More than 800 people gathered at Friends Meeting House in central London last night, Wednesday, to rally against the government.
The Unite the Resistance meeting, called by trade union activists, took place just over a week before public sector strikes on 30 June. It reflected widespread support for the strikes – and enormous opposition to the Tories.
Nursery school worker Roberto, a GMB union member, said he came to the meeting to get information and arguments that he could share with other workers. “This is a historic time,” he told Socialist Worker.
“30 June is very important and we should all be there. I hope more unions join future strikes.”
Banners hung around the hall reflected a diverse audience. They included banners from the Unison, NUT, UCU, PCS, FBU, RMT, GMB and NUJ unions.
Anti-cuts groups, trades councils, students and campaigns such as the Autistic Rights Movement and Campaign Against Climate Change also brought banners.
Speakers were confident about next week’s strikes.
Barry Lovejoy from the UCU told the meeting, “The right wing press are attacking our strike. They say the actions of a few will bring misery to many.
“Well, I agree – the actions of a few corporate bankers and bosses have brought misery to many. Be prepared for further, united action.”
Others attacked the idea that public sector workers are “gold plated”.
Young teachers spoke of the mountain of debt they faced – but said the Tory assault on pensions had politicised them. Mary Alexander said, “I have found my political voice. Find yours too – and don’t stop using it until the government listens.”
Zita Holbourne from the PCS national executive said that civil service workers “work hard for low pay and no perks”.
She pointed out that cuts would disproportionately affect black people.
Kevin Courtney, deputy general secretary of the NUT, took apart the myths that the right wing uses to discredit public sector workers. “I accuse the government of lying,” he said.
“They claim to be concerned about private sector pensions – it’s absolute hypocrisy.”
Many speakers congratulated students who protested at the end of last year and smashed the myth that everyone agreed with cuts.
All said that ordinary people – whether workers, unemployed, students, pensioners or disabled activists – were fighting one battle against the Tories.
Andy, a disabled activist, said disabled people would be “front and centre” of the movement against cuts – and added that they would be there “by right, not by charity”.
Mark Bergfeld from the Education Activists Network said that students would stand “shoulder to shoulder” with strikers “not only on 30 June but when general strikes come as well”.
Ellie, a UK Uncut activist, said the group would support strikers by bringing breakfast to picket lines. She said, “I hope future teachers can tell their pupils that 30 June 2011 was the beginning of the end of this Tory-led government.”
Sean Vernell from the UCU national executive pointed out the discrepancy between the pensions of company directors and public sector workers. 'Senior directors get on average £330,000 a year in pensions,' he said. 'Public sector workers get around £5,000 a year.
'The party that wrecked our lives for years is well and truly back.'
Sue Bond from the PCS national executive and Alex Kenny from the NUT national executive chaired the meeting.
The loudest applause went to those who talked about the need for bigger strikes and action against the government.
Mark Campbell, a lecturer at London Metropolitan University, had been on strike that day against cuts. The meeting cheered when he said, “30 June is a start – but it’s just a start. We need millions out. That will be a general strike and that will bring this government down.”
Labour MP John McDonnell said he was “proud” to stand on a platform with trade unionists. He was drowned out with applause when he said there would be “civil disobedience” if the government tried to criminalise squatting or ban strikes.
Speakers also pointed to the divisions that the economic crisis could encourage. Dilowar Khan from East London Mosque said that in a crisis “certain people get targeted”.
“We don’t want to live through the racism of the 1970s and 80s,” he said. Estelle Cooch from the Right to Work Campaign warned that the racist English Defence League planned to march in Tower Hamlets on 27 August.
The meeting ended in a buoyant mood with a belief that ordinary people have the power to beat the government.
PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka, warned that “if the government gets away with cuts, we won’t recover for years”.
“We stand with the working people of Greece,” he added, to applause.
“They are trying to divide us so we have less chance of winning. Our slogan should be ‘no to all cuts’. Nothing will transform the anti-cuts movement like mass strikes.”