Holding a public meeting prior to the biggest action in living memory on November 30th, independents and people drawn from a multitude of left-wing movements voiced their dissatisfaction with the government and sought to make plans for N30 and beyond.
Nial Vivian, Hyde Park & Headingley Socialist Party
Discussions varied around individual picket lines and turnouts expected, as well as tactics for swelling the ranks present with those unsure about whether or not to strike. There was as such little attention paid to the derisory concessions proffered by the government, and instead focus was very much on broadening the fight-back against pension cuts to every single person in this country, every one of which will be facing hardship under the government’s austerity measures.
The main focus of November 30th is the hasty and malevolent attack on public sector pensions – forcing the average public sector pensioner under the official government poverty line. These will serve as a lightning rod for discussion about what people suffer under the cuts as more and more people come to stand side by side on the pickets with their peers, as they too start to feel the bite of attacks on education, the NHS and all our hard-won public services.
There was an irresolute and defiant mood as people agreed the governments plans were a daylight robbery of pensions, and if successful would see a renewed and coordinated attack on our welfare state which would “un-level the playing field”. In showing solidarity with the Jarrow March ’11, chair and UCU NEC member Laura Miles highlighted the real and present threat the government is posing to our livelihoods and welfare, and how a return to the squalid and inhumane conditions of the working class in the 1930’s will become ever more likely with every step against us we allow the government to take.
To put this into context, CWU speaker Ryan Case stated he would not have been here today without support from the NHS, Unison shop steward Michael Tippett illustrated the sheer absurdity of raising the retirement age using examples of hospital porters and radiologists and Stephanie Maston explained how this retirement age increase coupled with cuts on education was placing serious roadblocks in front of her achieving her goals of becoming a Physics teacher.
These individual accounts are just a snapshot of the insurmountable problems to come if we fall back at this early point. A real need to fight at every step was shared by speakers and audience alike.
Raising issues about how to enlist people with worries about losing one days pay a CWU representative belted from the audience to respond with ‘the government would take “1 day’s pay off your salary every month” in pension cuts and that “the services that our parents and grandparents fought for will go”’.
All of our services, from the NHS to education to youth services, are up for grabs in a brutal wave of privatisations that, as evidenced by dealings involving private contractors in the NHS, will see public funds swindled and the end-user left bereft of the basic standards of living ushered in 70 years ago.
Huge amounts of public support swell behind the strike, evidenced by polls in the Daily Star and the Daily Telegraph which returned both close to 90 percent in favour of action. This huge wave illustrates that people won’t be fooled by the governments whimpering over hardship. For instance, the Local Government pension fund can exist and function without income successfully for the next 20 years and in fact year on year make a substantial profit, yet the government states they have to cut them? These unsubstantiated claims only serve to weaken an already cowing government’s position against a growing resistance movement.
With a focus on the operations of next Wednesday, and so discussion centred on individual pickets, there was not much discussion, despite a call from the chair for it, about where we can go after the 30th. The PCS have lobbied the TUC for another strike and the NUT are reported to be considering something similar, a rallying cry none could ignore, but what is essential is that we engage with and bring into open debate those whose political consciousnesses have been awakened by the strikes.
Attempts to browbeat staff into crossing picket lines will see a burgeoning of trade unions as they seek their protection from bosses and management. In so pushing the people into the arms of the unions again, we can expect an energetic revival of discussion here and union bosses being bought to task on being the mouthpiece of their constituents.
There are burning issues that we all need to be involved in to work out viable solutions to. Moving forward against this government will need an open forum on the future of the country, the direction we should take and of utmost importance not just where we will draw the line on government attacks on welfare but how we will go about rebuilding a nation not in ape of former glories but with true, democratic rule of the everyday person.
For those outside of union activity or unsure of whether their voice will be heard, Leeds ‘Occupy!’ provides an example worth participating in. Everybody visiting can see how such discussion can be possible, and they are already proving with commendable spirit the ways in which every single person of society can come and express their views, having their voices, opinions and needs taken heed of.
Having a speaker at the meeting will do a great deal in sweeping aside those few-remaining voices in the media that paint ‘Occupy!’ as a ragtag bunch of rudderless hippies, as Stephanie Maston expressed on behalf of the group unwavering support for the strikes and a coherent desire to become a forum for fresh political debate. Though by no means of agreement on how to (or whether to) derail the system as of yet, they are out there fuelling discussion and giving equal footing to every voice, downtrodden or otherwise, something I think will go a long way in showing the feasibility of a different way of governing this country.
In her words, “If Capitalism can’t afford pensions, public services, the NHS or education, we can’t afford Capitalism”.