Socialist Worker

Magnificent solidarity piles pressure on bosses

by Simon Basketter
Issue No. 2110

Refuse workers in Manchester on the picket line on Wednesday (Pic: Tony Harper)

Refuse workers in Manchester on the picket line on Wednesday (Pic: Tony Harper)

Some of the lowest paid workers in Britain – from school dinner staff to classroom assistants and refuse workers, and other workers in local councils stopped work on Wednesday and Thursday of this week.

From picket lines to rallies and marches, the anger of workers burst out against low pay being imposed on them by Gordon Brown and council bosses.

As well as shutting council services, the strike by local government workers in the Unison and Unite unions saw some wonderful examples of solidarity.

Thousands of schools closed around the country. Sally Kincaid, from the Wakefield NUT teachers’ union, reports, “Over 80 out of 142 schools across Wakefield are closed down. Some are shut completely. In others the staff are in, but not the children.

“In most places, the union reps got together and shut the school down on health and safety grounds. Some teachers have refused to cross picket lines.”

A teacher in east London reports, “Some 32 Unison members – mainly women teaching assistants – held a lively picket at George Green’s School on the Isle of Dogs.

“Many NUT members came solely to give messages of support, along with lots of tea and a collection.

“Our commitment to respecting the Unison picket line convinced the head to close the school and send students home.

“This meant there was a great feeling of mutual support and determination.”

The pattern was repeated across sectors and unions.

Nick Ruff, Kirklees Unison branch chair, told Socialist Worker, “At 80 council buildings across Kirklees there are either picket lines or the offices are closed.

“At the Deighton Centre in Huddersfield we had 12 pickets.

“Cleaners in the GMB union refused to cross the picket line, and at least five NUT members who work here respected the strike. The milkman would not cross, so he took the milk away!

“Elsewhere in Huddersfield members of the Amicus section of Unite refused to go into two depots to refuel.

“A lot of the solidarity is because we showed support to striking teachers on 24 April, with Unison members at the technical college respecting and joining their picket lines.”

In Waltham Forest in north east London there was an impressive show of solidarity from GMB members at the Low Hall environmental services depot in Waltham Forest.

Striking refuse and street cleansing workers in Unite picketed the depot throughout the morning. A couple of GMB members – who were not on strike themselves – refused to cross the picket lines and stood with the strikers.

Other GMB members went in but then held a meeting, delaying services from going ahead.

There was clearly no mood to work and management gave up trying and sent the GMB members home for the duration of the strike.

Strikers from Waltham Forest Unison visited the picket lines in a show of unity. A couple of striking Unison members from ground maintenance also joined the pickets.

One striker told Socialist Worker, “It’s good that so many are out on strike today, but there should be more – all the unions should be out together. Some of the union leaders are too close to the government.”

In Blackpool 16 schools were closed along with all the libraries, the crematorium and most social services buildings.

A Unison striker reported that postal workers and refuse workers, who are employed by a private contractor, would not cross picket lines.

He told Socialist Worker, “The level of anger is greater than anything I’ve felt in years. We’ve recruited ten new stewards in the build up to the strike.”

“In one day we recruited 60 new members to Unison. The biggest growth area is in the schools among caretakers, teaching assistants and catering staff.

“The union will grow significantly as a result of this strike.”

Some 1,800 members of the PCS civil service workers’ union in the Driving Standards Agency struck on Wednesday. Paul Williams, a PCS member in Nottingham, said, “It’s been a good strike alongside other groups of workers.”

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