Teachers and council workers struck across Tower Hamlets, east London, today, Wednesday. They are fighting 500 job cuts that will hit everything from social services to schools and youth workers.
Schools across the borough came to a standstill.
Unison and NUT union members formed joint picket lines. Coordinated action between the two unions shut many of the schools as teachers and support staff refused to cross picket lines.
Teachers in Camden, north London, are also on strike today.
Over 30 Unison members picketed the Phoenix School in Tower Hamlets. They blew whistles and held up signs for drivers to honk in support. Bus drivers, cyclists and lorry drivers showed their solidarity. The noise was deafening.
Mohammed, a learning support worker, said, “It feels great to be here today, this is about us all being together. There are people here who might not have jobs tomorrow.”
Mo, also a learning support worker told me, “Many of the pupils here are autistic. We offer support for children and their families that you can’t get anywhere else in Tower Hamlets.”
Bin workers refused to cross the picket line at the nearby Central Foundation Girls School. Passers-by came to chat to the pickets and show solidarity.
Sheila McGregor, an NUT rep at the school, told Socialist Worker, “The national unions have been too slow to call action, but the national demonstration last Saturday was a brilliant start.
“It wasn’t easy but we managed to build this strike at the base of the union. Local activists fought for the ballots. If this can happen in Tower Hamlets it can happen anywhere.”
Workers in Unison and the NUT also picketed the Professional Development Centre in Mile End.
School librarian Sylvia Cummins told Socialist Worker, “I’ve seen teams that provide vital services for people in Tower Hamlets decimated.
“Schools will be shocked when next year comes and services that used to exist simply won’t be there anymore.”
Hundreds of striking teachers marched through Camden in north London today, Wednesday. NUT union members at 44 schools, children’s centres and other workplaces struck together against £20 million of cuts in jobs and services.
The strike was well supported. Cars and lorries hooted their horns in solidarity as strikers and their supporters gathered to march to a rally at the NUT’s London headquarters.
A big group of pickets massed outside South Camden Community School. Olayinka Williams, a humanities teacher there, said the cuts would have a “massive impact”.
“The cuts directly impact on essential services and the day-to-day working of schools,” she told Socialist Worker. “They mean we’ll have less educational welfare officers and social workers coming in.
“Students won’t have the personal connections they’ve been used to anymore.”
Another striker said the cuts would hit special educational needs and English as an additional language services. “I don’t see why there’s such a rush to repay the deficit,” she added.
Trade unionists from the RMT, PCS, UCU and Unite unions came to show their support with the strikers. Dave Williams was with a group from Unite’s national executive that visited the pickets.
“This strike is about the future, it’s about our kids,” he told Socialist Worker.
Lots of people talked about how inspired they felt after Saturday’s TUC demonstration. Steve Hedley, an RMT organiser, said the march showed that “the mood is there for a general strike”.
Frank Seago, from Beckford primary school, described the march as “awesome”. He told Socialist Worker, “It makes people realise that if you are united you can have an impact.
“If we had a general strike we could bring down the government. I think there’s more chance of a general strike than there has been for years. It’s the hypocrisy that gets to people.
“The bankers are still getting huge bonuses while we’ve got cuts.”
Tower Hamlets march and rally
Some 1,500 striking council workers and teachers marched united through Tower Hamlets in east London today.
The strikers are members of the Unison and NUT unions, whose branch banners led the march. There were also banners from schools across the borough, many of them handmade.
Graham Eddy, Tower Hamlets Unison assistant branch secretary, spoke to Socialist Worker on the picket line outside the town hall that morning.
“We’ve come together in a joint strike with the NUT—so they can’t say they’ll cut the support staff and save some teachers,” he said. “We’re unifying to say ‘no’.
“There is an alternative: tax the bankers over at Canary Wharf—make them pay.”
The march set off from Bethnal Green, through the rich and poor parts of the borough that sit so close together, on their way to a rally in Whitechapel.
As the strikers passed council estates, people leaned out of their windows clapping and cheering.
But as they marched past Barclays bank, they chanted, “Barclays bank pays no tax, Tower Hamlets gets the axe” and “1, 2, 3, 4, cut the rich, not the poor”.
“I think it’s disgusting,” said Lynette Emery, a special needs teacher. “Our school budget has been cut by £20,000—that means our kids have lost their daily living skills outings, outings in the community. We can’t do them any more.
“The Barclays bankers’ bonuses this year are more than has been spent on education in this borough in a century. If we took their money there’d be no need for cuts.”
After the march it was standing room only as strikers and supporters crammed into the rally. In a show of unity it was held in the London Muslim Centre.
“It’s a simple message—together we are much stronger,” John McLoughlin, Tower Hamlets Unison branch secretary, told the crowd.
“We have set a marker that the future is bringing our unions together to strike together.” Unison deputy general secretary Keith Sonnet also spoke.
“You are an absolute inspiration,” said Mark Serwotka, general secretary of the PCS union. “We want this fight everywhere.” He pointed to the possibility of joint action over pensions.
“The PCS is already in discussions with the NUT and UCU at least to plan now for a joint strike that, if members vote for it, will see us have close on a million people on strike before the summer,” he said. “My appeal to every other public sector union is this—it should be all of us.”
He got a standing ovation—and the crowd chanted “general strike, general strike”.