Thursday, 10 July 2014

J10 - coordinated strike day

Well done to all the members of UNITE, UNISON, GMB, NUT, PCS and FBU who struck nationally today, and to those who took part in local strikes, notably on the London underground.

I took a day's leave today to show my support.  The government and right-wing media like to sow divisions between private and public sector workers.  Public sector workers deliver services we all rely on, which will only deteriorate if pay, pensions and conditions are driven down.  It can't be right that people who look after children, sick people or old people get paid less than parasites in the city.  Worsening terms for public sector workers is part of making them more attractive for privatisation.  It's obvious that if the government gets away with cutting pay and conditions for public sector workers, employers in the private sector will be encouraged to turn the screw yet further.

I visited local authority pickets at two sites in Manchester, in Hurpurhey (where I saw a young worker join UNISON and the picketline rather than go in) and West Gorton, at a building I used to work in before the council took it over:

I then went to a PCS picket outside the courts, where a march set off to the main TUC rally.  Sadly, the TUC hadn't organised a march in Manchester, but lots of strikers joined in anyway:

The march joined the main rally in Piccadilly Gardens:

The big question everyone was talking about was - what next?  The FBU are escalating their action against plans to make them work to 60 or have their pension cut - they have called fifteen strikes over eight consecutive daysfrom 14-21 July.  The NUT and local authority unions are talking about more strikes in the autumn.  The TUC has called a national demonstration on 18 October.

Everyone I spoke to was clear on one thing.  They don't want to see any repeat of the loss of momentum after November 30th 2011 (N30), when some unions signed up to a rotten deal while others failed to call action and allowed the campaign to fizzle out.  People know that one day won't be enough to seriously shift this rotten government.  They want to see a serious "plan to win" - nobody wants to lose pay for a token gesture.

Labour did better this time.  Instead of attacking strikers, they sat on the fence.  But everyone knows that as the General Election approaches, union leaders tend to get more and more timid.

If the million+ who struck today want to win, they are going to need to try to do three things - build in, build out, build up.

Build in
Strikes are always uneven, and this was no exception.  The strikes mobilised huge numbers of workers.  They now need to be organised to strengthen organisation inside and between workplaces, to make sure that every worker is spoken to and future action is stronger.

Build out
Everyone got great strength and encouragement from taking action together today.  Activists in unions that didn't participate (e.g. NASUWT, UCU) need to campaign to come on board.  Activists in unions that were partly involved need to campaign to drawn in more sectors.  For example, many people (including health workers) were asking why health workers in UNITE and UNISON weren't out today, as they were on N30.  Why were PCS members out but UNITE members in MOD & Government Departments were not?  Can private sector workers coordinate their own campaigns with those in the public sector?  UNITE is particularly well placed to do this.

Build up
The government can withstand the a one-day strike every few months.  Some union leaders may be happy to keep action at this level, keeping issues simmering away in the hope that Labour will gain at the next election.  But this won't be enough to defend out public services or the pay and conditions of those who work in them.  That will take escalation.  Some union leaders are nervous about escalation, fearing that members won't support more action.  But members are far more likely to support action they believe can win, if they explain how they plan to win.  This won't happen if members just sit back and hope.  People need to get involved in the union in their workplaces and branches and campaign for it to happen, leaving union leaders in no doubt that the appetite is there and that action will be supported if called.

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