On Friday of last week, thousands of people all over the country took part in rallies and demonstrations against the government’s plans to force millions of public sector workers to work for an extra five years before they can collect their full pension.
Over one million workers in the Unison, T&G, PCS, Amicus and Ucatt unions are balloting for a strike on 23 March.
Workers in the GMB could join them. Lecturers in Natfhe and teachers in the NUT are also considering strike action on 14 April. Socialist Worker readers report from across Britain on a day of action that showed the potential for a major fightback.
Over 200 people attended a rally in Tower Hamlets, east London. Speakers included local representatives from all the major unions as well as Tony Benn and George Galloway MP.
Mick Shaw from the firefighters’ FBU union said, “This is the only action that will make the government listen. I hope that 23 March is the beginning of a series of demonstrations.” The rally was brought to a close by Tony Benn, who began by praising George Galloway.
He said, “If his view had prevailed in parliament then the Iraq war would never have happened. The death and destruction, all the money wasted — none of this would have happened.”
The rally in Bolton was one of the best united gatherings of unions locally for years. Some 250 workers assembled in the town centre to hear speakers from all the major unions. Dozens of workplaces were represented at the rally, as well as several schools that were on half term holiday.
A resolution was passed unanimously denouncing New Labour’s attacks on pensions and the money spent on war.
The motion called on union leaders to question the financial link with Labour if the government persisted with its pension plans. It also called on the TUC to co-ordinate strike action.
Over 100 people turned out for the pensions rally in York. The whole range of public service workers was represented. A delegation from the Yorkshire and Humberside region of the National Pensioners Convention offered their support.
Around 60 trade unionists came to the Middlesbrough rally. When speakers said they may campaign against New Labour at the election no one argued against them.
Some 500 people gathered for a rally in St Peter’s Square in Manchester. It was a powerful display of unity and there were speakers from 17 different union organisations. Protests took place in four other areas across the city. Everywhere the message “fund pensions not war” came through repeatedly, as did the determination to spread the protests and make 23 March the biggest day of strike action in a generation.
Health workers gathered outside North Manchester general hospital for a lunchtime rally organised by Unison, Amicus and the RCN nursing union.
Around 70 people came to what was a lively, angry and defiant protest. Steward Kevin Clayton said, “We need to fight over this and people are prepared to strike.” Another steward said, “Robert Maxwell killed himself because he’d stolen people’s pensions. This government seems to have no such conscience.”
Around 200 people attended a joint union rally in Swansea. The speeches from rank and file members were angry at New Labour’s plans.
Speeches highlighting the money spent on the war in comparison to the money spent on pensions and those calling for united strike action went down very well.
Around 350 workers attended the rally in Sandwell, West Midlands, many wearing “Strike to defend our pensions” stickers. There was a growing sense of unity across different unions and a call for united strike action was made by all speakers.
Over 150 workers marched through Oxford. Following the march, stewards from different unions participated in a TUC pensions workshop which looked at the basic state pension, the globalised attack on pensions, details of individual occupational pension scheme proposals and campaigning perspectives.
In Dundee over 200 workers rallied. One trade union official was cheered when he said, “Labour MPs are telling us not to rock the boat before the election. I am here to tell them we will sink their boat if necessary!”
All the speakers called for the biggest possible turnout for the lobby of the Scottish Labour Party conference in Dundee on 4 March.
Around 40 trade unionists and pensioners turned out for a rally in central Watford. Many of their placards read “fund pensions not war”.
In Plymouth 150 workers came out of the civic centre for a lunchtime protest to defend pensions, followed by a rally organised by the TUC.
Fourteen council vans and lorries, and two fire tenders, staged a slow drive through the city centre tooting horns and winning support from the public. The protest rally heard speakers from many unions and the Plymouth and Cornwall Pensioners Forum.
Some 300 people came to the rally in Sheffield. There was a fantastic fighting spirit on the protest. Prior to the rally around 50 civil service workers marched through town to the protest. Lucinda Wakefield, chair of Sheffield Stop the War Coalition spoke from the platform and called on people to join the international day of protests against the occupation of Iraq on 19 March and to make sure that their union banners were there.
Around 200 people took part in a lively rally in Southend, marching through the town and taking over the main road. There was a strong and very popular call for a vote for industrial action from local government and civil service workers. The unity across different unions was striking. All the union branches involved will continue joint meetings in the run-up to industrial action.
Over 100 trade unionists rallied in Liverpool to hear speakers denounce Gordon Brown’s plans to decimate pensions. Particularly passionate were representatives from the PCS union and the local Pensioners’ Association. One FBU union member told Socialist Worker, “All trade unionists ought to get behind the strikes. This affects every one of us. We can’t allow Blair to beat us on this one.”
About 80 people came to a meeting at Addenbrooke’s hospital in Cambridge to discuss the NHS pension review. “This was well worth doing,” said one activist involved. “It’s vital we keep taking the pensions fight deep into workplaces, involving the many people who might not normally get involved in campaigning issues, but who will make a stand on this one.”
Central London was treated to a red bus decked out with banners. Starting from Camden town hall, protesters passed many council buildings, hospital buildings, universities and civil service workplaces. They received a fantastically supportive response.
Reports by Kelly Hilditch, Barry Conway, Ben Drake, Geoff Kerr-Morgan, Geoff Brown, Sally Farrer, Martin Chapman, Tony Barnsley, Ian McKendrick, Peter Allison, Jon Gamble, Tony Staunton, Alan Kenny, Tim Sneller, Paul Sillet, Martin Booth and Phoebe Watkins