Written by Martin Ralph – ISL
Tuesday, 15 July 2014 17:45
The pressure from union workers in the public sector forced seven national unions to co-ordinate the biggest public sector strikes on 10 July (10J) in Britain since November 2011 with over a million on strike.
NUT (teachers) and FBU (firefighters) struck against the imposition of pension reforms which means increasing the age when a pension can be taken to 67, while competency tests at work for over 50s is being introduced – which is a charter to sack teachers and firefighters.
Workers in local authorities and state workers struck against the imposition of a one per cent pay offer. Wages have been falling since 2009 in relation to inflation. Thousands of people joined the demonstrations and rallies across the country in support of the strikes and against public service cuts and Cameron’s permanent austerity programme.
Wages are falling, jobs are going and privatisation is increasing. The strikes came out of frustration with the union leaderships who are not putting up a fight to halt the attacks. Almost two years after the TUC congress agreed to look at the practicalities of a general strike against the cuts, absolutely nothing has been done. What the TUC want is to prevent further joint national strike action by diverting action into another demonstration in October.
No-one believes a one day stoppage will force the employers and government to think again. The strength of feeling is for more action. At the rally in Liverpool the NUT put forward a motion for a two day general strike, the vote was unanimous. A plan of action to fight for another joint national strike now needs to be discussed at branch level with links being built between branches and unions at branch level.
Workers take control, build the rank and file
After the November 2011 strike workers wanted to know “when are we next out?” Union leaders let them down. Today those lessons have to be learnt, there will be no general strike if left to the TUC and union leaders.
Branches in every union have to build rank and file movements as was done in the past and learn from the dock workers, construction workers, miners and engineering workers of the past. Joint strike action must be built from below.
The powerful Unite union for example delayed balloting health workers over strike action for a pay rise, which meant they did not strike on 10J, even though Unite council workers were.
However between now and the general election Britain will be a worse place to live for the poorly paid, those who depend on services and those on benefits. The government is cranking up the rate of attacks, which will lead to heightening of anger in all our communities and workplaces. It means the necessity of preparing the resistance and fight back now.
Defeat Labour’s plans
Antagonisms between workers and union leaders will rise. The leaderships of the two largest unions, who organise a total of 2.5 million workers, support the Labour Party. Len McCluskey (Unite’s General Secretary) stated at the recent national conference that Unite would support the Labour Party to the hilt from now until the general election with millions of pounds. But Miliband (leader of the Labour Party) told publicly that he was totally against the strike.
Workers fighting austerity must go beyond seeing the government as the only enemy, the fight must also be against Labour’s support for austerity and the Labour councils who are implementing the brutal cuts. Furthermore the fight must also be to end Labour’s influence on trade unions.
Tory, Lib Dem and Labour are cutting services such as local libraries. Some of these libraries were built after the 1850 Libraries Act and withstood two world wars but within months many face destruction through Labour’s cuts agenda.
The unions need to develop a programme to defend the working class and the welfare state with a programme of action to unite public and private sector workers and service users.
The TUC leadership will not organise a general strike nor will it build and deepen international links, except to control and restrict any connections between combative sections of the working class internationally.
But in Liverpool unions received messages of support from International Network of Struggle and Solidarity, (CSP-Conlutas, Brasil, Solidaires France, CGT Spain), from the Italian teachers in CUB and the Colombian university teachers union– organised through Liverpool TUC connections. All the messages recognized that the fight against austerity was not only a national problem but an international one.
Communities mobilised to support the strikes going to picket lines, demonstrations and rallies. Old Swan against the Cuts (OSAC) in Liverpool organised to take the fight against cuts and closures of library services onto the 10J demonstration. These cuts are part of a £1 million a week cut over the next three years that a Labour council wants to impose. OSAC appealed to the strikers: “we want to say two things. We support all the striking workers today and secondly we want you all to sign the petition against library cuts”.
Continue the strikes
Across the country a struggle is building that needs to have control over its destiny, with enough power to tell unions leaderships what to do and build new leaderships that will fight and not wait for another three years.
The 10J strike shows that when a call goes out for workers to fight, they do. It’s time to plan for more joint national strike action.