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Letters: Active picketing can work—and we need a lot more of it

This article is over 1 years, 2 months old
Picket lines are places of persuasion, education and argument
Issue 2834
University worker on strike at SOAS univeristy of london is handing out strike leaflets and wearing a pink UCU beanie in front of  metal gates which are covered in pink and purple UCU union picket line posters/placards which read UCU Official dispute, spiraling workloads. In the back ground are Unison SOAS trade union banner in purple and a pink UCU SOAS trade union banner.

UCU members stage a solid picket line outside SOAS University of London in November (Picture: Guy Smallman)

Picketing isn’t just for show—it works. During a recent university strike I met a worker who was worried about not having their contract renewed. They were one of a group of super-exploited part-time teaching staff we’ve really struggled to recruit to the union.

I spoke to them about why they should strike and the work we’re doing to get people onto permanent contracts. Despite being dressed for teaching, they eventually cancelled five hours of work and joined the picket—and left feeling totally empowered. 

They were on the phone trying to encourage other staff to strike. 

It was just one extra striker, but a real picket line victory and it gave us all a massive boost.

Joanna Gilmore


  • Standing on a picket line can seem a bit routine when you’ve been doing it for several days and nobody has tried to go in to work.

But I had a reminder last week why we do it. At my delivery office we suddenly saw a young worker, worried about his rent who was approaching work.

Because we were there we were able to persuade him not to scab, and see if the union could help him out. 

You need outrage at any strikebreaker’s betrayal, and then sympathy if they come back to our side.


Address supplied

  • A heartening part of standing on a picket line is seeing the solidarity between workers’ movements. During the recent UCU union strike, a lorry driver approached us to say he was coming to make a delivery of office chairs to our workplace. 

His exact words were, “I’ve never crossed a picket line in my life and I don’t plan to start today.”

Our group cheered for him as he drove away.

Throughout the day, we had students stand with us in solidarity and bring us treats. We played music and stood together speaking about our collective experiences as university employees and our vision for a fairer system. 

That moment of solidarity really stood out to us.

Alexis McGivern


Marches can build the strike militancy 

It was good to hear that the CWU union has called a national strike rally for this week. It comes after thousands of UCU union members marched on Wednesday of last week. 

Now more unions who have strikes coming up should call protests and marches. When we see marches and demonstrations, they’re a very visible manifestation of solidarity. 

Not only this, but they are a way that class confidence is raised. More action can mean that workers are given the courage to stand up for themselves and against the bosses, bigots and the government. 

Without these kinds of demonstrations, people can remain isolated from each other and from political engagement. 

This makes it easier for them to become divided and lose the galvanising spirit that is built on picket lines. Protests are also often where people are first introduced to real politics and where they come to discover that the struggle is on the streets, not in parliament. 

It’s where more people can be pulled into the struggle. This is why we need to see bigger marches across the country that bring together different unions and groups to fight for a better world. 

Elisa Rowland

East London

Recycling and reuse is my cup of tea  

The European Union (EU) says it has a plan to cut down on plastic waste. In a draft of new legislation, the EU says it will seek to ban mini shampoo bottles in hotels and single-use cups in cafes and restaurants. 

It also seeks to stop online stores from using large boxes for deliveries that only hold small items. 

Many of us who are wary of how much plastic we use get frustrated about these things. And hopefully, more states will follow in coming up with similar legislation. But such laws won’t go far enough to stop the plastic from piling up. Instead of recycling most of the world’s plastic, rich countries ship mountains of the stuff to poorer companies because it is cheaper and easier. 

This means that we need more than limiting how much plastic is produced. Instead, we need a system that means recycling can happen on a mass scale. 

And ultimately to deal with our problem with plastic, we need to go further. We need to stop producing it entirely and only use what we have. 

Bethany Wills


No wage-price spiral 

Way back before the First World War, Robert Tressell wrote a novel about a group of workers in a town called Mugsborough. 

It was called The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists. It described with the help of scratched diagrams and matchsticks over a lunch break, how workers systematically “gave” a great chunk of the value of their work to their bosses, accepting pitiful wages in return.

Nowadays you can’t switch on the telly without seeing some politician or economic pundit issuing a dire warning against the dangers of a wage-price inflationary spiral.

But if price inflation has already happened—which it bloody well has—then attempting to stop the spiral by holding down wages is demanding that we continue to provide work of the same value for less real money. 

That is yet another free transfer of wealth from us to them. Mugs no more. Support the strikes.

John Shemeld


Action now on agency scabs

It seems as if increasing numbers of agency workers are being used to try and break strikes. Last week I was speaking about the issue with postal workers and bus drivers on their picket lines. 

Although it’s still small scale, many unions don’t seem to be giving a clear lead on it. 

While I suspect the Tories overestimate the potential of this tactic, it can still demoralise pickets, and sow discord among our class. There is a lot of potential to publicly shame agencies providing scabs, and pressure them to pull out of contracts. Are any of the unions running this kind of targeted campaign?

Ben Windsor

South London

UC sanctions mean hunger

More than 115,000 Universal Credit claimants were having their benefits cut as a punishment in August That’s up from 18,000 in August 2021.

Now statistics show the average sanction across Britain reduced each person’s benefit payment by £262. That is nearly a third of the £820 average Universal Credit payment. It’s starving people to frighten them into low paid work.

Hannah Ruth


Beware plans of US regime

The Joe Biden regime is determined to shrink the power of China to challenge for global economic hegemony. Just as with Iran, while supporting protesters’ legitimate demands, we have to reject the US’s abuse of the situation.

Anne Loman


Clear out the  fire service

Horrible to read about the racism and misogyny in the fire service (Socialist Worker, 30 November).

Full inquiry now—and the sack for anyone found guilty of such acts.

Louise Stewart


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