On November 30th the public sector workers in Leeds were on the picket lines at 6am, showing stern opposition to the Con-Dem attacks on their pensions. Speaking to those onthe picket lines I was along to support, I got a good impression of the defiant mood these people acted in. They are being forced to pay more for a smaller pension, contradictory to the contracts everyone signed up for. Naturally, it was a defiant mood I sympathised with.
Nial Vivian, Leeds Socialist Party
This would of course come as no surprise. The politics of austerity being ushered through by Cameron and co are hitting every pocket of the working country hard, at a time when fuel, utilities and basic foodstuff costs are spiralling. This has resulted in a huge amount of support for the pension strikes, in itself the largest seen since the general strike of 1926, and saw the biggest demonstration anyone can remember in Leeds, to the tune of 7,000 (although other estimates range from 5,000 to 10,000) joining the demonstration.
Speeakers at Woodhouse Moor, at the rally organised by Leeds TUC before the demonstration, highlighted how this attack isn’t just on public sector pensions, but is merely one step in a concerted movement against the welfare state and our living standards.
Victoria, a Unison shop steward at the Leonardo building picket line, echoed this by stating that a failure here would open the floodgates for yet further attacks, with the private sector close in tow.
She told me her decision to come out on strike was not a difficult one. With two in her household working in the public sector, these attacks would mean two considerable chunks out of their income for a week. “People need to understand there is nothing wrong with our pensions, the pot has an extremely healthy future and the only reason the government is doing this is to pay off the deficit that the bankers caused in the first place”.
Bandying around a classically unfounded establishment phrase was one private sector worker at the picket by the town hall. Parroting that the public sector workers were in receipt of ‘gold-plated pensions’, he was soon bought into conversation by several strikers. As I watched, we learned he had no pension plan, and was unable to claim anything above statutory sick pay. Pretty quickly he was won over, realising essentially that being able to provide for yourself in old-age after a lifetimes hard work was a right, not a privilege, and that it was his labour being undersold, not that of the public sectors overvalued.
The governments derisory attacks don’t hold much water when bought into question. At the picket lines on Wednesday, that was exactly what was happening. The average worker receives a pension only a little above 4,000 pounds a year in the public sector, and when you look at those received by CEO’s, in the realm of hundreds of thousands, it becomes obvious that whilst having a pension might in these times of the hard-pressed worker do glitter, they sure as hell aren’t gold.
For many strikers, long years of hard work were essentially being robbed from them. Shaun told me how he’d been paying into his pension plan for 20 years now, and he’s expected to lose a considerable amount of those contributions under the government’s plans. Expressing disappointment at Labour’s failure to back the strikers, he stated he felt that voting them in over the Con-Dem’s was the only method of action he could reluctantly take apart from strikes.
Amongst other conversations held between Socialist Party members and the public, such disillusionment was echoed. With a desire to see an end to the attacks on pensions, and through them an end to the austerity measures being brought in, people were outspoken in the need for a new party that would steadfastly represent their interests. A striker who prefers to stay anonymous told me of how the trades unions, in still offering support to the Labour party, were offering no other way than this government of millionaires, for millionaires.
Their was a feeling of unity at Victoria Gardens as police were forced back by the higher-than-expected numbers grouping outside Leeds Art Gallery for the post-demo rally organised by the Yorkshire and Humber regional TUC.
The first speaker, Hugh Lanning, Deputy General Secretary of PCS, put forward the call of PCS that if the government doesn’t back down completely, then further action must be called when the TUC next meets for sometime before the end of January to big applause. Other rank and file activists then followed, repeating the need for further action, but the biggest cheers were given to Celia Foote, a member of the NASUWT executive who explain several myths about teachers pensions, before not just repeating once more the call for further action, but also explaining how NASUWT were supplementing this with action short of strike
The final speaker was the Socialist party’s very own Iain Dalton, speaking on behalf of the TUC regional youth forum. Iain explained how the government cuts are affecting young people, from the cutting of EMA and tripling of tuition fees a year ago to the now over 1 million young people unemployed, and then when they get jobs it is mostly temporary, part-time and low paid work. He pointed out the need to make the government back down completely on these attacks, as a victory for the government would open the floodgates for further attacks on workers living standards.
He ended his speech highlighting how young people had demonstrated and occupied against attacks on their education, activists in Youth Fight for Jobs had recreated the Jarrow March to highlight the mass unemployment affetcing many young people and calling on young workers to get organised, “If you’re not in a trade union, then join one. If you’re not active, then become a rep or get along to your next workplace or branch meeting”.
At a post-rally National Shop Stewards Network meeting, debate ensued surrounding the weak foundations of these attacks, the real costs the government intends the workers to bear and the future of a new party that could truly represent the working classes. The sham that currently pertains to do so was knocked severely by workers at the picket lines, and a wide recognition that their camp lay with those of the millionaires and the employer instead of the 99 percent prevailed.
At the same time demonstrators joined ‘Occupy!’ Leeds for a political discussion further voiced their anger at the Con-Dem government and its austerity package.
With this strike much larger than June 30th and the government putting its propaganda mechanics into overdrive to taint it, the observer can rightly glean that progress is being made. Talk of another strike in January abound following the mood left after such a huge action, and more and more people are realising that tough action now is necessary towards halting these malicious attacks in their stride.