A taste of our power
The working class took centre stage in the fight against the Tory government on Thursday.
Some 750,000 workers struck. Teachers, lecturers and civil service workers walked out. In Birmingham, Doncaster and Southampton council workers struck too.
This was the biggest blow yet to the government’s attempt to make workers pay for the crisis.
Huge rallies brought workers together in many towns and cities—in defiance against the cuts.
Up to 100,000 took to the streets, determined to make their voices heard.
A magnificent protest in London saw a 30,000-strong march. Like many across Britain, it was far bigger than expected. The mood was spirited and militant.
The workers who struck—in the NUT, UCU, ATL and PCS unions—are fighting an attack on their pensions. But they’re also taking on a government that looks increasingly shaky.
The strikes were solid in all areas, despite government claims.
Even the head of the Metropolitan Police moaned that he didn’t have enough civilian staff to answer the phones because of the strike.
Pickets and rallies saw solidarity from other workers. People in Birmingham cheered as workers marched through the city.
Teachers were backed by school students and parents. Students arrived at picket lines bringing food.
Everywhere there was a sense of optimism as workers showed their ability to act collectively and have a go at the government.
New and young workers played a central role in the day and in its success.
There was anger from many when Labour leader, Ed Miliband, said, “These strikes are wrong.” He was wrong. Thursday showed our potential power.
The Tories want to destroy our lives. But they face a massive fight.
There is a real potential for more workers to join the fight in the autumn.
Every activist needs to fight to make this happen. We’ve shown that we have the power to beat the government’s attacks, a general strike could deal the knockout blow.
Two hundred people rallied in Southend town centre at lunchtime, including UCU PCS and NUT strikers and a delegation from Unison.
The crowd heard that at the main tax office, more staff had joined the strike than were actually union members! There were reports from schools which had closed and also successful action at a DWP call centre. All the speakers talked about the need to build on today's action and that all unions needed to stay in step with the campaign.
PCS memebrs set up picket lines across the city this morning, reports Nick O'Brien. There with about 15 pickets outside the DWP office, Baltic House, off Rose Lane. Lecturers in the UCU picketed City College, with a large group of students from the UNiversity of East Anglia showing solidarity and bringing breakfast down to those on strike.
At midday all headed to the Forum for a rally of about 500 people. It had a range of speakers, including representatives from all the unions involved in the action, Norfolk Coalition for Diasabled People, Right To Work and Keep our NHS public amongst others. The crowd was mixed and lively and applauded any mention of a general strike.
As soon as the last speaker finished around 50 students and activists stormed into the council chambers in city hall, just opposite the forum and occupied the balcony overlooking the city centre, holding up huge banners and homemade placards. After a short while they were removed, but maintained a peaceful demonstration on the steps to the building.
Hundreds of public sector workers joined protest rallies in Coventry today. At lunchtime, 150 council staff, who could not travel to the protest in Birmingham, held a rally in the city.
Over 80 schools were shut across Bolton today, and the rest only partially running.
Barry Conway, branch secretary of Bolton NUT, told Socialist Worker, “this strike is qualitatively different from previous ones.
“We’ve really built through our schools. Reps have done a brilliant job in organising mass meetings and convincing people to picket. As a result lots more people have joined the union—there were loads of young teachers out today.”
Barry said that The Bolton School, a private school in the area, organised a rolling picket throughout the day with a new union banner. The new rep for the girls section came on the protest to Manchester.
Teachers organised a mass picket and rally of 90 outside Bolton College. Bolton Unison members joined the picket in solidarity and Karen Reissmann, from the Unison Health executive, spoke at the rally.
Tens of thousands joined the huge demonstration in central London.
Even the police say that there were at least 20,000 strikers and their supporters there. There was a deep anger at the government and a mood to continue the fight.
They marched to Westminster Central Hall, which was packed and thousands more attended an overflow rally outside while others carried on protesting around Westminster.
The mood in the rally was electric, with those demanding more action winning standing ovations.
Mary Bousted, ATL general secretary, said, “They thought we wouldn’t stand up but they were wrong. We will not be condemned to a pension of poverty. The response of Ed Miliband is a disgrace. He should be ashamed of himself. What has he done to defend our pensions?
“If he will not defend us, we will defend ourselves.”
NUT general secretary Christine Blower and UCU general secretary Sally Hunt also addressed the rally.
Tony Benn said, “In 1945 I saw the future Labour cabinet, including Nye Bevin, take to this very stage and I thought that that was a historic moment. I feel this today. We need to unite with the people of Yemen, Syria and Egypt.
“Power and optimism are the key ingredients for victory. I am sure we will win.”
Mark Serwotka, the PCS general secretary, said, “We’re showing the government that we’re not going to take the attacks lying down.
Negotiations will continue next week but if the government do not compromise we will do it again.
“If we do it again in the autumn we want the GMB, Unite and Unison to join us. We’ve had 750,000 out today but if that happens we’ll have four million out.”
The Kirklees NUT and ATL strikes shut down teaching at all the high schools that we know about and many primary schools. Kirklees includes Huddersfield, Dewsbury, Batley and the surrounding area south of Bradford and Leeds.
There were lively pickets at several high schools and at the two Sixth form colleges. At Huddersfield New College most members of the NASUWT, which didn't support the strike nationally, respected the picket lines and refused to cross. There were one or two schools also where Unison members refused to cross.There were also picket lines at Huddersfield University and Kirklees College, the large FE college in Huddersfield. There was very good support from passing traffic honking horns.
There are few Civil Service workplaces in Huddersfield but the PCS strike at the Huddersfield Job Centre was a great success at an office where union organisation has been steadily building in recent years. There were still too many people working, many on temprorary contracts, but support was generally good and few members of the public attended. There was the liveliest ever picket there, with about 15 people.
The NUT organised an indoor rally in the morning where even standing room was hard to find, about 250 attending from all the striking unions, but with schoolteachers making up the bulk. Later there was a lively open-air rally called by Kirklees Save Our Services and the striking unions, where there were over a hundred people, who heard speeches and had an impromptu march.
Some 500 marched in Hull.
100 rallied in Swindon.
around 1,000 union members marched from the gates of the Ministry of Defence base in Donnington to a rally.
The city’s strike rally was addressed by a wide range of speakers, reports Tom Walker.
Lee Baron, a CWU member and the TUC regional president, got a great reception when he said, “Thousands of our members today refused to cross your picket lines.
“We’d rather break the law than break your picket lines, any day of the week.”
Martin Johnson from the ATL said, “This campaign is teaching ATL members just how much stronger we are when we take collective action.”
Caroline Johnson, the Unison assistant branch secretary in Birmingham, read out examples of how workers will lose out under the plans. “The bosses are losing nothing while our members will lose their houses,” she said.
Kevin Courtney, NUT deputy general secretary, told the rally, “This is a fantastic demo, you’ve done yourselves proud.
“The government has to realise it’s made a serious mistake and has to retreat quickly, or there will be a lot more strike action to come.”
Hugh Lanning, the deputy general secretary of PCS, said, “[The government] say they don’t want strikes. Well, it’s simple—stop what you are doing.”
National officers from Unite and the UCU also spoke.
“I’m over the moon,” Ben Morris, joint NUT branch secretary in Sheffield told Socialist Worker.
“We expected a good turnout, but we had 2,500 or 3,000 marching through Sheffield today. It was brilliant. That's way more than the 500 we had when we fought over pay in 2008.
“And the mood was different too. People were chanting ‘general strike now’ and singing ‘solidarity forever’.
“People have poured into the union because of the strike. In one school membership went up to 36 from 17 before the strike. A school near the NUT office came in to join as a group before the strike. There were requests for seven new NUT banners from different schools—we’ve never had that.”
The NUT in Sheffield estimates that a third of schools were shut, with most others partially open.
At a rally before the march Jim Board, branch secretary for Doncaster Unison, sent a message to Ed Balls and the Labour Party leaders who were opposing the strikes. “Back off or back us,” he told the meeting to cheers.
The FBU speaker at the march said, “We need to be out together.”
Anti-cuts campaigners, students, disability rights protesters and UKUncut activists joined the protest and spoke at the rally. There were PCS picket lines throughout the city before the protest.
Up to 500 marched through Canterbury today.
William Rolfe reports large picket lines in Folkestone. There were 20 PCS pickets at Palting House Valuation Office—more pickets than scabs.
Over 200 people joined a rally in Medway organised by the NUT, which included speakers from the ATL, PCS, Unison and GMB.
A speaker from the NUT said that more schools were shut in Kent and Medway than any other local authority.
“More people struck today than we have seen in Medway in years,” Steve Wilkins from the Medway Trades Council told Socialist Worker.
There were two successful UCU picket lines at the University of Hertfordshire this morning, reports Peter Segal. At 11am pickets joined a militant 450-strong local rally with speakers from UCU, NUT, ATL and PCS. Speakers from the floor discussed how to get more people involved in future action and the need to picket work places where numbers taking strike action is low.
Jon Berry, UCU branch sec at the university, said, 'I first went on strike in 1976 when I was a teacher. I was right then and I am right to strike as a lecturer now. The Tories say 'we are all in this together'. Well they are right—teachers, lecturers and public sector workers are all fighting together.'
There were solid picket lines around the city this morning, reports Alan from Dundee.
There were around 50 people picketing the Revenue and Customs building. And six of the seven courts were closed at the Scottish Court Services on Bell Street.
Unison members visited the picket lines in solidarity.
Pickets congregated for a barbecue in the sunshine. They then headed into town for a joint union rally, attended by about 100 people.
The rally had speakers from the Dundee Trades Council and Defend Dundee Schools.
Nearly 1,000 people came to the strike rally in Glasgow.
Trade unionists from Unison, FBU, NUJ, UCU and other unions joined the rally.
There were lots of homemade banners, and lots of families and kids joined in.
Janice Godrich, the PCS president, told the rally, “We won’t stand by as the Tories try to divide us between public and private sector.”
She also received applause when she condemned Ed Miliband’s comments telling Labour MPs to cross picket lines.
A protest is currently taking place outside Vodafone in the city, demanding that the corporation pays its tax.
These protesters are now set to join a protest at Atos Origin, which started at 2pm.
2.40pm, Waltham Forest
Hundreds of workers at Waltham Forest in east London joined a lunchtime rally.
Council staff, who are members of the GMB, Unison and Unite unions, are outraged at bosses’ plans to savage their terms and conditions.
Social worker Jenny Clark told Socialist Worker that for her the change would mean losing four days’ holiday entitlement.
“I have a disability. Being able to take holiday is a way of getting enough rest to ensure that I can keep working. But now they want to take that away from me.”
All three unions launched consultative strike ballots this week.
For full story go to Waltham Forest council workers ready to fight
Mick Mulcahey reports that there were PCS picket lines across the city this morning.
Around 450-500 people gathered for a rally at the Flag Market. UCU strikers marched from the university to join the rally which heard from NUT, PCS, ATL, UCU and Unison speakers.
Around 500 people marched in Lancaster.
Over 4,000 marched through Brighton in support of the strike, after a morning of solid picket lines.
Sai Englert reports the PCS picket lines were “some of the biggest we’ve seen here for a while.
“The job centres, the tax office and the court had solid picket lines, so did Brighton University.
Sarah Young reports that the demonstration itself was “very lively, with loads of NUT union flags, and Unison brought along their banner.
“There was also a fire truck driving around flying both NUT and FBU union flags in support.
“Lots of young children joined in the demo too, many of them had joined the picket lines earlier as well.”
Mike reports some 2,000 people at the rally. Speeches from the Northern TUC, Unison and GMB members from AEI cables as well as striking workers. Lots of support from the public.
GPs and other health workers are holding up traffic on Commercial Road in solidarity with today’s strikes and in protest at government attacks on the NHS.
Anna Livingstone, a GP from Limehouse practice, east London, told Socialist Worker that there are over 30 “GPs, receptionists, psychologists, health workers and patients” blocking the street.
“As soon as we got here, people started hooting in support,” she said.
“This is not a strike day for us, but we’ve come out on our lunch break.
“We had a local teacher striker come and talk to patients earlier. It’s important we highlight the attacks on the NHS.
“We have a huge range of people here, from practices in Limehouse, Jubilee Street, Brady Street and others.”
Another similar protest took place in Bow. The initiative was supported by the GP forum.
A united march of between 2,500 and 3,000 strikers poured through Nottingham at lunchtime.
John Shemeld told Socialist Worker that it was the most pickets he had seen in Nottingham at any one time.
“In half a mile there were pickets everywhere to see—the magistrates court, the inland revenue, the crown court and job centres. Everywhere you turned there were pickets.
“And the pickets were big too. There were over 20 strikers outside New College.”
Mark from Station Street DWP said, “This is going to be the biggest strike we’ve seen—people here who have never marched before are marching. People who have never picketed or struck before are striking.”
A train sounded its horn at passing strikers as passengers waved. Horns blared in support and people waved from their cars as the march occupied the road into Nottingham city centre
Thousands of strikers have set off to march through the streets of Birmingham chanting “Clegg and Cameron on your bike—we’ll stop you with a general strike!”
Nearly 10,000 Birmingham Council Unison members have joined striking PCS, UCU, NUT and ATL members in bringing the city to a standstill
Strikers filled Victoria Square for a rally before setting off to march through the city centre, down New Street—turning the city into a festival of resistance.
Whistles and horns rang through the air as strikers made their anger felt.
At the rally, a message of support was read out from the Teaching Assistants Association of Wisconsin, in the US.
It read, “The union makes us strong. When we stand together, when we fight together, we win together.”
Claire Keenan, a home care assistant and Unison member, said that the government and the council is “putting us into poverty”. She threw down the gauntlet to the council saying, “You come out and do our jobs and then you wouldn’t cut our money.”
Doug Morgan, the assistant branch secretary of Birmingham NUT, said that teachers were striking for the future.
“We are fighting here today to make sure that the kids I teach will have jobs in the future,” he said. “It is about defending everyone’s’ services and our conditions.”
There was fury amongst strikers at the lies being spread by the government and right wing press about public sector pensions being gold plated.
Vicky Ripple from the PCS National Offender Management service told the strikers, “My pension is not gold plated. It is only going to be £6,000 a year.”
David Kinnen from the ATL told the rally how historic the strike is saying, “This is the first day in 127 years that the ATL has taken national industrial action. I will lose 2,000 a year if this goes ahead. We’re all facing that together. I will see you here when we are next on strike!”
Connexions workers in Birmingham have been on strike three times over the closure of their service for vulnerable people.
John Griffin, the Unison convenor for Connexions, said, “Each time we’ve told them that we are not frightened and we are going to carry on fighting. And we are still here fighting. Were in the biggest fight of our lives to save our service. Tax the bankers not Connexions.”
Aliya Stennett, a UCU executive committee member in Birmingham spoke as the rally left the square taking their message to the Tories and the council. She said, “Let’s show David Cameron what he is up against—we’re going to bring down Cameron and those Tory scumbags.”
There is a protest at the Base 33 youth club in David Cameron's Oxfordshire West constituency by pupils in support of their teachers.
Cameron hailed the club a Big Society success but it faces closure due to spending cuts and a drying up in donations.
500 people from 12 different unions demonstrated in Plymouth
Sally Kincaid reports from Wakefield, “We had up to 300 people out protesting in Wakefield, and the picket lines were lively, with lots of young teachers.
“Lots of people refused to cross the picket lines.” The Wakefield strikers are now at the Leeds rally, with an estimated 2,000 people there.
Marianne Owens works at Cardiff Revenue and Customs. “There were about 30 of us on the picket line,” she told Socialist Worker. “Our car park normally has 2,000 cars, but there were only 40 today. It is fantastic and the strike is solid. We also had NUT members bring us solidarity.”
There are now over 1,000 people marching through Cardiff.
Emma Williams teaches at Baden Powell Primary School in Cardiff. She told Socialist Worker, “Our school is shut for today and our head has joined us for the march,” Emma said.
“The attack on our pensions affects us all so we have to stand together. I’ve seen some parents with children who go to my school on the march too—they are in other unions who are also striking today.
“The mood is fantastic—people are very up about being out together.”
“Around 50 of us marched from Kingsmead school to join the rally in Derby,” Sue Arguile, an NUT member, told Socialist Worker.
“Over 250 gathered at the Market Place for a rally with the PCS, UCU and ATL unions and now an indoor rally is taking place with over 150 people at it.
“The strikes have been solid across Derby—and the mood is upbeat.”
Rebecca Lopez and Jackie Lewis have been touring picket lines and are at the rally in Leicester.
“There are over 400 at the rally so far, and it’s only just started to gather,” Jackie told Socialist Worker.
“All the schools are closed and there were big picket lines at civil service workplaces.”
Rebecca from Leicester Right to Work was touring picket lines taking breakfast to strikers.
“I went to the Yeoman Street pensions service where only 30 out of 300 workers went in to work,” she told Socialist Worker.
“And at the Leicestershire Revenue and Customs had an unbelievable turnout—only 53 out of 900 staff members went in to work.”
TUC general secretary Brendan Barber spoke at the rally in Exeter showing his support for the strike. Following his speech, Jim Thompson of the NUT and UCU spoke saying that his generation would be worse off than his parents' generation. To applause, he also said that it was not good enough to talk the talk and that sustained action was needed across all public sector unions.
Dave from Bristol reports: “There are over 5,000 on the demonstration going through Bristol right now. This is the biggest march I’ve seen in a very long time here.
“All the unions are out in support on the demo. There are delegations from Unison, the GMB, CWU and Unite.
“I’m in the CWU postal workers union, and we’re just disappointed we’re not out as well.
“But postal workers refused to cross picket lines this morning, and got a lot of support for that, lots of applause.
“We’ve all in great spirits.”
Steve Ryan, a PCS member at HMRC, told Socialist Worker that there is a “determined mood on a great day”.
“Picket lines have had a fantastic level of support today, across North Wales.
“We’re looking at 95 to 100 percent support for the strikes here, and the public are very much behind us.
“We’ve just had several hundred at our rally, which was great for Wrexham.
“Political rallies are banned here—but there was not a lot they could do to stop us. The police just sat back and let us do it.
“People have been coming to the picket lines all day. It was also great to see support from other unions, including Unison.”
Some 300 strikers and their supporters marched in Dorchester.
The Unison union held a solidarity meeting afterwards. PCS members in Weymouth indicate there was massive support for the strike.
Simon Chapman, a firefighter in Southwark, is on the London march. “We came to show solidarity as we're basically all in the same position,” he told Socialist Worker. “A lot of unions supported us during our dispute last year, that’s partly why we're here today. If what Lord Hutton says goes through, I'll have to pay an extra 3 percent into my pension and work a decade longer. Life expectancy is lower for firefighters than other workers. A lot of firefighters are up for a fight.”
Michelle is a teacher from Lambeth, south London in the NUT. She said, 'I'm on strike because its right to stand up and protest when things are unjust. It's not that I necessarily wanted to strike, but when the government is telling us we have to work until we're 68, 68! In the classroom you've got to do something.
'Teachers are precious.
'And I want to know what's happening with the MPs pensions and bankers' bonuses. They're still getting all this money when it’s the ordinary working people being told to pay up.
'We're not responsible for the fall of the economy. It was them!'
Michelle brought her daughter on the demo 'this is her fourth protest'.
A refuse worker watching the march pass said, “I admire these people. We don’t want to end up like Greece. The Media say we don’t support strikes—of course we do. Enough is enough.
Council workers in the Unison and Unite unions in Southampton are taking part in today’s day of action. Bobby Noyes reports, “The picket lines are solid and there is no sign of any wavering—the entire city is nearly shut down.
“The Unison and Unite members are on strike over massive pay cuts.
“Strikers are pouring into the rally hosted by the NUT and ATL—there are around 500 people so far, but the Unite and Unison pickets are still to arrive. They are marching from a park to join us. Street sweepers are coming out for two weeks from today as part of the rolling action against council cuts.
“I have never seen so many young teachers at a rally. They make up over half of the crowd.
“Members of the ATL marched together to the rally and received huge cheers from NUT members. Southampton has been covered with picket lines—from the coastguard agency to schools and the inland revenue.
Traffic wardens are striking too.”
Phil Turner in Rotherham reports. This is the biggest wave of strikes to hit town in many years.
Most schools in Rotherham are closed, so not many picket lines. Of the 123 schools here, 99 are closed.
But we had great pickets at Rotherham College of Art and Design and also at Dearne Valley College. There were around 15 lively pickets, with people waving placards.
Every Jobcentre and benefits office has a picket line outside it.
People are just gathering for a rally in Rotherham now, and then going on to Sheffield to all link up together.
There’s a great mood of resistance here, there’s a solid sense of unity.
Dave Berry told Socialist Worker, “We’ve seen solid and angry pickets across Carlisle this morning. There were around 75 percent out on strike at the Jobcentre and about two thirds out at the Rural Payments Agency. Now we’re gathering for the strike rally.”
In Truro, Cornwall, around 200 people joined an anti-cuts march to the unions’ rally, increasing numbers to 600 protesters. There were banners from the PCS, ATL, FBU, UCU, GMB and NUT unions.
Thousands of people are gathering in Lincoln’s Inn Field, London, for the demonstration. Many participants are saying that it is their first strike and that they are fighting for the future. Parents have brought their children to join the protest.
In Exeter, around 500 people are attending a rally in a room, which is full to capacity. There are people who cannot get into it. More than 2,000 people have gathered for the demonstration so far in Manchester.
The Department for Education has released figures about school closures, revealing the effect of the strike. As of last night, around 4,640 local authority schools were due to be closed today, 3,888 partially open and 4,115 open.
Some 148 academies were to close, with 223 expected to be fully open, and 204 partially open.
Sharon Green, a PCS member in Manchester, said, “We need to continue the fight because we have to protect the pension of our colleagues and not just those close to retirement. I stand to lose £70,000 and will have to pay an extra £65 a month. I am one of the thousands of women who is also affected by the increase in state pension age. This is just one of the things the PCS is striking about, as well as job losses which mean cuts in services.”
Dave Gibson reports, 'It’s been an excellent morning in Barnsley.
'We had a demo with over 400 people on it from NUT, UCU, ATl and PCS.
'We had a rally in a local cinema. A Unison official told the audience that his union should have been out on strike too today, and he received huge applause.
'The picket lines were solid at Barnsley College, and there were lots of solid PCS picket lines. We were joined by lots of local students too.
'It’s all very strong and positive, people are up for a fight.
'Dozens of us are now waiting for the train to Sheffield to join the protest there.'
Laura Miles, reports from Bradford University. Pickets were good, we had two picket lines outside Bradford Univresity, with up to around 70 people.
Now we’re on our way to link up with the ATL and NUT demonstration which is on its way through town.
Keith Boyd reports from Glasgow. There have been picket lines all around Glasgow city centre.
Over 50 people were picketing the Northgate benefits delivery office, but there were lots of smaller ones around.
The Student Loans Company saw young workers keep their picket line solid, arguing with everyone who wanted to go in.
Springburn Jobcentre and benefits delivery office saw 99 percent of workers out on strike.
The Ministry of Defence saw a lively picket. They were joined by CND and Stop the War activists, with placards saying, “Cut war, fund pensions. Cut Trident, fund war pensions.”
We’re expecting thousands now for our joint strike rally at lunchtime.
Jim Board Unison branch secretary in Doncaster told Socialist Worker, “We’ve had very early picket lines, they started at 5am.
“Lots of manual workers have shown their support, and masses of people have been turned away from the picket lines.
“There are picket lines at the council offices. We’ve heard reports that we’ve kept out up to 90 percent of staff.
“Lots of support has come our way from Unison and other unions.
“There does seem to be an attempt at a scabbing operation by non-union workers.
“So it’s been hard, but it clear people are excited.
“We’ve just had a joint strike rally, with over 350 people.
“The speakers were great, calling for more coordinated action.
“We’re all on a buzz.”
The government has claimed to the BBC that only half of the PCS’s members—around 130,000 workers—have struck today. But PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka has said, 'This is the best supported strike we’ve ever had.” The union estimates that the vast majority of its members are on strike. All the reports Socialist Worker has received suggest that the PCS is telling the truth and the government is lying. The head of the Metropolitan Police is apparently complaining that there is no one to answer the phones, a job usually carried out by PCS members, while the strikes have severely affected other civil service departments.
'It's time for a big rethink from the government. Final salary pensions are affordable. Old age poverty will cost the economy, so their policy just doesn't make sense', said an NUT member on the picket line outside Leyton Sixth Form College.
Another said, 'One thing that irritates me is the way people on TV go on about people in the private sector not having pensions. Well they should have. They should be talking about how to improve conditions in the private sector, not blaming us.'
She added that, 'The majority of people are planning to strike. The principal told members of all unions that they would lose pay, but no one will be disciplined for supporting the strike.'
Glen Rawlinson is the ATL rep at the college said, 'This is the first national ATL strike. It's quite a step. I've been at this college seven years. I've never been on strike before. The wool is being pulled over our eyes. They say pensions are unaffordable, but it isn't true. It's a convenient excuse to take money from the public sector rather than the bankers who caused the crisis.'
Keith Kinsella is NUT rep at the college. He told Socialist Worker, 'We've had a range of meetings to build today. We held meetings open to members of all unions. IN a way its good that the strike is at the end of term. A lot of people are out for the first time and this is easing them into it. We've had people joining the union and rejoining it.
A group of students from the University of East London marched up to bring breakfast to the picket line. One of the students, Alicia Smedberg, told Socialist Worker, 'We got up really early and made sandwiches to support the strikers. First we went to Leytonstone Job Centre where and we're going on to join the picket outside our college.'
At Waltham Forest College, east London, UCU branch secretary Susan Wills said, 'The strike is solid and there's no teaching here today.' Pickets were angry at the media's coverage of the strike. 'They go on about getting parents to undermine our action, but what we're doing today is about defending education.'
Students and lecturers are picketing together at London Met university on Holloway Road and have been joined in solidarity by students and Unison members who aren't on strike.
Ellie May is a third year English and History student.
'I'm here because I think it's important that students show solidarity with lecturers.
'When we found out that we will lose 90 percent of our funding some of us got together to discuss fighting to stop the cuts.
'They are going to make it harder for poorer families to send their kids to uni.
Members of Islington Hands Off Our Public Services (IHOOPS) are driving round in a car touring picket lines with breakfast.
At the Angel Building in Islington, PCS members are picketing outside a small home office department.
Paul told Socialist Worker “Some new workers weren't sure about striking at first. But the penny has started to drop over the last few months because the cuts are kicking in.
'They see how the cuts are hitting them and how crazy it is that the government is sacking people who could be collecting taxes.'
Jean Clement said, 'Our pensions are sustainable. And no one talks about it being money that we pay in every month.
'MPs aren't supporting us, I am shocked at the Labour Party condemning the strikes. The unions have supported Labour all this time—let's withdraw our money and support.'
Some 40 people are picketing at City and Islington Sixth Form College.
Unison members at Islington Council, UCU reps from City University.
Ceinwen Hilton is the joint NUT rep at the college. She told Socialist Worker that the solidarity has boosted pickets.
'We have a strong union branch and we have every teacher out on strike today.
'We are angry—not just about the attacks on our pensions—but also about the cuts and broader attack pon education.
'At this college we want to keep providing pastoral services—tutoring, support and career advice for students. But the government is scrapping the funding. So to keep it going other cuts have to be made. It's such an important part of support for students.
'We have had great support from students. We came out unofficially to support them over EMA and they support our strike now. We know we are in it together.'
Mike, an NUT member, told Socialist Worker, 'We are raising awareness about the cuts and the attacks the government is making. The media don't give us the facts. This strike will force them to listen to us.'
John added, 'We have to be careful that we don't compromise on these attacks,' John said. 'There is too much at stake. We have to get as many people involved in fighting back as possible.
Mike added, 'Today is important because it involves mass resistance—not just one union. There are hundreds of thousands out. They can't ignore us.'
Teachers in Bow, east London were joined by dozens of others as they prepared to march to Mile End tube station before heading to the London protest.
As strikers held their banners, they were joined by local health workers and other well-wishers. There was a lot of support from passing cars, with even a police car honking its horns in support.
Tommy is a teacher at Central Foundation Girls’ School. “We’re all up for it,” he told Socialist Worker. “We had a strike in March and we’ve got stronger since then because people were angry about pensions. The NUT branch has grown from 85 to 100 members since then.”
Two hairdressers to offer free haircuts to the strikers. Richard, from Haircut Before the Party, was one of them. “We wanted to support the teachers on strike. They need support, especially after Ed Miliband said the strike was wrong.” A local artist came to give the strikers cakes.
Alan and David are technicians in the Unison union at Central Foundation Girls’ School. “We wanted to come out on strike too,” said Alan. “It’s about time for united strikes.”
David said, “People are losing a day’s pay, but what’s that compared to what the government are doing?”
At Stretford High School in Manchester, NUT the picket lines turned into a solidarity rally of 30 people. NASUWT members, Unison learning support staff, parents and journalists with the Manchester NUJ banner joined pickets.
NASUWT members brought tea, cakes and coffee. The NASUWT rep said,“We’ll all be out together in the autumn.”
At Chorlton Park Adult Education centre the UCU picket was successful. Kitchen staff and clerical workers came out to offer their support. “I wish we were all out with you together today,” said one of the catering workers. There are over 80 picket lines across the city.
The picket line of PCS members outside Euston Tower in central London brought people together in a carnival of resistance. Students, pensioners, disability rights activists and other workers swelled the numbers protesting to around 70. UK Uncut members brought breakfast to strikers.
Dave Plummer, the organiser of PCS Revenue & Customs Euston branch, said, “We’ve got our message out: that the media is lying, our pensions are affordable and we don’t need any cuts. The support we have got is because the Tories are attacking everybody and we are all united in fighting back.”
Kamal Abu Aita, the president of the Egyptian tax collectors’ union, brought solidarity to the picket line. He said to cheers, “Our struggle against poverty and exploitation is global. We have to take up the slogan of the Egyptian revolution, ‘The people want the downfall of the regime.’
“But that slogan needs to become, ‘We want the downfall of the world system.’ We are all one hand in the struggle against capitalism. We can build a new world without oppression and exploitation.”
There was a good picket line outside the DWP office in Sylvester Road in Hackney, where the strike was solid. Charlie McDonald, the secretary of East London PCS branch, said , “I’ve never known support for a dispute like this in my 20 years as a union rep. Six people joined the union this week as they wanted to strike.
“People are losing so much money with the attack on pensions. I’m going to have to pay an extra £70 a month and work seven more years.
“We will need another wave of action after this strike as the government is not just going to cave in now.”
In Birmingham, the strikes have been bolstered by 10,000 council workers in the Unison union walking out on the same day as the national action.
Walking through the city centre you pass picket line after picket line.
In the central square, workers are setting up stalls and blowing up big balloons ready for the mass rally at noon.
Martin Dean is the PCS branch chair at the General Teaching Council—which the government announced early this month is being abolished.
“We’re all being made redundant,” he told Socialist Worker.
“Of course today is a protest about pensions—for me it would mean a contribution increase of £90 a month.
“But for us we’re protesting about everything. It’s about the cuts in general.”
He said it was a “great thing” to be out on the same day as other unions.
“That’s the whole point of a union, isn’t it? When individuals won’t be heard, the collective can come together.”
On the other side of the square, outside Birmingham Central Library, library workers in Unison picketed too.
“We’re here today because the council are trying to drive down our conditions,” explained Unison steward Geoff Millington.
“Some people are losing thousands of pounds. They think they’ll start closing libraries soon, they are already cutting opening hours.”
While the issues for the unions in Birmingham Council are different to those in the national strike over pensions, Geoff stressed the importance of unity.
“It’s good to be on strike together,” he said.
Martin Dean added that he was looking forward to workers from all the different unions coming together at lunchtime.
“When we see the rally,” he said, “I think it will be something to behold.”
Parents and students joined striking teachers on Acland Burghley school's picket line in Camden. Rob Stainsby, a striker, told Socialist Worker, “Sometimes you have to push things—but we didn’t have to push this ballot. People voted to strike because the government's stealing our pensions. Everyone knows that we didn’t cause the crisis, the bankers did.”
Zitta Lomax was also picketing. She told Socialist Worker, “The government says this strike will affect women and single parents. It makes me so angry. Teachers are mostly women and some are single parents—and the cuts will hit them hardest.” Council workers who'd come to collect recycling turned away after strikers asked them not to cross the picket line. And UK Uncut activists brought breakfast.
Elane reports from East Ham job centre. PCS rep Mary told Socialist Worker, 'I am a new rep here and it's my first time organising a picket. We are very solid. Just the two managers have gone in. This isn't just for us. It is about our society and what kind of services we can provide' NUT and Unison members joined the picketers, who cheered when they turned back delivery vans and picketed around a banner saying, 'all in it together against the Eton millionaires' brought to the picket line by a claimant
There is a hush in Newham—quiet roads and silent schools. Kids on the picket with parents now and a puppy—it's a little carnival on the street
Nadine Seveno has been teaching biology for ten years, she told Socialist Worker, 'These attacks are completely unfair. The government wants to cut our pensions and make us work until 68. People are already exhausted by 55. If you work to 68 you don't have the same energy. There are lots of young teachers at this school, they say they wouldn't have started if they knew these attacks were coming. It’s not just bad for us, it's bad for education.
'The NUT has doubled in size here. People are not just feeling disappointed-they are angry and want to fight.
'Having different unions strike together makes our voices louder. We have to find ways to make the government listen.'
Debs Gwynn reports from Liverpool. The NUT held a lively picket at Calderstones secondary school. NUT rep Matt Smith said he wanted to have a picket line, “to get rid of the myth that the public don’t support the strikers.” Cathy Fitzgerald-Taher, assistant secretary of the union, said, “The government is not negotiating seriously with us.”
Danny a school student, refused to cross the picket line. He told Socialist Worker, “If I crossed the picket line I'd be betraying the teachers. They need our support.”
A group of students from Goldsmiths University in south London calling themselves 'the flying pickets' joined a picket line at Lewisham College. The students are travelling around Lewisham and Catford in a minibus stocked with coffee and cakes for strikers.
Dawn Kingston, a striking member of the UCU union is furious with the government. She told Socialist Worker, 'Our backs are up against the wall. It’s the working people that are being hit. Why don't they hit the banks? The government won't do it cos they're all mates.
'We had a good start in March, today is another step forward.
'Pensions are just a small part of it, students, teachers, everyone is being targeted by the cuts. Its great to see these students here today, they have a good voice. We all need to join together.'
The battle bus is now visiting a PCS picket line at Lewisham police station.
Unison union members at Camden council repairs and improvement team struck today. They struck because 11 workers there, mainly black, face redundancy while there are still nearly 20 job vacancies. The workers have been forced to go on “gardening leave”.
Terry, one of the strikers, said the council had “lied” to the workers. He told Socialist Worker, “We got assurances that there would be no redundancies. They lied. All those put on 'gardening leave' have good records. Yet the council now says they're not competent.”
The cuts mean there will be fewer inspections of people’s homes. Only four people voted against strikes in a recent ballot. UK Uncut activists brought fruit, muffins and juice for the strikers. Jo, from UK Uncut said “It’s important to show support for strikers. Attacks on pensions are part of a bigger attack on the public sector.”
Around three quarters of a million public sector trade unionists are striking today against the government’s attempts to make workers pay for the crisis.
Strikes by the NUT, ATL and UCU education unions and the PCS civil service workers are closing schools, colleges, and job centres.
Council workers in Birmingham, Doncaster and Southampton are also out, as are housing workers in Camden, north London, and workers at Fujitsu in Crewe.
Later today thousands of people will demonstrate across the country.
Over 8,000 schools confirmed before the strike started that they will either close or reduce lessons. The final number of closed schools will be higher.
There are delays at airports and ports as UK Border Agency workers strike. Anti-union company Ryanair called for the army to be sent in calling trade unionists headbangers.
In contrast on the ground there is widespread support for the strike.
At the Tyneview DWP office in Newcastle pickets cheered as a Royal Mail van refused to cross the picket line. UK Uncut activists brought solidarity and breakfast to the Camden housing workers picket line. In Birmingham Unite and GMB union members refused to cross refuse workers picket lines at the Perry Barr depot. In Tower Hamlets in east London students joined the PCS pickets at Dod street job centre.
The run up to the strike day has seem people joining unions in large numbers.
Liz Evans from Swansea PCS at the land registry told Socialist Worker, “We Have seen a huge increase in union membership. The strike is really well supported because people are so angry.”
Andrew Baisley, branch secretary of Camden NUT, told Socialist Worker, “It’s been really inspiring to see that building the strike has built the union. We’ve got a number of new NUT reps in Camden. Nearly half of our reps became reps in the last year.
“And our membership has gone up and up—by 12 percent since the start of this year alone.
“When members see the purpose of being in the union they join and they become activists. It augurs well for the difficult battles we have ahead that, at the very start of them, we are building the union.”
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