The Socialist 6 April 2006
'We're fighting back'
"The most solid strike ever"
THE MAGNIFICENT one million-strong strike for pension rights took place as we were going to press last week. The strike, of members of the Local Government Pension Scheme, showed how workers are prepared to fight for their hard-won rights. We received the following reports after our deadline.
THE STRIKE in Scotland was massively supported with an estimated 90% of staff taking part. At least 200,000 workers were on strike - almost 10% of the entire working population of Scotland. It was also the largest ever strike of women workers in Scotland.
Nearly all primary schools were closed, along with the vast majority of nurseries.
Ronnie Stevenson UNISON social work convenor in Glasgow, who covers 4,500 members, described 28 March as: "the most solid strike ever in local government."
Many council buildings were completely shut. Social work, transport, education, housing and environmental services ground to a halt. The entire bus service in Edinburgh was shutdown, as was the Glasgow underground.
For many, despite the wet weather, the demonstrations organised in Aberdeen (2,000), Dundee (1,500), Edinburgh (2,000) and Glasgow (10,000) were highlights of the day.
Brian Smith from Glasgow told us: "Glasgow council services and operations came to a complete standstill on 28 March with unprecedented participation in the action across the trade unions.
Members who had never been on strike before joined and in many instances organised, picketing of council premises and offices.
"The march through the city was 10,000-strong despite the poor weather and was upbeat with a family feel, due to the numbers of children who had came along with their striking parents as the council had been forced to close all primary and nursery schools.
The response from the public was supportive.
"The members' confidence has been strengthened due to the success of the action and can be built on. The local UNISON branch has also recruited 800 new members in the last few weeks. "
At the Dundee march and rally the biggest response from the 1,500 workers packed into the city square was for those speeches that attacked Blair and New Labour. Especially those that questioned why it was that the unions were paying millions into the coffers of a party and a government that was kicking them in the teeth.
UNISON steward and chair of Dundee City UNISON, Jim McFarlane - a member of the International Socialists (the Socialist Party's counterpart in Scotland), spoke alongside Scottish Socialist Party MSP Rosie Kane at a well-attended meeting after the demo.
60 people, over half of whom were strikers, discussed the tremendous impact of the action and enthusiastically supported the call for increased action until the government and Scottish Executive back down.
ENVIRONMENT AGENCY staff showed great solidarity during the strike as up to 50 UNISON members picketed the East Midlands headquarters in Nottingham.
Greg Marshall, UNISON rep, Environment Agency
Fed up with constant attacks from a government that does not represent their interests, workers demonstrated for almost 12 hours against proposed cuts to their pension entitlements.
However, although it was made clear that any action was not directly against the employer, the Environment Agency tried to sabotage picket attendance.
They threatened that strikers might face disciplinary action if they did not ring their respective manager on the morning of the strike. Workers must provide a sick note if ill on strike day, irrespective of the three-day national policy. The organisation also distributed material stating that maintaining the 85-year rule would be very costly to the Agency, despite previous responses contradicting this.
UNISON stewards were however, able to quickly rebuff this inaccurate information and as a result members turned out to hold a solid line all day. Great support was shown to the pickets from workers in the communications industries who refused to cross the lines.
All those who attended the pickets said they would continue the fight to defend their pension rights
HUNDREDS OF strikers attended a rally in Liverpool organised by UNISON on 28 March. Throughout Merseyside, town halls and other local authority buildings were closed, schools did not open, the Liverpool John Moores University was shut, the Mersey Tunnels closed and the famous Mersey Ferries did not sail, but were picketed by their own officers!
A number of speakers addressed the rally, but the loudest cheers were for UNISON national executive member Roger Bannister when he informed the rally that UNISON had frozen financial contributions to the Labour Party during the dispute and had cancelled pro-Labour electoral work for the municipal elections in May.
"Why stop there?" asked Roger and the crowd roared its approval. Roger went on to explain how the New Labour government had provoked the dispute by singling out the Local Government Pension Scheme for attack: "They started this dispute but we will finish it!"
AS A magnificent 2,000-strong demonstration snaked through the streets of Bristol, bus drivers hooted their horns in support and passers by praised the marching local authority workers for sticking to their guns.
One of the best-received speeches at the rally was from PCS national executive member Mark Baker, who brought greetings and a message of solidarity from his union. "I work for the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister. He may not be supporting you but PCS members sure as hell are."
The most surreal moment came when the leader of Bristol's Labour group spoke and suggested all the faults lay with the Tory employers. Disquiet could be seen in the faces of strikers who must have been wondering whether they'd stumbled onto the set of an Alice in Wonderland production.
Several approached Socialist Party members afterwards and were in no doubt that the responsibility for this mess lay squarely at the doorsteps of Brown and Blair. Our Campaign for a New Workers' Party leaflets were eagerly snatched up.
IN IPSWICH picketing was strong from early morning. About 300 people marched through the streets, predominantly UNISON but also TGWU, Amicus, CYWU, NUJ, NUT and Ipswich and District TUC for a rally outside the town hall.
When I spoke at the rally and mentioned how pleased I was to see that UNISON had decided not to give any money to the Labour Party for the local elections, I got an amazing response - with much cheering.
UNISON have been receiving 50 membership applications a day since the announcement of the industrial action.
Events took place all over the Eastern region with better than expected attendances. On the strength of the action we are now organising a march and rally prior to our May Day Festival on Sunday 30 April.
IN PLYMOUTH 4,500 trade unionists from nine trade unions struck together, for the first time since 1983.
No refuse was collected, no streets were swept, the Tamar ferries lay idle and schools were closed. About 1,400 joined the mass rally and demonstration in Plymouth city centre, bringing traffic to a halt along the main street, Royal Parade. There was applause from passers by and motorists sounded their horns in support.
The underlying anger of the city's working-class population was there for all to see. The lies of the Daily Mail and the Blair government held no sway.
The most enthusiastic amongst the demonstrators were the young workers determined to build on this success. The next strikes can't come soon enough.
Dean Rossington, UNISON steward, Plymouth city branch, personal capacity.
THE STRIKE In Kirklees (Huddersfield, Batley and Dewsbury) was solid. In the week leading up to the strike, 505 new members applied to join UNISON.
Mike Forster, Kirklees UNISON
There are 10,000 members in the branch who were balloted for the strike. The message went out to mount large, noisy and effective picket lines.
Socialist Party members toured picket lines from 7am onwards and visited 14 in all through Huddersfield town centre. The mood was determined and buoyant.
There were far fewer strike-breakers than in the pay dispute of 2002 and the town ground to a halt. The local press showed pictures of deserted workplaces and car parks, including picket lines at the local police station.
There was a 300-strong TUC demo, where myself and Dr Jackie Grunsell spoke from the Socialist Party. The indoor rally was addressed by AMICUS, NUT, UNISON members, including Vicky Perrin who is standing for the Local Government Service Executive elections of UNISON. A 10 year-old girl also spoke from the floor offering her support to the strike, one of the youngest ever speakers at a TUC Rally!
After the rally, 25 tired pickets crammed into the Campaign for a New Workers' Party rally in a local pub. This was a very uplifting meeting as strikers reflected on the day's activity but also looked forward to the local elections where we get the chance to support three candidates for the Save the NHS campaign which many see as the precursor for a broader party campaigning for socialism.
To complete the day, we held a second public meeting to introduce Jackie Grunsell as a candidate and launch the election campaign.
Celebrate May Dya
MANY WORKERS who went on strike to defend their pensions have been able to read reports in the socialist from picket lines around the country. Now's the time to encourage those workers to show their support for the socialist and place a May Day greeting in the paper.
Unlike the mainstream papers, the socialist is of course not owned nor funded by big business. This is why every year, for the day that celebrates the international workers' movement, we appeal for May Day Greetings from socialists, trade unionists, workers, community activists and students. Get your message in now to help make sure that the socialist can continue to give a socialist alternative to the capitalist press that puts people before profit.
Extended deadline: April 12. Rates include: 30p per word, £10 small box, 1/32 page £15, 1/16 page £25, and 1/8 page £40. Contact 020 8988 8796 or firstname.lastname@example.org for more details
Carlisle pensions strike rally
DUNCAN MONEY, a school student , reports on the pension strike in Cumbria on 28 March and describes how he organised support for the strike.
"WE MUST fight together and fight until we bring Blair and Prescott to their knees". These words were met with a roar of approval from the crowd at the sizeable rally of trade unionists in Carlisle on 28 March.
The march and rally had been organised by the GMB and UNISON to show the depth of local support for the strike and the anger at the way the government were robbing workers of their pensions.
There was anger at the current Labour government which cares little for the working class of Britain. Several speakers pointed out that Labour-voting union members keep the government in power and the unions help fill their coffers. Although there was not yet explicit talk of a split with Labour several people signed the CNWP declaration in a personal capacity.
In a pub after the rally was over I got talking to a few council workers and it was clear there was a lot of dissatisfaction with the way trade union leaders were conducting the strike. Several workers expressed their frustration at the timidity of the union in organising the pickets and protests that day.
This demonstration is a clear indication that at least the ordinary rank and file of the unions are not prepared to accept the governments' assault on pensions. This mood of frustration and agitation needs to be transformed into the building of a new mass party.
Picketing in Cockermouth
ON ANY normal day I wouldn't even think about getting up at 6.15am. But a local secondary school had decided to stay open. There was an official UNISON picket line and the school had ordered people to cross it. So just before 7am, I and a few friends set off to support the strike by joining the picket.
The impact of the strike could be felt in this semi-rural, predominantly middle-class town. This shows the depth of workers' anger at the government's actions.
We offered our support on the picket line but the union members became nervous at our presence and asked us to leave. So we decided to set up an impromptu second picket line on a road leading to the school. We told people of their legal rights and obligation not to cross a picket line. We managed to persuade around 40 people not to cross the official picket.
But our biggest impact was in talking to the young people about strikes, unions, picketing and workers' struggles.
The next day we were summoned to the office of the head teacher of our school but it was not before I was congratulated by every member of staff I met that day for participating in the strike.
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