Socialist Worker

Powerful strike hits councils

Issue No. 2111

Striking council workers in Brighton on the march last week (Pic: Hossam el-Hamalawy)

Striking council workers in Brighton on the march last week (Pic: Hossam el-Hamalawy)

Over half a million workers, including classroom assistants, refuse collectors, admin workers, street sweepers, and other local government staff in the Unison and Unite unions, struck against low pay on Wednesday and Thursday of last week.

Council bosses backed by the media, notably the BBC and the Daily Mail, attempted to claim only 100,000 people were on strike.

But the BBC’s regional correspondent had to admit there were 70,000 on strike in Yorkshire and Humberside alone.

The reality is that services up and down the country closed as the people who keep them going struck.

Overall, some 11,000 schools were closed across England and Wales. Up to

70 percent of schools in major cities outside London were forced to close.

Council services in many places ground to a halt. Rubbish collections in whole swathes of the country stopped.

The strike grounded Torpoint Ferry in Cornwall, closed Belfast Zoo and Bristol’s museum and art gallery.

Often it was the solidarity of other groups of workers that increased the power of the action.

For instance, refuse workers in Hull who are members of the GMB union refused to cross picket lines so all the bin collections stopped.

On the strike days there were rallies and marches up and down the country that saw delegations of support from other unions, especially from the UCU and NUT education unions.

Where individual activists took the initiative, they were able to encourage this solidarity. Where left wing activists were organised they were able to ensure the strongest possible action.

Those areas that built for the strike saw serious recruitment to the union.

Where workers had shown solidarity for other workers in struggle, such as when Unison members supported striking teachers in April, this was reciprocated last week.

There are a number of reports of intimidation by management in response to the strike’s strength. In some parts of London and the south west of England councils hurriedly recruited agency workers to weaken the strike. But Unison says that there were more people on strike on the second day than the first.

While the Unison leadership is trying to say the dispute is about Tory councils, not the Labour government, the reality is that it is about forcing the government to back down over below-inflation pay.

Importantly Scottish local government workers are moving towards strike action.

The demand of activists should be to set the next national strike days – remembering that workers voted for escalating action in the ballot.

Activists should support all initiatives which bring people together across the unions. Every one of the battles taking place is important in itself but the effectiveness of the local government strike was strengthened by solidarity.

All the fights over pay would be be stronger if they were coordinated. The desire is for unity and there is a growing determination to fight Gordon Brown’s government.

Building on the success of the strike and pushing to build on its strengths can move the pay revolt up a gear.

For full coverage of last week’s strikes go to »  Public sector strikes

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Article information

Tue 22 Jul 2008, 19:22 BST
Issue No. 2111
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