Socialist Worker

Fightback Thursday: vibrant rallies up and down the country

Issue No. 2098

The strikes on Fightback Thursday against Gordon Brown's public sector pay freeze were strong in all areas the country – as the size and vibrancy of the strike rallies called by unions demonstrates.


Birmingham

Up to 3,000 workers filled Victoria Square in Birmingham today as workers from across the city converged from their protests and picket lines.

Caroline Johnson, assistant branch secretary of Birmingham Unison, spoke at the rally. 'There are billions for war, billions for Northern Rock, billions for the banks – I say to Gordon Brown, what about us?' she said to cheers.

Doug Morgan, young teachers rep for Birmingham NUT, told the rally, 'I'm proud the NUT is fighting the government over pay. I am proud to stand alongside council workers, teachers and lecturers striking together.'

'The people who deserve decent pay are the people at the bottom – but it is the people at the top that get all the money.'


Bolton

A rally attended by almost 200 teachers took place at Bolton Library. Ian Parkinson, president of Bolton NUT, said, 'We are here because we care about society, about our children and about our future society as well as ourselves. It makes me so sad when I think about the Labour mantra 'education, education, education'.'


Bradford

Up to 250 teachers and lecturers attended an energised rally demanding a living wage and an end to Gordon Brown's attacks on public sector workers.

The desire for unity across the public sector shone through and was reflected in the breadth of speakers on the platform – including representatives from the NUT, UCU, PCS and Unison.

The general mood on the ground was that unity is essential and that this strike is only the beginning of the fight against Brown's pay freeze.

New and young teachers also played a central role in the discussions. James Dean, NUT rep at Salts Grammar, drew enthusiastic applause by linking the attacks on public sector pay to New Labour's slavish support of the rich and the ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Luke Staunton


Bristol

More than 2,000 striking teachers, lecturers and public service workers brought traffic to a halt in Bristol. They staged a march from Castle Park to College Green in support of their claim for a fairer pay deal.

Hundreds of teachers from across Bristol, South Gloucestershire, North Somerset, Bath and North East Somerset took part in the demonstration, carrying placards, chanting and blowing whistles.

Many motorists honked their horns in support and the strikers were also backed by students, members of other public service unions and many school children who had been sent home for the day.


Cambridge

Speakers at the rally included Unison health and Unison local government workers, NUT and UCU members, and a student. The speaker from Unison health congratulated teachers for being at the forefront of bringing the public sector together to fight over pay, which got a good response. There was applause for speakers who spoke about organising discontinuous strike action. One young postal worker at the march said the atmosphere was electric.

After the rally 400 people held a lively and young march around the town centre. Teachers chanted, “Next strike – SATs week”. We handed out leaflets as we marched and they went down really well.

Paula Champion


Cardiff

More than 300 strikers attended a rally in Cardiff. They gave David Evans, the NUT's general secretary for Wales, a standing ovation when he told them, 'Practice what you preach Mr Brown, or don't preach at all. Fair pay for teachers – fair pay for teachers now!'

Martin Reed, senior vice president of the NUT, told the teachers in Cardiff, 'Brown and Darling have their hands in your pockets and they're taking out money every day. Our campaign will not falter. Together, united, we can and we will win.'


Chelmsford

Over 250 teachers, lecturers and civil servants attended a vibrant strike day rally in Chelmsford, Essex.

Speakers included representatives from all three striking unions. The audience heard speakers contrast the money made available by New Labour to bail out rich bankers and to fight wars, with the real terms pay cuts their members faced. There was an enthusiastic response to arguments made against the marketisation of education and calls for further united action by public sector unions.

Paul Topley


Eastbourne

Over 130 workers attended a rally in Eastbourne today to protest at the year-on-year pay cuts in real terms suffered by workers in the public sector.

Cheers filled the hall of a seafront hotel as a long list of schools and colleges closed by the teachers' and lecturers' action was read out.

Strikers from public service unions were greeted with enthusiastic applause as they called for a united front against attacks from New Labour.


Exeter

Some 300 teachers, lecturers and civil servants joined together in a packed meeting at Exeter City Football Club.

The meeting was standing room only as teachers from across Devon were joined by others from Torbay and Plymouth. Many came on coaches which had been organised by the NUT.

The meeting was addressed by Barrie Frost, NUT executive member, who paid tribute to the many young teachers who were taking part in first ever strike action.

He also pointed out that a one day action will not be enough and that the executive will have to seriously consider how to take forward the action if momentum is not to be lost.

Unison executive member Steve Warwick explained that workers in health and local government are both facing derisory pay offers – and that he hoped that action by teachers would give them the necessary confidence to take action.

The best reception of the day came when ordinary teachers spoke about the pressures they faced both in the classroom and in trying to make ends meet.

One young teacher from Ilfracombe explained that she could not even begin to consider getting a mortgage and that sadly she was leaving teaching at the end of the year.

The rally exceeded our expectations, a pattern that was repeated elsewhere in the South West. Another 150 attended a strike rally in Taunton and a further 300 in Truro.

Mike Gurney, Devon NUT (pc)


Ipswich

With over 40 schools in the Ipswich area closed or partially closed, the strike had a considerable impact.

Over 120 teachers, other trade unionists, school students and supporters attended our march and rally and the atmosphere at both was uplifting.

The press coverage of the Ipswich campaign has been quite staggering – we were the first item on Anglian news and Channel 4! The East Anglian Daily Times also led on the strike.

At the rally, many people raised the question of “what next?” With more and more public sector workers balloting over pay it seems that joint action has to be the way forward.

Margaret Bulaitis


Letchworth

We had a really good turnout – about 200 people attended the rally in Letchworth, Hertfordshire, and there was a lot of solidarity amongst the public sector who appreciate we're all suffering.

There were a lot of young teachers at the rally also because, although we had wage increases years ago, we're now facing six years of below the rate of inflation increases which are hitting people hard.

Solidarity speakers from the FBU, PCS, UCU unions were all very well received.

Christine Hood, Hertfordshire's NUT secretary (pc)


Maidenhead

Over 70 teachers held a rally in Maidenhead, Kent. David Wills, secretary of Windsor & Maidenhead NUT, said, 'I think it is a fantastic turnout and we have had even more support in person than we expected.

'I think this does demonstrate a commitment that we are very concerned about our pay and we are also concerned about what is going to happen in the future.'


Manchester

About 500 teachers packed into the Friends Meeting House in Manchester for a strike rally held at 11am. This was followed by a joint union demonstration round the city centre.

Teachers were joined on the march by striking workers from the civil service, colleges and the Shelter housing charity. Other trade unionists and supporters also joined the demo including a delegation of health workers from the Unison branch of sacked nursed and trade unionist Karen Reissmann.

Students, who earlier in the week had occupied their university in protest at cuts, marched down from the University to join the protest and show their solidarity with striking workers.

Between 700 and 800 marchers were clapped by shoppers as they marched through the city centre.

The day finished with a short rally outside the town hall. There were speakers from all unions involved in the strike, plus many others including the FBU, Unite, Unison as well as student and pensioner groups.


Northampton

In Northampton nearly 300 striking workers held a in a campaign rally at the town's Guildhall. Addressing the meeting, NUT county secretary Gordon White pointed out that there were deeper issues driving the strike.

'On paper, we are here today because of pay,' he said. 'But underneath all that there is a lot of discontent about workload, working conditions and about constant innovations from a government that never listens to us.'


Oldham

Two thirds of schools in Oldham were closed either completely or partially.

Despite torrential rain, strikers joined UCU pickets outside Oldham College where we heard messages of solidarity from PCS executive member. We then went on to Manchester to join a fantastic 700 strong rally. What a brilliant day – I can't wait for the next one!

Mac Andrassy, NUT


Oxford

Over 300 striking workers held a vibrant march through Oxford. Teachers, lecturers and civil service workers were joined at a city centre rally by a delegation of post workers from the CWU union.

Chris Blakey, president Oxfordshire NUT (pc)


Nottingham

Yhe city saw a successful day with picket lines at schools, colleges and civil service workplaces.

A demonstration of some 500 workers which marched through central Nottingham, effectively closing the busy Mansfield Road, into the market square.

This was followed by a rally in central Nottingham where union activists spoke about the need for public sector unity and pointed to the importance of the TUC lobby of parliament on 9 June to protest against the pay freeze.

A leading member of the local NUS also addressed the meeting to make it clear that students were in support of the action being taken.

Alan Baker and Helen Bowler, UCU in Nottingham (pc)


Reading

The rally at Reading was divided up into two sessions due to the large numbers and each was packed to the rafters and spilling out into the hallway.

Teachers were full of enthusiasm – despite the massive pressures constantly imposed on them from above in the schools, they were finally able to push back and exert some pressure of their own. In this region 24 schools were closed or severely affected by the strike.

The majority of the teachers were young and newly qualified. These are the people that have been hit hardest by the attacks on pay and increases in workload. As one commented, “I didn’t train for four years and riddle myself with debt just to be treated like crap and forced into more debt on the other side”.

These teachers recognise despite the successes of the day that this is just the beginning and if they’re confidence stays high and the unity and solidarity between struggling workers continues to grow they can’t fail.

Tom Ramplin


Southampton

Around 250 people joined a rally at the Civic Centre. There was a tremendous atmosphere and a strong speech from John Bangs, NUT Education and Equal Opportunities officer. Other speakers included Keith Gardiner, from the NUT executive and local strikers. There were also contributions from PCS and UCU strikers, Trades Union Council president, Bobby Noyes and a Unison worker.


Truro

Over 300 teachers, lecturers and civil service workers rallied in Cornwall on Truro's Lemon Quay. There was an excellent atmosphere and very positive reception for speakers from the NUT, UCU, PCS and Unison unions.

Reuben Wallace, Cornwall NUT (Central Secretary)


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