Link to this page: http://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/433/5093
28 March 2006:
Britain - Over one million strike for pension rights...
Round the picket lines
IN SWANSEA and West Wales, many schools and offices were locked up and pickets were on almost every street corner. Jeff Baker, UNISON regional organiser, responsible for council workers in Swansea, said that he was: "Very pleased with the response today which was absolutely solid. The mood is as strong as its been for many years."
On the binworkers' picket line the feeling was strongly for an escalation of the dispute. "Because a one-day strike just gives the press a chance to have a go at us, we need to be all out to win."
Ronnie Job, a UNISON picket at Gorseinon College, said: "Half of our members were on the picket line and we have caused severe disruption. A lot of lecturers, despite massive pressure from the college authorities, refused to cross the picket lines, along with students. We need to step up strike action and not rely on the selective action being proposed by the union leaders."
THE STRIKE in Coventry was solid, with local authority services either closed or operating at a reduced level. About 100 trade unionists attended a rally at lunchtime to hear local union representatives giving a damning indictment of the attack on the pension scheme.
Socialist Party councillor Dave Nellist gained the day's best response, when he raised the idea of the unions breaking from Labour and setting up a new workers' party. Throughout the day, dozens of pickets signed the Campaign for a New Workers' Party (CNWP) declaration and eagerly took the Socialist Party leaflet on the pensions dispute.
A Coventry UNISON member
THERE WAS widespread support for the pensions strike in Southwark, south London. Picket lines were present on many council buildings and depots as well as at the London College of Printing.
At the Manor Place depot Mohammed told me that he had worked for the council for eight years and had been a union steward for seven. "There is strong support for this strike amongst my members. A lot have paid into the pension scheme for years and are pissed off with what is happening."
Another worker said that they should stay out on unofficial strike till they won. Mohammed agreed that they needed more strikes of at least two days if they are to win.
April Ashley, deputy housing convenor and a member of the Socialist Party, told me:
"There is solid and strong support for the action. People are convinced that it will take more than a one-day strike to force the government to give in. We were told it was going to be two days this time and people were disappointed that it is only one day. We need to make sure that, when strike days are announced, the leadership is not allowed to change them at the last minute.
"Loads of people will be losing part of their pensions and women in particular are very angry at what is happening.
"They already have less pension entitlement than the average because they have their careers disrupted to bring up families. They have reluctantly accepted this because they thought the conditions aren't too bad and there's some security. But now they will get even less pensions they're really angry."
A HIGHLY visible group of UNISON members picketed County Council departments across Winchester city centre.
Toby Harris, Winchester Socialist Party
Julie Murdoch, Hampshire UNISON branch secretary told the socialist: "We are pissed off with the government, which has agreed to protect other public-sector workers but is treating others who work alongside them unequally."
Leslie Roberts, a UNISON member who works in children's services told us how she was assured several years ago she could retire at 60 in six year's time on a full pension. If the 85-year rule is abolished, she will instead have to work for another fourteen years, or face losing 27% of her pension entitlement!
Many workers we spoke to were enraged at this betrayal and open theft by New Labour of their money and several signed the Campaign for New Workers' Party declaration.
It was obvious that the gains won by PCS workers had encouraged UNISON members to defend their pension rights. Some workers were on strike for the first time, but no doubt not the last!
TYNESIDE VIRTUALLY ground to a halt. The Metro and the Tyne tunnel were closed due to strike action. In the city centre the demonstrators outnumbered the shoppers!
Socialist Party member Greg Maugham spoke to a bus driver on the way to the demo. The bus driver said: "It's been dead quiet on the buses, 'cos everyone thinks we're on strike as well".
Strikers from various picket lines spoke to the socialist: "Northumbria university has closed for the day because they cannot guarantee health and safety. Everyone is being paid because they don't know who is and who isn't on strike!" Lottie Hann
"It's been a really good turn out. In the probation service there's a very strong feeling about the pension issue. Nearly all of us are out - most of them working aren't in a union." Jacqui Cox.
"Three out of four Newcastle probation offices are closed due to the strike". Joanne Wallace (NAPO). "The government is stealing five years from us" and "Nobody is fighting for the ordinary person" were the reactions from Newcastle city council workers.
ALMOST EVERY workplace in Ealing was picketed. Many day centres and 30 schools were closed. Beverley Begg, a UNISON member and first time picket commented that: "It was important to see so many young people on the picket lines."
Paul Travers, Dagenham TGWU branch secretary, spoke to the socialist: "There's been good support today. Schools are shut and only essential services running.
"Feelings are high and people are upset - people who would never ever have thought of going on strike are out. We have to thank the government for giving a recruiting tool to the unions."
Pickets were out in force in Waltham Forest. At the Low Hall depot, the town hall and at 'poll tax house', many signed the CNWP declaration.
When the depot management called the police, the pickets managed to turn the police car away after they explained whet they were striking about.
YOU LITERALLY couldn't walk down a main street in Manchester without seeing a picket line! At a large and energetic picket line of Greater Manchester Passenger Transport Executive, the steward told us that not only was Manchester solid but that in Liverpool the Transport Authority workers had closed both tunnels and shut down the ferries!
Admin staff at Manchester Met University picketed out every building. Management resorted to hiring private security to open the buildings. Pickets told us how the scabs had been brought in the night before to open up and would have to stay another night because they didn't know how to lock up!
When asked what they thought the next steps should be, the workers were unequivocal - "general strike"! Striking on 4 May polling day is seen by many as a necessary measure to force the government to back off.
Steve North, a Salford UNISON steward reported in a personal capacity: "Largely because of weeks of determined preparation, over 90% of the workers in my office had no intention of crossing the picket line.
"In the last two weeks Salford branch has recruited over 200 members - I have recruited nearly fifty of them within my own directorate. Those who did not picket stayed at home; most of our managers didn't even arrive."
JOSIE, A UNISON shop steward at Brighton and Hove council, told the socialist: "This strike represents the largest strike ever undertaken by women in this country. This is incredibly important because the vast majority of low-paid local government workers are women."
There were 400 strikers at the rally outside Brighton town hall. Speaker after speaker denounced the trade unions' link with Labour and many called for the unions to stand their own candidates.
We visited 12 picket lines and saw that the strike was solid. Many signed the CNWP declaration, including the branch secretary of the UNISON branch and several reps.
COUNCIL WORKERS in Tunbridge Wells and Tonbridge and Malling made their views clear to the socialist.
One picket pointed out that the attacks on the pension scheme were timed to coincide with the rise in council tax. The right-wing press could then put more pressure on workers to accept the 'reforms'.
Others said that pensions were a line in the sand which the unions must not back down over, or there would be other attacks.
One simple message from a Lewes striker was: "the government are just crooked".
In The Socialist 30 March 2006:
Socialist Party NHS campaign
International socialist news and analysis
Socialist Party review
Socialist Party campaigns