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Strikers debate how to beat the Tories at London meeting

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Many trade unionists said it was important to unite the fights—and argue for escalation
Issue 2854
A crowd shot of strikers during an NEU march in London, they wave union flags

Striking teachers march in London in March (Picture: Guy Smallman)

Over 120 strikers discussed how to link the fights, reject bad deals and escalate to win at a meeting in east London on Friday night.

The meeting and social was called by Lambeth and Hackney NEU education union associations, the UCU union’s London region and the grassroots NHS Workers Say No group. 

Jess Edwards, an NEU education union national executive member, called for rank and file trade unionists to work together. She said the “offensive that we face is so vast and so deep” trade unionists cannot just work “in our silos”. 

Carly, an NEU member in Hackney in east London, slammed the Tory government for “doing everything they can to undermine us”. She said that it had “insulted us with crappy offers” and “smeared us in the press.” 

“Solidarity is the power of the powerless and power is what I see in this room,” she said. “We need to put up a united front to show that we’re a force to be reckoned with. 

“The government won’t give us anything unless we keep these fights going. The money is there and we need our fair share.”

Jordan Rivera, a Unison union member, campaigned against health union leaders’ attempts to sell a crap pay deal. She described how they “lobbied us so hard to accept it, they emailed us every day”. “If they had emailed us that much about the strike, we would have won,” she said. 

RCN nurses’ union members rejected it, and a significant minority in Unison voted no too. Jordan said the RCN vote was inspirational because “it showed it’s possible to reject a deal even if your union leadership has recommended it”. 

Alia Butt, another NHS worker, spoke about the importance of “groups that are organising outside of our unions” official structures “because we can’t always trust our unions”. 

The NHS Workers Say No group came out of a grassroots pay revolt during the pandemic—and played a pivotal role in overturning the RCN nurses’ union leaders’ attempts to sell a crap deal. She said other trade unionists have “to look at how that can be done elsewhere”. 

Noreen, the London regional council president of the RMT rail workers’ union, said “coordinated action is the way to beat the Tory government”. 

Roddy Slorach is a UCU member at Imperial College London. Activists have had to repeatedly stop their general secretary Joe Grady’s attempts to thwart strikes. 

“We’re engaged in a massive marking and assessment boycott,” he said. “We won it against our union leadership that said we couldn’t have a boycott, that we couldn’t win a decent pay rise, that the employers were too strong.” 

He said it was “important to confront the situation” and “talk about the problems” after a year of strikes. 

“You go with these inspiring highs,” said Roddy. “Then you come back down when you feel there is another disappointment that our union leaders won’t fight or they take decisions that don’t represent us. And that’s the difficulty we have to confront 

“People are beginning to realise that one or two day strikes, or two days here and there, are not enough. 

“If you put together all the strikes we’ve had since last March, if we had them all at once, we would have beaten the employers. 

“If you put together all the strikes the rail workers have had, I think they would have won by now. If the Royal Mail workers had put together all the strikes that they’d had since last July, I think they would have won by now.”

He said, “Confronting the real problem we have means organising from below, more rank and file organisation. Of course we need unity, who’s not for unity? It’s not enough to say unite. You have to say unite for what. We unite because we have to fight more effectively in order to win the battles ahead of us.”

Teachers’ union threatens more strikes 

Teachers plan more strikes if Tory education secretary Gillian Keegan hasn’t “moved to settle the dispute” by 17 June. The NEU union’s national executive committee voted narrowly on Friday not to announce three strike dates at their meeting on Thursday. The vote was split 28 to 24.

Jenny Sutton, an NEU member in Hastings, told Socialist Worker this decision “kicks the can down the road”. “The Tories haven’t budged so far, we need real action,” she said. “The longer it’s drawn out the more you dissipate momentum, and can’t pull new people along.”

She added, “My concern is that there will be no strikes until September. Some may argue to wait for all unions to strike together, but we can’t be anchored down to what other unions are doing.”

NEU members are voting to renew their strike mandate, in a ballot that ends on 28 July. 

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