Ben Mayor, British Library PCS, Dave Williams, GMB Leeds Civic branch, J10, Leeds DWP PCS, Leeds HMRC PCS, Leeds NUT, Leeds UNISON, Marion Lloyd, strike, Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition, Unite Leeds Local Government, West Yorkshire FBU
We publish below a further, more detailed report on the public sector strike on July 10th.
July the 10th saw over 1 million public sector workers come out over a measly 1% pay offer from the government, the action involved council workers in the GMB, Unison, Unite alongside Civil Servants from the PCS union, Teachers from the NUT and Firefighters represented by the FBU who were also striking against attacks on their pensions which would result in them paying more, receiving less and retiring later.
Ben Mayor, Leeds Socialist Party
This day of strike action was the biggest co-ordinated action since November 30th 2011 which saw the biggest strike action across the public sector for decades.
From the morning, as the strikes were about to begin and people began picketing their workplace the government moved into full swing to criticise the strikers as being led by a small minority and called for stricter measures to further restrict the unions commenting that ‘I think the time has come to for setting a threshold. It is time to legislate and it will be in the Conservative manifesto’. These comments display the real effect of the strike has had on this ConDem government, it is a recognition that the strike was not only threatening to the continuing assault on workers’ pay and conditions but also that there is mass anger and frustration that exists in society against forced austerity.
Socialist Party members in Leeds began the strike day by visiting picket lines from across the city, where workers taking action assembled outside their workplace to display the force of the strike, drawing support from the public and their own workplace colleagues. Socialist Party members offered solidarity and support on the picket lines to the strikers, asking about their struggles, for council workers, it was a rejection of the 1% pay rise offer which if inflation is accounted for, currently at 1.7% is a pay cut. For firefighters, pay was an issue; however they were fighting against government pension reforms. Whilst the disputes were based around particular issues, all on strike were united around broader attacks against the public sector and continuing privatisation of public assets, which all rely upon.
Socialist Party members were also at the forefront of highlighting the need for a political alternative to the parties of austerity and cuts to public services and all working people’s living standards on the picket lines and at the rally. We highlighted the importance of the development of a real workers alternative in the form of the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC).
The response of many of those taking action on the 10th of July towards TUSC was a very positive one, even from those who were actually still members of the Labour Party. Highlighted by comments from a PCS member taking action, commenting that ‘PCS would not affiliate to the Labour Party’ whilst also highlighting frustration with the Labour Party carrying out the bedroom tax in the city of Leeds and across the UK, explaining further that ‘if I was a councillor I would not implement the bedroom tax and go to prison’. A vicious tax implemented by the ConDem government attacking those in social and council housing through extra charges on rents and coinciding with cuts in benefit for having an extra room, leaving many choosing between eating and paying the tax or being unable to pay at all.
After a morning on the picket lines, strikers and supporters descended upon Dortmund Square in the centre of Leeds. Around 2,500 came before the march left throughout the centre of Leeds, making its way past the train station, Kirkgate market and back to Victoria Gardens. The march received huge support from the public, waving, applauding and giving thumbs up to the strikers, beeping horns from bus drivers and thumbs up from their passengers. The march was inspired and enthused by the support given from the public, highlighting the common cause between those on strike and those who were not. A social care worker from Unison commented to a Socialist Party member that the ‘private sector should have been balloted as well in the same sectors- we should all be out together for better pay’.
The strike assembled back in Victoria Gardens Square to hear speakers from the union movement as well as campaigners from the anti-bedroom tax campaign, ‘Hands off our Homes’ in Leeds. Among them was Marion Lloyd, PCS National Executive member and President of the BIS Group and Socialist Party member spoke from the platform at the Rally on behalf of her union. Marion highlighted the desperate need for continued co-ordinated action from the unions, in order to win this fight over pay, as well as defeating privatisation and austerity as a whole to big cheers and applause from the assembled crowd. She was greeted as warmly as she pointed out that the Labour Party is no different from the Tories or the Lib Dems, highlighting the appetite for a genuine working class political alternative.
In contrast a Unison official was greeted with a murmur of applause as he explained that ’in 2015, we need to vote for an alternative that will stand up for public services’, in essence advocating a vote for the Labour Party, whose councillors have carried out the governments cuts in Leeds and across the country with a few notable exceptions, a number of whom have now joined the ranks of TUSC. (Two councillors joining in Southampton (http://www.tusc.org.uk/16830/07-09-2013/another-step-forward-for-tusc-as-rebel-councillors-join-the-steering-committee) followed by two more last week in Leister (http://www.tusc.org.uk/17016/09-07-2014/leicester-anti-cuts-councillors-join-up-with-tusc)) .Councillors who are prepared to fight for the people they represent against the big business agenda, they are desperately needed, and TUSC is stepping up to the plate.
TUSC supporters signed many strikers and members of the public up to the TUSC supporters list in Leeds, ensuring that we can present the biggest fight possible at the ballot box next year to the parties of the big rich corporations, including the rotten ‘opposition’ of the Labour Party.
The support for TUSCs fighting programme will only grow as workers continue to take action to defend jobs and services and fight for better pay, as the Labour Party continues to display its pro-cuts position and its anti-working class policies. As Ed Balls has commented, ‘We will be cutting departmental spending in 2015-16 and not raising it, with no more borrowing to cover day-to-day spending.’ Just how those in the Labour movement feel the Labour Party will stand up for public services is either naïve or deliberately misleading. The time for a political alternative is there, it has been for some time in the form of TUSC, with growing support from those in the unions as was displayed at a pre-strike rally in Leeds on Tuesday the 8th of July.
At the pre-strike rally, trade unionists and others representing different left groups discussed the need for a political alternative to the main parties, seemingly completely sidestepping the growing role and potential of TUSC. Dave Williams, Chair of the West Yorkshire Fire Brigades Union (FBU) commented on this discussion. Proclaiming that, ‘on the need for a political alternative, there is one, it exists and it’s called TUSC!….The FBU will support anyone where their goals are aligned with our union, TUSC is that, and that is why the West Yorkshire FBU has already donated £250 to TUSC’s fighting fund for next year’s campaign.’
This passionate contribution from a representative of the FBU displays the growing support for TUSC and the growing potential. It is echoed by a growing voice from within the unions, coinciding with a huge appetite for a political, working class alternative in society in general. This was displayed at the recent Unite union’s policy conference, where there was a vibrant discussion of Unites political affiliation to the Labour Party and motions were presented to conference on the union’s broader political strategy (http://www.socialistparty.org.uk/articles/18880/02-07-2014/unite-conference-debates-unions-labour-link)
This voice within the unions, and in wider society will only get louder and gain more of an echo, it is our duty to point to the example of both when workers take action they win, as the battle against zero-hour contracts at Hovis has showed (http://union-news.co.uk/2013/09/hovis-workers-win-zero-hours-contracts-toast/) and that when workers fight and win, the ranks of the unions swell, as well as the examples of the TUSC councillors, proving that you can fight the cuts!
The action on the 10th of July, which saw over 1 million take action should be used as a springboard to further action and a co-ordination of the fight against public spending cuts and austerity as a whole, leading towards battles over pay and for £10 an hour. We must learn from the mistakes of the November 30th pension strike in 2011, and seek to develop co-ordinated action as a matter of urgency. Mark Serwotka, General Secretary of the PCS union highlighted this at the London rally during the strike;
“I hope that every union on strike today and every union thinking of joining the action, meets together as a matter of urgency to ensure that further action is planned and coordinated and gets bigger and bigger and bigger.”
Marion Lloyd, summed this struggle up aptly to huge applause when she concluded her speech with three keys words, ‘Solidarity, meaning support for each other when taking action, Struggle, for the united struggle against pay-cuts and privatisation and Socialism, for the right to a job with decent pay and decent services and for a life of dignity’.