The working class is back. That’s what last week’s magnificent public sector strikes showed. Some 750,000 workers in different unions struck together on Thursday of last week, 30 June. The solid action had a massive effect on schools, colleges, and civil service and council workplaces.
There were large protests and rallies across Britain on the day.
Other workers, students, parents and activists supported the strikes.
Workers in the NUT, UCU and ATL teaching unions struck against government plans to destroy public sector pensions, along with PCS union members who were also taking action over pay and job cuts.
Council workers in the Unison union in Birmingham and Doncaster, and in the Unison and Unite unions in Southampton, struck against cuts on the same day (see page 5).
Kevin Courtney, deputy general secretary of the NUT, said the day was “fantastic”.
He told Socialist Worker, “This was the biggest NUT strike in decades—and the involvement of the ATL is very significant. The turnout for the strikes was much bigger than the turnout in our ballot.
“The Tories are trying to talk down the impact of the action. But the scale of the demonstrations will have surprised them.”
While workers struck against attacks on their pensions, they said there were other issues at stake too.
Ceinwen Hilton is the joint NUT rep at City and Islington Sixth Form College. She told Socialist Worker, “We are angry—not just about pensions, but also about the cuts and the broader attack on education.”
Chris Snaith, UCU secretary at London Metropolitan University, agrees. “People are angry about everything,” he said.
In many areas, the scale of the turnout on picket lines and protests took workers by surprise.
Mark, a PCS member at a Department for Work and Pensions office in Nottingham, told Socialist Worker, “People who have never marched before are marching. People who have never struck before are striking.”
“I’m over the moon,” Ben Morris, joint NUT branch secretary in Sheffield, told Socialist Worker. “We had up to 3,000 marching—it was brilliant.
“And the mood was different—people were chanting ‘general strike now’ and ‘solidarity forever’.”
This experience of strikes building the unions was echoed everywhere. Liz Evans from Swansea Land Registry described a “huge increase in union membership” in the run-up to the strike.
It gives lie to government claims that most union members didn’t back the strikes.
Despite the propaganda of right wing newspapers, the strikes won huge support.
In several areas, activists from the UK Uncut campaign group, other anti-cuts groups and students toured picket lines
distributing breakfast to strikers.
Dave Gibson, a UCU member at Barnsley College, told Socialist Worker, “The picket lines were solid. We were joined by lots of local students. It’s all very positive—people are up for a fight.”
Health workers in east London blocked roads in support of the strikes. In many areas, workers not on strike, and students, refused to cross picket lines in superb shows of solidarity.
Danny refused to cross his teachers’ picket line in Liverpool. He told Socialist Worker, “If I did that I’d be betraying the teachers. They need our support.”
Postal workers in the CWU union in Bristol, Newcastle and other cities turned back at picket lines. Lee Barron from the CWU told a rally in Birmingham, “We’d rather break the law than break your picket lines.”
Steve Ryan, a PCS member at HMRC in Wrexham, told Socialist Worker, “People have been coming to the picket lines all day.
“We are looking at 95 to 100 percent support for the strikes here, and the public are very much behind us.”
At Stretford High School in Manchester, NASUWT union members, who were not striking, brought cakes, tea and coffee to NUT pickets. Students from Goldsmiths College in London drove around in a minibus taking food to strikers.
And in Glasgow, Stop the War and CND activists joined a lively picket at the Ministry of Defence, with placards saying, “Cut war, fund pensions.”
Many people saw the strikes as part of a wider battle to stop the Tories’ assault on workers.
Simon Chapman, a firefighter in Southwark, south London, joined the demonstration in London. He told Socialist Worker, “We came to show solidarity as we’re all in the same position.
“If what Lord Hutton says goes through, I’ll have to pay an extra
3 percent into my pension and work a decade longer. A lot of firefighters are up for a fight.”
Strikers were furious that the Tories want to force them to pay for an economic crisis they didn’t create.
Dawn Kingston, a UCU member at Lewisham College in south east London, 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?
“Students, teachers, everyone is being targeted by the cuts. We all need to join together.”
And strikers are up for a sustained fight to stop them. Janice Bridger, an ATL member in Birmingham, told Socialist Worker, “The government is trying to split the unions. I don’t understand why all the other unions aren’t up in arms.
“If they wait any longer, we’ll find the pensions have been cut and we haven’t protested.”
The strikes were fantastic. They showed the power of the working class. And they gave a lift to everyone who wants to give the Tories a bloody nose.
Everywhere, strikers were talking about what to do next. Time after time, workers said we needed bigger strikes, involving more unions.
As Charlie McDonald, secretary of East London PCS branch, put it, “The government is not just going to cave in. We will need another wave of action after this strike.”
Lots of union leaders are talking about coordinating strikes in October.
The task for every activist is to make that a reality—and build for action that involved millions to smash the Tories’ cuts agenda.
Thanks to everyone who sent in reports and pictures. For our four-page special issue on the strikes, longer reports and more pictures from the strikes go to www.socialistworker.co.uk//art.php?id=25277