Workers need to demand better. Better than the cost of living crisis, murderous pandemic response, and soaring inflation rates. Better than privatisation, benefit cuts, racist immigration policies and runaway climate change. And better than the government handing the police yet more repressive powers and pushing through legislation targeting protesters.
That’s the rallying cry from activists who are organising to bring out huge numbers of people to the Trade Union Congress “We Demand Better” demonstration on 18 June. It’s not the first sign of a growing sense of anger. Local disputes, including some unofficial strikes, are winning important victories.
Refuse workers in several areas across Britain are leading the charge against bullying management, pay cuts and crushing workloads. Striker Paul Hancox is a refuse driver and Unite union rep in Rugby. He told Socialist Worker the protest was an important opportunity to build our forces for the battles in the future. “Attending the TUC demonstration will give workers some much needed confidence. They need to see it’s possible to fight back,” said Paul. “Workers have to fight back because no one else will do it for us.”
After two years of presiding over a disastrous response to Covid-19, Boris Johnson is now overseeing a government that’s pushing down even harder on ordinary people. Johnson personally lied, cheated and partied his way through the catastrophe. The upcoming protest is set to be the biggest mobilisation against his rotten rule for a long time and is a key point to apply pressure on an already weak government.
“I’ve lost faith in politicians, who, with their mega salaries, will never understand what it’s like to receive pay cut after pay cut. This means taking action is essential,” said Paul. The latest attacks on ordinary people come after over a decade of Tory-sponsored cruelty. Workers have had enough.
“In the 12 years of austerity refuse workers here in Rugby have suffered the gradual disintegration of our conditions and pay. “We’re paid the minimum wage, but it is no longer a liveable wage. So we’ve decided that enough was enough and plan to keep striking until our demands are met.” A big turnout in central London next month will feed into the sense of resistance felt on the picket lines in Rugby and beyond.
So across Britain, activists are organising meetings and leafletting sessions to build for a big turnout on 18 June. Transport is coming from towns and cities, with workers rallying their colleagues to join in on the day. But it’s more than simply a numbers game. Collectively standing up for ourselves helps break down the misery we experience under capitalism.
On protests ordinary people can feel strong, if only for a few hours. Important national strike ballots are coming in several unions, and there is a potential for local action as well. The demo has to be a launchpad for strikes.
The level of fightback proposed by trade union leaders and Labour Party leadership offers no serious resistance to the attacks by the Tories and bosses. And in some cases, like the betrayal by UCU university workers’ union leadership, they actively get in the way of effective action. Workers’ action has to extend beyond marching after 18 June—and the bigger and bolder it is the better.
‘I think 18 June matters because it shows an intent from the trade union movement that we will resist these Tory attacks. We’re putting on a coach to London from Portsmouth and fighting to make it as big as possible.
It’s important to build the demo as widely because we want to send a message to the government, employers, and millions of workers across Britain. We’re saying we’re not going to accept huge real pay cuts or assaults on benefits and soaring prices—and we’re going to do something about it. The government is open to pressure.
The big TUC march in 2011 did open up some resistance over pensions. It was part of the process that lead to a strike by over 2 million people. Workers who struck over pensions and the students fighting tuition fee increases were ultimately sold out, but they were instrumental in creating a sense of resistance.
If we don’t have a big demonstration—what message does that send? You couldn’t help but feel the leadership of the trade union movement is waving the white flag. To not fight back begs the question of what’s the point of having a trade union.”
‘The 18 June TUC demonstration is really important for the whole of the CWU union. All workers need a pay rise as inflation soars. But we must go further. There needs to be a fundamental shift in the way workers are treated. The era of zero hours, contracts and the boss acting like a dictator have to go.
Boris Johnson is a clear example of what we face. He is corrupt and in the pockets of the corporations. But attacks on workers’ rights didn’t start with him, and they will not end if he goes. So 18 June matters, and it has to be big to boost everyone’s confidence. The CWU has been building it alongside three crucial disputes.
Our members in Post Office counters and cash distribution struck recently and are due to strike again over jubilee weekend. Over 115,000 Royal Mail postal workers are set for a strike ballot because management won’t concede a “no strings” pay rise. And 40,000 BT workers are about to start a strike vote over pay after bosses imposed a pay “rise” of as little as 3 percent. BT and Royal Mail are both very profitable. They are both public services that the Tories sold off and have delivered massive gains for executives and shareholders.
It’s not union leaders who are stirring up the union’s members. Instead, it’s the feeling from below that is driving these battles. There is a feeling of fear about the future and anger against the government in Britain. It can and should turn into resistance. So let’s all march on 18 June and then afterwards support everyone who fights and try to bring all the different fights together.”
‘I’m helping to organise one of the TUC ‘town hall rallies’ in Hastings. We’re doing it because building for the demo has got to ramp up now—more people need to know about it. All the local papers will have big adverts going in my area.
Unions locally are booking transport, and the publicity has just gone out for it, and I’m confident we’ll have a good turnout. I think among activists the penny is starting to drop. I’m hoping our town hall rally will be a springboard for lots of activity to build for 18 June.
The protest needs to give people the confidence to fight for pay wherever they are. We’ve got two local disputes—the train cleaners and refuse collectors. I’m expecting strikers to be at the town hall rally, and they’ll be marching on 18 June. The bigger the demonstration the more confident people will feel about fighting back and winning.
If it’s tiny, it will be a significant setback. But if it’s enormous—that would change the game, and suddenly the news would be about how there’s a pay revolt and workers are on the march. People should be a part of the town hall rallies if they can. Activists from every union must get together to mobilise for 18 June and encourage each other in their respective fights.”
‘On 18 June we’ll be taking the message about working very hard to stop deportations to Rwanda. But more broadly, the whole of the new Nationality and Borders Act is horrific. The way it’s been packaged is very misleading—it paints people as ‘good refugees’ or ‘bad refugees’. It’s essential to get out on 18 June because the government is supposed to represent ordinary people.
I think it’s wrong to say ordinary people don’t want to help refugees. Horrific things happen to refugees—and these are the people the government is using for political ends.
We’ve seen the public support for refugees from Afghanistan and refugees from Ukraine. That’s because the facts have been put clearly to the public. The government isn’t doing what people want. So we have to fight in every way to say it’s not in my name—it’s essential. On 18 June I’m standing up to be counted and joining the TUC demonstration.”
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