Socialist Worker

Pension strike is a fight for everyone

Issue No. 1994

Marching in Newcastle  (Pic: Ray Smith)

Marching in Newcastle (Pic: Ray Smith)


It was the day the British working class reminded everyone of its power.

The Mersey tunnel closed, public transport in Newcastle shut down completely. The Glasgow underground stopped, there were virtually no trains or buses in Northern Ireland, no ferries to the Orkney Islands and the Isle of Wight.

Where marches and rallies were called, they were big – at least 1,500 demonstrated in Plymouth.

It was the biggest ever one?day strike by British women, the most ethnically diverse, and the most political for generations.

The strike consisted of much more than just the high-profile actions described above. In every town and city there were solid strikes by the people who keep services going every day.

Classroom assistants, refuse collectors, admin workers, street sweepers, parks staff and other grades stopped work.

The immediate focus of the action was the “rule of 85”, which says that some local government workers can retire at 60 if they have done 25 years service.

But behind it lies the wider issue of resistance to attacks on pensions taking place across the public and private sectors.

And the strike was a lightning rod for decades of pent-up frustration over working longer and longer for poor pay.

Schools

That is why winning solidarity from those who were not striking, such as teachers, was possible. Nearly everywhere the majority of schools closed.

Strikes shut at least 739 schools across Wales and 70 percent of those in London. Glasgow city council confirmed 353 of its primary schools and nurseries closed. Across Britain 17,500 schools shut.

From Oldham Mac Andrassy reports, “For the first time ever, around 20 Unison and GMB members picketed Counthill School.

“Teachers joined the picket line and argued with their ­colleagues that we should not cross, or at the very least not go in till our official starting time of 8.30am.

“About 25 members of three different teaching unions refused to cross. At 8.45am, to loud cheers, pupils started to pour out with letters saying the school was closed as teachers were not prepared to cross a picket line.”

Irene Davies in Manchester says, “There was a lively picket of 19 women teaching assistants and a technician at North Manchester High School For Boys. Despite union advice to cross the picket lines, 34 teachers refused to cross.”

Breakthrough

Agnell Weekes reports from Camden School For Girls, “We recruited five new Unison members in the build-up to this strike.

“We had 15 out, with the teachers agreeing not to cross picket lines. The school is closed.”

Phil Webster from Blackburn College reports, “I’ve worked here 20 odd years and there have been loads of strikes by the Natfhe lecturers’ union, but this is Unison’s first. It’s a breakthrough – non-teaching staff have never been so well organised.

“When the strike was announced the Natfhe branch approached management and said you’ve got to do a risk assessment, what about our health and safety? They caved in and closed the college.”

Mehdi Hassan, a Unison member and Respect candidate who works at Tower Hamlets College’s Arbour Square site, says, “Almost no lecturers came in. Eventually we had 15 lecturers picketing with us.”

This great day must not be squandered.

John McDermott, a member of the Unison national executive, speaking in a personal capacity, told Socialist Worker, “We don’t want a two-tier deal. There must be no worsening of pensions for present or future staff.”


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