Socialist Worker

Rolling coverage of 10 July public sector strikes

Issue No. 2411

Over a million strikers hit back (16:30)

The rally in Trafalgar Square, London

The rally in Trafalgar Square, London (Pic: Guy Smallman)


A million and half workers defied the Tories and struck over poverty pay and attacks on their conditions on 10 July.

From home helps and refuse collectors to teachers, civil service workers and firefighters public sector workers, strikers filled the streets at rallies and marches across Britain.

A new TUC report shows that public sector workers are each £2,000 a year worse off under the Tories. Many workers feel they have no option but to fight.  

The strike shows just that bitterness against the Tories’ austerity runs deep into the working class. It also shows workers have the power to shake the government.

Every mention of more strikes in the autumn received cheers from trade unionists and their supporters at rally after rally. 

Workers have shown they can fight, if they escalate they can win. 

Thanks to everyone who sent in reports


Strikes have the power to win

Judith Orr

The 10 July was a great success, but everyone knows it will need even more to stop the Tory attacks.

Anne Lemon is a teacher in Bristol and a member of the NUT executive, “The strike was absolutely fantastic.

“We fought hard for it, and we now need to give a strong lead so we can keep up the momentum.

We can beat hated Michael Gove. 

“That means getting more workers out across the board in the autumn, because strikes work.”

The prospect of a ballot over the summer among 500,000 Unison members in the NHS could bring another big battalion into the struggle in September.

The fact that other local disputes joined the national action on 10 July shows how national action can be a beacon for everyone who wants to fight.

We need to include other workers too. Private sector workers can be pulled into the resistance.

The TUC demonstration planned for 18 October should be a focus to building around. We need to make it massive.

The danger is that the union leaders waste the momentum, as happened after the strike on 30 November 2011.

There will be many debates about what comes next. Some union leaders will want to say we have had our one-day strike, now let’s look to other sorts of action.

Of course any resistance must be welcome, especially if it brings new forces into the fight.

This is a fight we can win. The Tories are not all powerful, they are facing their own problems. The establishment has been exposed as corrupt and rotten to the core.

The big one-day strike cannot be used simply as a form of protest.

We now need to go for wider action involving more workers over more than just one day.

This strike will have given workers the confidence to build for such action.

We are constantly told trade unions are in decline and don’t hold the power they once had. But the 10 July gave the lie to this.

Now let’s escalate.


More Strike rallies (14:00)

The rally in Trafalgar Square, London

The rally in Trafalgar Square, London (Pic: Socialist Worker)


More rallies are taking place across Britain—the largest in central London,.

Workers told Socialist Worker why they were angry.

Teacher Moya Brewer said, “I’ve been teaching for 34 years and don’t think it’s right that the government won’t negotiate with a democratic union.

“My daughter’s thinking of going into the profession and I don't want her to work until she’s 68. I think we have to look to a general strike.”

Julie, head cook at school in Tower Hamlets in east London said, “We’re really annoyed about pay. I used to go to Sainsburys, now I have to buy Tesco value.

And I haven’t had a holiday in four years.”

Over 3,000 people marched around Leeds city centre, in one of the biggest protests there in years.

PCS Regional assistant secretary Martin Hickman spoke at the rally in Rotherham. He said, “Our message to that organised crime cartel the British government is end the pay cap or we will be out on strike again.

“And to Milliband get off your knees, stop posing for pictures with dodgy newspapers and support the pay campaign, support the trade union movement.”

Around 250 people rallied in Swansea and 300 in Cardiff, after 120 people joined a march called by local activists.

There had also been strong strikes across Wales. Pickets at Cardiff County hall turned away a post van and a parcel van, and were joined by one of the Splott Ward county councillors.

About 1,000 rallied in Exeter, but some workers were frustrated with the turnout. One NUT member said, “One day strikes are hard to organise and aren’t enough—we need to escalate the action.” Another 100 people rallied in Torbay.

Teachers, firefighters and Unison and PCS members withstood torrential rain in Cambridge and gathered for a 150 strong rally with striking teacher. 

There were 2,000 people in Hull, 1,500 in Huddersfield. Hundreds rallied in Portsmouth, Ipswich and Bolton.

Another 150 rallied in Stoke, serenaded by a socialist choir.

The rally Preston was swollen by workers from other unions coming out on their lunch break.

NUT speaker Alan Dent summed up the mood saying, “We will march together, we will fight together, we will strike together, and together we will win.”


rally number
London up to 20,000
Liverpool 7,000
Bristol 4,500
Birmingham 4,000
Leeds 3,000
Nottingham 2,000
Hull 2,000
Newcastle 2,000
Huddersfield 1,500
Exeter 1,000
Portsmouth 600
Preston 500
York 500
Cambridge 400
Ipswich 350
Cardiff 300
Chelmsford 300
Bolton 250
Swansea 250
Barnsley 200
Wigan 200
Derry 200
Belfast 200
Torbay 100
Peterborough 100

Wales

Ty Glas Tax Office

Ty Glas Tax Office (Pic: Marianne Owens)


The strike has been strongly supported in Wales.

In Cardiff the venue of the indoor rally was full to capacity, with more than 100 people stuck outside. Local activists in Cardiff also called a march which mobilised 120 people

And around 250 people rallied in Swansea. 

Peter Edwards, a PCS union member in the shipping registry, said “This is the first time I’ve ever been on strike—and only a couple of weeks after I got this job.

“The picket lines in Cardiff were solid, and our action definitely had an impact.

“Butetown Tunnell, Cardiff, was shut, which caused havoc for scabs trying to get into work.  

At Cardiff County Hall there were around 15 pickets, and they turned back two post and parcel vans. A Cardiff county councillor for Splott came down to support them.

There were reports of lively local government picket lines in the Vale of Glamorgan.

There were 20 on the Ty Glas Tax Office picket line in south Wales.

Ieuan, a social worker in Unsion, said, “We had 20 people with placard and flags on the picket line at the civic offices picket line in Barry.

“We had a lot of support from the public, with cars tooting their horns.” 


Strike rallies (13:00)

The rally in Birmingham

The rally in Birmingham (Pic: Pete Jackson)


Thousands of strikers are now joining rallies after the morning picket lines.

Some of the regional rallies in big cities have been huge.

Thousands of workers in Liverpool gathered at the Pier Head and completely filled out the waterfront before marching to their rally at St. George’s Hall.

There were big delegations of firefighters, and teachers very visible in school t-shirts.

After the rally many of the unions are supporting an open mic meeting where workers can discuss where to go next, chaired by Mark O’Brien of the UCU union.

NUT general secretary Christine Blower was in Birmingham for a regional rally of workers from across the West Midlands. She told Socialist Worker, “The NUT is pleased to be on strike today with so many unions across the public sector. We all have slightly different disputes but what unites us is that we want to challenge the government’s attacks.

“When we say we’re all in it together it really is true. United we stand divided we fall. Or as the unions in America say, united we bargain divided we beg.”

But it wasn’t just the big cities.

About 300 people marched in Chelmsford, Essex, in a lively demo with Unison, NUT, FBU, PCS contingents. Passers-by beeped their horns in support, and a lot of strikers signed the petition calling for more action in the autumn.

In Lancashire more than 500 joined the rally in Preston, and strikers from picket lines across Blackburn came together in front of the town hall.

In Edinburgh, where PCS is the only union striking, around 120 workers crowded onto The Mound precinct in Edinburgh. They applauded at news that the strike had forced National Museum of Scotland to close.


Kingston

GMB pickets in Kingston

GMB pickets in Kingston (Pic: Fran Manning)


Around 40 GMB and Unison union members joined the picket line at Kingston Council in south west London.

Pauline is a learning support assistant in the GMB union. She said, “We’ve had lots of support from parents, which was unexpected. When they find out the wages we are on they know we are under valued.”

Her colleague Sarah added, “There is strength in numbers. We need to show unity, and it is essential to have different unions coming out together.

“The government wants to rubbish it because people power is frightening to them.

“It wouldn’t be easy for me to strike for more than one day—but rolling action is still the way to go, it’s more effective.”

Fran Manning


Parliament

PCS strikers at Parliament

PCS strikers at Parliament (Pic: Guy Smallman)


All along Whitehall in central London civil service workers picketed government departments and buildings.

And outside the gates of the Houses of Parliament PCS members protested against plans to privatise and outsource workers.

Michelle Wilson is a member of security staff at the Houses of Parliament. “he told Socialist Worker, “Our contracts are coming up for renewal and we’re now looking at losing half the workforce.

“I don’t want to be privatised—all my rights will be gone. I might keep them for a year, but what will happen then? Will they stick me on a zero hours contract?

“After 15 years of working I could end up losing my job. And what’s to stop them coming for the other half of the staff?”

The attacks on workers are leaving many with an uncertain future.

Michelle said, “I’m a single parent, how will I bring up my family? There are not a lot of jobs out there.

“It’s quite a big strike—We’re making a stand and not taking it anymore.”


Yorkshire (12:15)

Pickets in Wakefield

Pickets in Wakefield (Pic: Laura Miles)


In Wakefield, West Yorkshire, the Unison branch was running out of membership forms because so many workers have been signing up to the union—including on the picket line this morning.

Meanwhile outside the fire station workers had set up a barbecue on the picket line.

In Rotherham, South Yorkshire, most schools were closed and in many workplaces the strike is stronger than in 2011.

Cleaners turned people back at council offices and one of the academies at 5am.

Keen to see more action, workers are already talking about building the TUC’s  demonstration in October.

More than 200 people rallied in Barnsley, with some of the biggest applauses going to people who mention the Freedom Riders campaign to defend free travel (see Cheers outside court in Sheffield for arrested Freedom Ride pensioners).

The crowd chanted “The workers united will never be defeated”.

Hundreds were also rallying in central Leeds ready for a march.

Job centre worker Jane Aitchison told Socialist Worker, “We’ve got about 90 percent out today. A lot of workers here are skint, and are really pleased to be seeing a fight back.

“Many people have taken second jobs to get by—we cannot go on like this any more.”

Laura Miles and Phil Turner


Manchester (12:05)

PCS pickets in Sale

PCS pickets in Sale


Manchester was a city of strikers today. One PCS picket outside the HMRC tax office read out a text from his brother, saying that all along his bus route all you could see were pickets waving union flags.

Pickets held up messages for any scabs who tried to ignore them, saying “headphones won’t save your job” and “give us your name so we can add you to the scab list”. 

Cleaners and call centre workers joined office workers outside the town hall.

One worker, whose mother was also picketing, told Socialist Worker the cost of living crisis could stop her going back to work after she gives birth in September.

“The minimum wage at Tesco is £6.91. For council workers it’s just £6.45,” she said. “We’ve lost about 20 percent in real terms. Everything’s gone up, and when I look at nursery fees I might not be able to go to work.”

She added that only three people had gone to work on her floor, with even non-union members staying away.

Workers were also striking at the Equality and Human Rights Commission, who have lost almost half their colleagues to government cuts.

And there were PCS pickets outside the Independent Police Complaints Commission in Sale. “The crisis is supposed to be over but everything is going up and our pay isn’t,” said one worker. “We should keep coming out with other unions it makes us more effective.”

Workers from around Greater Manchester were set to travel into the city centre to rally together, with feeder marches from Salford and Trafford.

Striking teacher Chris Ayton told Socialist Worker, “Among teachers the main issue is escalation. I was on one picket line with about 15-20 people. Everyone said one day won’t be enough—and we’re confident we can beat Gove.”

Cam Tsang and Sarah Ensor


The strike is scaring the Tories (12:00)

The strike clearly has the Tories and the bosses worried. 

Right wing newspapers have widely reported David Cameron’s pledge to crack down on strikes with even tougher anti-union laws. 

He condemned the strike, saying that “people should turn up to work”, and proposed a ban on calling “rolling” action on the basis of one ballot. 

This is from the Tory government that plans to cut 324 public sector jobs a week. 

Union leaders were not impressed.

Unite union general secretary Len McCluskey said, “We'll take no lessons from the Bullingdon bully, who gives tax breaks to his City chums yet plots to deprive lowly waged workers of their right to fight poverty pay.

“The whiff of hypocrisy coming from Cameron as he harps on about voting thresholds is overwhelming.”

Labour leader Ed Miliband has attacked the Tories for ramping up the rhetoric against strikers, but he refused to back the action.


Firefighters are out as well (11:30)

Pickets at Euston Fire Station in central London

Pickets at Euston Fire Station in central London (Pic: Guy Smallman)


Firefighters in England and Wales walked out of stations at 10 o’clock this morning.

They have already struck 15 times in a three year dispute over pensions.

Dave Shek, FBU Ealing borough secretary, was on the picket line in Northolt, north West London. He told Socialist Worker, “It was solid—everyone walked out.

“This is one of the biggest things to happen in years, and I’m happy to be a part of it. It’s ridiculous what this government is doing.”

Tory fire minister Brandon Lewis is leading an attack on firefighters. 

Workers are now being forced to work till 60 to get their full pension, and if they fail to remain the levels of fitness and have to retire at 55 they could lose up to half of their pension.

The government’s own report admits that two thirds of firefighters will not be able to continue working till they are 60.

“It’s theft,” Paul Mackrill, a striking firefighter at Agecroft station in Greater Manchester, told Socialist Worker.

“I will continue to fight this, if I don’t I’d have nothing left. I signed up to a contract which meant my family would be protected, and the government want to take that away.

“We’re very angry and determined not to back down, we will battle this.”

Firefighters report a morale boost from going out with other workers.

Dave Pitt, FBU brigade chair for the West Midlands told Socialist Worker, “It’s a big boost to all come out together. 

“This dispute is going on for three years and Brandon Lewis is really digging his heels in.”

As well as today’s walkout firefighters are set to strike over eight days from Monday of next week, with strikes lasting up to three hours each.

Essex FBU had already voted in favour of calling strikes for between eight and 16 days. 

Riccardo La Torre, Essex FBU brigade chair, told Socialist Worker, “What this government is doing to firefighters is horrendous—the impact is almost immeasurable.

“You’ve got men and women coming into the job to make a difference and they are looking to sack us for the crime of just getting older.

“We’ve had years of pay freeze, standards of living are dropping and we’re being asked to pay even more—money which is likely to be stolen in our old age.”


Other strikes (11:00)

TFL workers in the RMT union on strike today

TFL workers in the RMT union on strike today (Pic: Socialist Worker)


The big public sector strike isn’t the only action taking place today.

Over 1,000 workers at Transport for London (TfL) in the TSSA, RMT and Unite unions are striking against attacks on their pensions and a freeze on wages. 

At TfL’s headquarters the strikers are picketing alongside London Underground’s power control room operators who are on the ninth day of a three-week strike (see Safety concerns over scabbing on Tube).

Lecturers in the UCU union at Kings College London are also striking to fight plans to sack up to 120 staff.

And cinema workers at the Ritzy Picturehouse in south London are set for their ninth strike today in their fight for the £8.80 an hour London Living Wage (see Picturehouse boycott begins as Ritzy workers strike for eighth time).

Outside the High Court in central London blacklisted construction workers are protesting.

Inside, their lawyers are asking judges to allow a joint lawsuit from more than 3,000 workers to effectively put the whole construction industry on trial over bosses’ illegal database.


Picket line reports (10:30)

Portsmouth Whale Island navy base

Portsmouth Whale Island navy base (Pic: Penny Foskett)


LANCASTER

In Lancaster a group of “rolling pickets” has been touring workplaces on strike, gathering workers as they go.

Eugene Doherty reports “We started at the Dallas Road School where a group of cyclists were bringing cake for pickets in the NUT. Then we joined Unison members at the town hall.

“By the time we got to the fire station when firefighters walked out at 10am there were about 30 of us.”

The group are now heading to Preston for a regional rally.

LIVERPOOL

Visitors to the PCS tax office picket line in Liverpool were welcomed with hot sausage butties, reports Dave Bridge.

The pickets were determined that the strike was just the start and were some arguing that we should be building towards an all out strike.

BIRMINGHAM

In Birmingham strikers reported more people taking part than on previous strikes.

PCS member Pete said, “Today has seen the best turnout ever to support  the strike. We had five on our picket line and now we are getting ready for the rally in the city centre.”

NUT member Doug said, “We had a picket line on my school for the first time ever today. The school was kept closed and we have come down to join social workers on their picket at Lifford House. Now people are saying they want more action.”

PORTSMOUTH

Portsmouth City Unison branch chair Jon Woods told Socialist Worker, “This is more solid than the pensions strike in 2011. We’ve put a lot of work into making it that way.

“The library is shut, the main cleaners’ and gardeners depot are all out, and the ferry port almost closed. They have only managed to keep one gate out of four open.

“We got picket lines all over the city at other council workplaces, the MoD, schools and two big offices of HMRC. We’ve heard people are going to march to the rally from Gosport ferry and from Victory Gate dockyard.”


Impact (10:00)

PCS members at Plymouth Land Registry

PCS members at Plymouth Land Registry (Pic: Dave Franklin)


The strike sees services shut across Britain.

Nick is one of around 400 refuse collectors in the Unison and GMB unions striking in Huddersfield today. “It’s absolutely solid,” he said. “We heard a rumour there was a plan to try and break our strike using workers from a private company.

“But that place is a solid union place too, members of Unite. Three years ago when they had a strike over management bullying we supported them. They have said no scab waste will be going through their depot today. It’s good old fashioned trade unionism.”

At the land registry in Plymouth the strike was solid with very few members going in. Land Registry worker and PCS rep Dave Franklin told Socialist Worker, “In a two day strike in May we appear to have defeated government plans to privatise the Land Registry. That has shown that strikes work and given members confidence.”

Unison, GMB and NUT members united on a lively picket line at Cowley International College, Merseyside. NUT rep Debs Gwynn reports that the school is closed to all students except year 12.

Pickets at the job centre in Southmeade, Bristol, told Socialist Worker that only six members of staff were worker—fewer than any of them can remember from previous strikes

Most of the unions are striking in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. But civil service workers in the PCS were taking action in Scotland too.

At Edinburgh City job centre managers put up a sign saying that “due to exceptional circumstances, you may experience some delays in service”—as about 90 percent of staff joined the strike.

PCS Edinburgh branch equalities office Steve West told Socialist Worker that pickets had good support from the public.

A passer by said "Well done for taking this action. You’re standing up to the bullies". 


London (09:45)

Pickets at Southwark Refuse and Recycling Centre in London

Pickets at Southwark Refuse and Recycling Centre in London (Pic: Guy Smallman)


Initial reports from picket lines are positive.

Pickets gathered at Southwark refuse and recycling centre. They work for Veolia and are Unison members.

Refuse collector Derrick Ellis said the pay offer for local government workers was “diabolical”. “At the end of the day everything is rising—clothes, food, things for the kids.

"You're meant to put something away for holidays but we just put money aside to pay backdated bills."

Striker after striker said more action would be needed to win.

"A one-day strike isn't good enough for these people," said striker Elson Mason, referring to the bosses.

"I can't afford to be here. But the power and the unity is more important."

In Hackney, east London, there were pickets outside the town hall. One Unite steward told Socialist Worker, “Around 30 percent of workers here are agency staff but support for the strike has been high”.

At the DWP office on nearby Slyvester Road, a PCS union steward said, “Support for strike has been very good. People have had enough”.

As well as workers from a number of unions, many picket lines were swollen by other workers and campaigners who wanted to show their support.

Paula Peters from Disabled People against the Cuts was standing with Unison members on the picket line in Vauxhall, south London.

“I’m here in solidarity with the strikers. They’re fighting for all of us,” she said. “My parents were both solid trade unionists and my grandmother was a suffragette so it’s important to me to fight.”


Read about the strike and tell us your experience (09:00)

Unison strikers protest outside parliament this morning

Unison strikers protest outside parliament this morning (Pic: Guy Smallman)


As up to 1.5 million public sector workers strike across England and Wales Socialist Worker will be running coverage of picket lines, protests and rallies throughout the day.

Come to this page to follow the action

Thanks to Alan Thomson, Audrey Glover, Cam Tsang, Dave Bridge, Dave Franklin, Dave Gibson, Dave Lowe, Dave Lyddon, Debs Gwynn, Eugene Doherty, Fran Manning, Geoff Brown, Jacqui Freeman, James Eadon, Joe Redmond, Jon Woods, Julie Forgan, Kate Douglas, Kris Hedges, Laura Miles, Marianne Owens, Mark Krantz, Mark O’Brien, Martin Empson, Martin Hickman, Neale Williams, Nick Clark, Nina Hammill, Paula Champion, Penny Foskett, Pete Jackson, Peter Edwards, Phil Webster, Phil Turner, Richard Bradbury, Ruairi O’Neill, Sarah Ensor, Sasha Simic, Shirley Franklin, Simon Halstead, Steve Johnston, Steve West, Tim Evans, Xanthe Whittaker and everyone who sent reports and photos.

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