FIFTEEN YEARS ago ambulance workers were in national dispute with Thatcher’s Tory government over low pay. It was an enormously popular dispute with opinion polls showing 80 percent of the public backing the ambulance workers.
There was a series of rallies across the country—many of them unofficial. Some of us were able to help set up local ambulance workers’ support groups.The Tories were determined to tough out the dispute and just before Christmas the TUC was forced into putting out the call for a 15 minute national stoppage in solidarity with the ambulance workers. The day was set for 30 January.
The grassroots of the movement wanted the TUC and the union leaders to go much further. Activists were able to take the call and deliver enormous support. On the day over 100,000 walked out or struck, going way beyond the limited 15- minute call from the TUC.
At the time I was the TGWU union shop steward in the Govan housing office, in Glasgow. Our union branch covered 70 similar workplaces. When the ambulance dispute started we produced petitions and collection sheets for all the local offices and started collecting money. We organised local workplace meetings with ambulance workers addressing them.
When the TUC called for the 15 minute stoppage in January we were able to argue for and win wider action in a number of these workplaces.
In my own place we held a meeting, struck for the afternoon and sent a big delegation to the ambulance workers’ rally in Glasgow. The level of action varied from place to place but people who’d organised meetings were able to deliver.
That action was taken in solidarity with one group of workers. The TUC’s call for action over pensions can be much, much bigger. The issue directly affects all workers.
The struggle is much more generalised and much more political. As in 1990 we can go beyond our leaders and pull them further by making it a day of strikes, mass protests and demonstrations.