Manchester is “a shopaholics dream”, the “original 24-hour party city”, where you could be “rubbing shoulders with celebrities and footballers”, according to the publicity for the Lowry Hotel, the self-styled “most fashionable venue” in the city.
This is not a description that would be recognised by the thousands of health, civil service and IT workers from Fujitsu who took industrial action on Wednesday of last week, turning Manchester into a 24-hour strike city.
Manchester’s skyline is dominated by a building bonanza of luxury flats and overpriced hotels. In their shadow – and just minutes from the Lowry Hotel – are two of the city’s biggest civil service workplaces.
The area normally streams with over 2,000 civil service workers going to work. Last Wednesday morning it was eerily quiet except for PCS union members ferrying hot drinks and placards around picket lines.
On one of the picket lines, PCS member Kevin Hunt told Socialist Worker that he has worked in the civil service for eight years and still only earns £14,000 a year. One night in a top suite at the Lowry would cost him over a month’s wages.
“I’m low paid, but nowhere near the lowest,” he said. “I’m a single man – what about people with families trying to live on wages of £12,000 a year?”
Low pay was just one of the themes repeated by many activists as the three groups of strikers and their supporters came together for a lunchtime rally.
Jackie Cook, a Fujitsu striker, told Socialist Worker, “Irrespective of whether you’re a nurse, a civil servant or working in the private sector, management are trying to get you to slog your guts out for as little as possible.
“It’s great to see everyone coming together on a day like this and say that we’re not going to stand for it any more.”
Many of the strikers and their supporters had been on the anti-war demonstration outside Labour’s conference in Manchester last September.
“There’s been a real climate of radicalism in this city since the anti-war demo,” said Katan Alder, one of a group of Manchester university students who joined a hospital picket line.