Tory minister Jeremy Hunt had the audacity to attack a planned strike by civil service workers as “an absolute disgrace” this week.
The workers, in the PCS union, were set to walk out over cuts this Thursday—on the eve of the Olympics.
Hunt let slip that ministers had discussed sacking striking workers. But workers are right to strike.
Paul McGoay is a passport worker and PCS group president in the Identity and Passport Service. He told Socialist Worker, “Management, the press and the government are attacking us for striking during the Olympics.
“We are fighting to defend jobs and pay, and against privatisation, victimisation and bullying. The Home Office has announced 8,500 job cuts, pay cuts and sacked two union reps who spoke out against the attacks. The government has had years to sort out these issues. Striking is the right thing to do.”
The government either denounces strikes as ineffective or moans that workers are “holding the country to ransom”. Either way, Tory ministers always say it’s wrong to strike.
Disgracefully Labour leader Ed Miliband has joined in the attack. He called the strikes “totally wrong” adding, “Nothing must be allowed to disrupt the Olympic Games”.
Yet several groups of workers plan to defy them. Remploy workers in the GMB union were also set to strike this Thursday against the closure of their factories.
London Underground cleaners plan to walk out from 5.30am on Friday of this week for two days. This follows a 98 percent vote for strikes over pay and conditions.
The RMT union members won the London Living Wage in 2007 but their employers, ISS and Initial, are refusing to top up their wages.
Cleaner Clara Osagiede told Socialist Worker, “We are fed up. We’ll be out for two days and if they don’t give us what we want, we’ll strike for longer.”
And train drivers on East Midlands trains are preparing to strike against attacks on their pensions. The Aslef union members are set to strike on 6, 7 and 8 August.
As resistance to the government grows the Tories will ramp up attempts to demonise strikers. They say workers taking action are irresponsible—yet strikes seem the only way to stop their attacks.
Paul went on, “We have tried every other option. Our union has met with ministers, attempted negotiations, but the government is not listening.
“The government says we’re holding them to ransom—but it is the other way round. They’re holding the whole working class to ransom. We need to use the only weapons we have because this is the only way we’ll win.”
Paul added that the strikes in Britain are part of a bigger battle against austerity. “What Home Office workers face is a symptom of what’s happening across Europe and the world,” he said.
“It’s part of an attempt by the ruling class to make workers pay for their crisis. We need to join up with all workers fighting. October’s TUC demonstration will help generalise across all these struggles.”
Bigger battles are brewing for the autumn
Activists are preparing for a “hot autumn” of strikes and demonstrations. The TUC’s national demonstration on 20 October could see a million people take to the streets.
This is set to be followed by a planned public sector strike over pensions. Several unions have said they will join a strike, including the two biggest teaching unions (see below). And students will take part in a national demonstration on 21 November.
The amount of transport coming to the TUC protest is growing fast. One 500-seat charter train from Leeds, Wakefield and Doncaster is fully booked, with three months to go until the protest.
A second 500-seat train coming from Sheffield has just 100 seats left. Meanwhile the Unison union has booked two trains from the North West region alone—one from Manchester, one from Liverpool.
The TUC also has details of two dozen coaches on its website already, and its list is far from comprehensive.
Joe from Sheffield explained why the protest was important. “I went to the demonstration in March last year,” he said.
“It was brilliant. I’ve never seen so many people. It was really uplifting. I’m telling all my friends about October and I’d encourage everyone to come.”
Campaigners are already organising local mobilising meetings to prepare for the protest, including in Camden, north London and Hackney, east London.
Sasha from Hackney said, “Hackney Trades Council met last week and agreed to call a bigger meeting to organise for the demo.
“In preparing for the protest we’re also revitalising working class organisation in Hackney, which will be vital for the battles to come.”
Trade unionists, students, Labour Party members and others met in south London last week. They agreed to organise a feeder march to the central London protest.
For the TUC’s demonstration last year south London campaigners organised a feeder march of up to 5,000 people. This time they think it could be even bigger.
Teachers say we need to escalate action
Teachers in the two biggest teaching unions are fighting to win a huge strike in the autumn. The NASUWT and NUT unions are organising together in a new alliance.
The NASUWT already has a live strike ballot while the NUT is balloting until September. “We’re organising for a yes-yes vote in the ballot—for strikes and for industrial action short of a strike,” said NUT executive member Heather McKenzie.
“There have been school meetings, district and association meetings with reps. We need a strategy that involves as many unions as possible. I look to my own union to take the lead.”
Nicola Scope, president of City of Derby NUT, added, “Everyone’s up for the strike. Everyone knows that in these times going on strike is the only thing we can do.”
James Oliver, an NUT member in Sheffield, agreed—and called for escalation. “At the moment it feels like there’s an annual token strike,” he said.
“At our last Sheffield NUT meeting we had a unanimous vote to escalate. We need to escalate to win.”
Tory minister Jeremy Hunt has taken it upon himself to lecture strikers on their morals. Millionaire Hunt colluded with James Murdoch to push through News International’s Sky takeover.
He sent almost daily messages to News International saying their takeover of Sky wouldn’t “be a problem”.
Hunt has admitted that he “misled” MPs over the Sky bid. His special adviser Adam Smith resigned because of the scandal. Yet David Cameron kept Hunt, saying he was doing a “good job”