Socialist Worker

The day we stood up to New Labour

Over 400,000 public sector workers strike, march and protest

Issue No. 2099

Marching in Oxford (Pic: Ian McKendrick)

Marching in Oxford (Pic: Ian McKendrick)

The fightback against Gordon Brown’s pay limit started in earnest on Thursday of last week. Up and down the country more than 400,000 workers were on strike. Teachers, lecturers, civil service workers and 20,000 Birmingham council workers walked out.

Over 250,000 teachers staged their first national strike in 20 years. More than 100,000 civil service workers struck. Workers at the charity Shelter were on strike.

Tens of thousands of further education lecturers closed colleges and Birmingham ground to a halt under the pressure of 25,000 strikers.

Thousands of other workplaces were without workers as they took the day off to look after their children.

This was the biggest blow yet to the attempt by Brown to impose below inflation pay deals on millions of public sector workers. It came just a week before the local council and London elections, and at a time when government attacks on workers have fuelled deep anger.

As Mustafa Avcim, an NUT member at Hendon School in London, told Socialist Worker, “The government isn’t telling the truth about inflation. It’s a simple equation – if we get offered 2.45 percent and inflation is 4 percent then it’s a pay cut. But inflation is even higher than 4 percent.”

Vibrant rallies took place in many towns and cities bringing together workers from the different unions in a determined and defiant blow against the government.

London saw a 10,000 strong united march organised jointly by the NUT, UCU and PCS unions.

This march, like many across the country, was bigger than people expected and was very confident and political.

People gave the thumbs up and raised their fists in support, cars and vans were honking their horns, fire engines sounded their sirens in support and people came out of workplaces to clap the marchers as they passed.

Young people and parents also joined the march with school students in particular leading chants.

Christine Blower, who has been acting general secretary of the NUT since Steve Sinnott’s sudden death last month, spoke at a packed rally in Westminster Central Hall following the march.

She said, “I know that Steve would have been so proud of our strike. We’ve really caught the mood of our members over this – we need to continue our campaign after today.”

The mood was spirited and militant, with the room erupting in applause at every mention of further industrial action.

Kevin Courtney from the NUT executive said, “Every Labour MP will have been shaken by the fact that teachers are happy to be on strike – now we need more strike action.”

The strikes, on what activists dubbed Fightback Thursday, were strong in all areas of the country. New and young teachers played a central role in the day.

The 300 strikers who attended a rally in Cardiff 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!”

In Letchworth, Christine Hood, secretary of Hertfordshire’s NUT, said, “We had a really good turnout.

“About 200 people, including many young teachers, attended the rally and there was a lot of solidarity among the public sector who appreciate we’re all suffering.”

Some 300 striking workers in Northampton heard NUT county secretary Gordon White point out that there were deeper issues driving the strike.

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

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.

Anne, a PCS rep at the Hoxton Jobcentre Plus in east London, told Socialist Worker, “We‘ve had an effective pay cut in our three year deal. We’re not happy with it. The poor are getting poorer and the rich are getting richer.

“Prices are going up. All the workers should be joining up because we have all got the same grievances over pay.

“More unions should be uniting and taking action together.”

Payne Mthimkhulu, a UCU steward at Hackney Community College, said, “It’s important that different unions are striking at the same time. It has a lot more effect on the government if we all come out together.”

Jenny Sutton from the College of North East London added, “We’re defending our conditions and wages because we want to continue giving students a quality education.

“This strike is a shot across the bows to Labour – and if they don’t back down, they face a ‘summer of discontent’.”

For our full online reports go to »  Fightback Thursday: wave of strikes against Gordon Brown’s attacks on pay

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