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Mark Serwotka: Our vision for how to stop these cuts

Mark Serwotka, general secretary of the PCS civil service workers’ union, spoke at the Unite the Resistance convention last Saturday—here is an edited extract from his speech

Issue No. 2279

Let’s remind ourselves of the scale of the threats. There’s 1.3 million jobs to be cut in the next three years, services cut in every community across Britain, education cuts that mean working class kids won’t be able to afford further and higher education, and an abandonment of our pensioners.

We have a freeze on pay in the public sector. Add to that youth unemployment at record levels and general unemployment approaching three million. The scale of what we face is huge. The effects and consequences of losing will be felt for generations to come.

Labour should be challenging the role of the markets. Instead we get its leader Ed Miliband coming to the TUC and telling us we are wrong to strike. For a Labour leader to come to the TUC and tell us off for striking is breathtaking. It tells us how far away we are from having people who will advocate what we need.

We need millions of extra council houses. We need new school buildings, new hospitals. We want people in work, paying tax and insurance, improving the world in which we live—not out of work, claiming welfare, getting into a spiral of despair.

So we have an alternative. Finally our organisations of the working class, our trade unions, are now advocating an alternative and leading the struggle. That means 30 November is one of the most important days of our lives.

But we also have to have a sober assessment of where we are. It took an awful long time to get to the unions agreeing to call 30 November. We had three years of debates on the TUC general council even to get to the demonstration that we saw on 26 March.

The debates about industrial action have been painful. Unions have taken an awful long time to wake up to the situation that we’re in.

Gratitude

That’s why we all owe a debt of gratitude to the men and women in the UCU, PCS, ATL and NUT who struck on 30 June when many people sniped from the sidelines. And I can tell you that the snipers weren’t just cabinet office minister Francis Maude and his cronies on their side of the table. There were people in our own movement who said it was premature, it was divisive, that we were striking too early.

But 30 June transformed the situation. It showed half a million people striking, demonstrating, challenging what the government was planning to do to public sector pensions.

We were joined by pensioners, UK Uncut, students, unemployed workers, disabled activists, campaigners for better services. If that’s what happens when half a million go on strike, think what it’ll be like when two to three million people go on strike.

We want 30 November to be big and bold, loud and visible in every town, village and city. We want marches, demonstrations and as many people picketing as we can muster.

And it is absolutely critical that 30 November is the beginning, not the end. There will have to be strike action to follow on from the action we’ve already taken. We need to make sure 30 November is not just a protest—it is a serious beginning of a strike that can force the government back.

The PCS executive has already unanimously agreed that we want all unions to meet within two weeks of 30 November. And we think at a minimum there needs to be yet another public sector wide general strike as early in 2012 as we can have it.

I have a vision of what things could look like if 30 November goes as well as we hope it does. When we get up on 1 December, Britain will look different to when we went to bed on 29 November.

It will look different because nurses, teachers, civil servants, private sector workers, pensioners, students, the Occupy movement, all of us—we’ve struck together, marched together, said no together.

And we have to tell the government that the world now looks different—so you back off, or we will do it again and again until we win.


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Tue 22 Nov 2011, 18:25 GMT
Issue No. 2279
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