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25 June 2014

All out to end poverty pay

Rob Williams, Chair, National Shop Stewards Network

It's official: local government workers in Unison have voted to strike on 10 July (J10) against the Con-Dem government's pay freeze. Over one million public sector workers - council workers, civil servants and teachers - could strike together.

Many of the firefighters who were on strike again last Saturday will also be hoping that their union, the FBU, will call them out on the biggest day of coordinated strike action since 30 November 2011.

That two million-strong strike against the government's attacks on public sector workers' pensions was arguably the biggest single day of strike action since the 1926 General Strike.

It could and should have been the platform for decisive action that could have won a victory on pensions and blown a hole in Cameron's austerity offensive.

Instead some union leaders, particularly of Unison and the GMB, with the support of the TUC and its then general secretary - now 'Sir' Brendan Barber - stopped the struggle in its tracks.

Undoubtedly, that loss of momentum only emboldened the government to unleash the most vicious package of cuts since the 1920s.

But the huge anger and frustration resulting from the Tories' continued assault on jobs, pay, pensions and public services, means there's huge backing for J10 action.

The London tube strikes had massive public support because, as opposed to all political parties signed up to austerity, workers want to see someone fighting back.

Unions should organise J10 rallies to bring behind them all those suffering from these brutal cuts.

The N30 demonstrations that took place in most towns and cities were massive and on J10 they could be bigger. The main lesson of N30 is that 10 July has to be the start - not the end - of sustained action that takes in all the public sector, spreads to the private sector and also to workers currently not organised in unions. This could and should result in a 24-hour general strike of millions opposed to austerity.

Just over the last few months we have seen a rash of disputes, from Doncaster Care UK workers to the Safety Glass workers in Tyneside, from One Housing workers to the indefinite strike in Lambeth College.

These, along with the big protests by the law profession against cuts to legal aid, the protests and stoppages by construction workers and the first-time protesters attracted to the People's Assembly march, show the potential that the unions could realise if they put themselves at the head of the anti-cuts movement.

The eighth annual National Shop Stewards Network conference is meeting on 5 July, five days before the pay strike. I appeal to all trade union and anti-cuts activists to come along to discuss how to have the biggest strike possible on 10 July and build that struggle into the autumn and beyond.

National Shop Stewards Network conference

Saturday 5 July, 11am-5pm,

Conway Hall, Red Lion Square, London WC1R 4RL

Delegate/visitor fee 6

Speakers include Seattle $15 minimum wage organiser Ginger Jentzen, RMT president Peter Pinkney, BFAWU bakers' union general secretary Ronnie Draper, POA general secretary Steve Gillan and PCS president Janice Godrich.