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