Link to this page: https://www.socialistparty.org.uk/articles/18939
Reports from 10 July pickets and demonstrations
Public sector workers in nine different unions were out on strike in force on 10th July - in a magnificent show of strength to demand an end to the pay freeze.
Local government workers in Unison, Unite and GMB; civil servants in the PCS and Nipsa, teachers in the NUT, firefighters in the FBU, and sections of London transport workers in RMT and TSSA: uniting in action to tell the government that they can't tolerate any further driving down of living standards.
Over 70,000 public sector workers were on strike in Wales as part of the national action of over a million workers against the government's pay restraint, and service and pensions cuts.
Across Wales, schools, libraries, government buildings, council offices, museums and refuse collection were all closed or cancelled by one of the biggest strikes in modern times. Members of Unison, GMB, Unite, PCS, FBU and NUT brought parts of Wales to a standstill and an early holiday for thousands of school students.
The mood on the picket lines was confident and light hearted as pickets basked in the early morning sunshine.
At Cardiff's Lamby Way depot over 30 refuse collectors gathered to support their picket. In other workplaces like Marland House and the central library no pickets were needed as the buildings were completely closed.
At the Job Centre only management and security (not on strike) had crossed the picket line. Even the Crown Prosecution Service was on strike.
The National Museum was closed "what a beautiful sight - an empty car park!" said one striker. 30 strikers picketed the Welsh government offices in Cathays Park.
There was gridlock on the A4232 as a result of striking workers closing the Bute tunnel.
The media tried to turn the understandable frustration of drivers locked in jams in west Cardiff against the strikers, but generally it didn't work. Despite Mark Hutchings' hatchet job on BBC radio World at One there has been massive public support for the strike - mainly working people themselves dealing with low pay.
Strikers leafleting in Cardiff shopping centre reported not one adverse comment; a centre security guard said "Yes we do!" on seeing a PCS "We all need a pay rise" sticker.
At the Cardiff rally the loudest cheers were for those who made the most fighting speeches. Andy Richards, regional secretary of Unite, got the loudest cheer when he responded to Tory threats to curtail the right to strike: "If the government puts the trade unions outside the law, then we will act outside the law!"
The general feeling of strikers was that this must not be a one-off, a proper programme of industrial action over the summer and autumn must be prepared to force the government to back down and at the rally in Cardiff dozens of strikers signed the Socialist Party petition for a general strike.
Steffan Bateman, Mark Evans and Ross Saunders
July 10th brought out workers across Birmingham in a fantastic day of strike action.
Birmingham Socialist Party members visited pickets across the city and supported workers taking action in a wide range of disputes. We spoke to members of PCS, NUT, GMB, Unison and Unite at Digbeth refuse depot, Featherstone nursery school and children's centre, Erdington and Selly Oak job centres, Revenue and Customs, OFWAT and many more.
Later, around 1,500 strikers gathered in glorious sunshine for a rally at Victoria Square and were addressed by trade union leaders. It was really inspiring to see the mass of working class people who filled the square, bedecked in brightly coloured T-shirts, flags and banners.
A deafening chorus of vuvuzelas, drums and whistles could be heard wherever you stood in the city centre that afternoon. One of the biggest cheers from the crowd was in response to PCS assistant general secretary Chris Baugh's call for an escalation of strike action in the autumn.
Ted Woodley, Birmingham Socialist Party
Driving around for a parking place, you could sense that today was going to be different. There were picket lines everywhere!
Changes are afoot in Leicester. Two ex Labour councillors, Wayne Naylor and Barbara Potter have joined TUSC and pledged to fight all cuts.
In contrast to Labour mayor Pete Soulsby who is slashing services whilst indulging in vanity projects and expenses-paid foreign trips.
A couple of weeks ago Soulsby had refused to back the council workers' pay claim in the council chamber when rebel councillor Wayne Naylor asked the question. Yet Pete Soulsby spoke at the strike rally today in support of workers. Labour councillors who had voted for cuts were on picket lines.
Why the change of heart? You can't help wondering if Soulsby's late conversion to apparently supporting the strike had something to do with the pressure from these TUSC councillors and the council unions being made aware of his evasion in the council chamber.
In any case Soulsby was heckled and booed by some of the council workers for the hypocrisy of appearing on the platform at the same time as cutting jobs and services.
Wayne and Barbara also spoke just after Soulsby and, in contrast, got cheers for pledging to fight the cuts.
One teacher who was being made redundant was striking even though she would lose some of her redundancy money. "If it wasn't for unions, I wouldn't be getting any redundancy money and when I was off sick, I got sick pay, thanks to the struggles of trade unionists in the past", she said.
Catherine Gathercole from the voluntary sector said she supported the strike because the voluntary sector relies on public services and what happens to them affects all of us.
Gary Sanders, a Labour councillor and PCS member was angry about the pay offer and working people having to claim benefits because their wages haven't risen as much as prices. "People are being driven further into poverty and the sooner we have a 24-hour general strike the better", he said.
Heather Rawling, NUT
The roads were really quiet in Swansea this morning which was the best indication of the impact of the public sector strike. The numbers present on picket lines across the city were not huge but at each one it was reported that most workers had stayed away.
At the refuse depot only four out of 200 had gone into work, at the Pension Centre and Land Registry there were just a few cars driving through and there was a good response from PCS members at the massive DVLA.
Unison's city centre rally brought together all the striking unions, each of them showing a determination to start fighting back.
Swansea, Carrie Ann Watkins speaking, public sector strike 10.7.14, photo by E Schluessel (Click to enlarge)
Despite Swansea trades council secretary and Unison member Ronnie Job being refused the opportunity of bringing solidarity greetings, another trades council member, Carrie-Anne Watkins, speaking from PCS, got one of the best receptions at the rally when she said her members have been fighting the Con-Dems for years but would also fight as hard against any Labour government cuts if they dared introduce them.
She was cheered when she condemned Labour controlled Swansea city council for implementing £26 million worth of cuts in this year's budget.
This strike was a good start but with Unison calling for two days of strike action in September the momentum must be maintained to turn that call into a 24-hour general strike!
Alec Thraves, vice president, Swansea Trades Council
Hundreds of strikers gathered at Southampton civic centre to rally in defiance of the Con-Dem pay freeze. There is enormous anger at the pressure on people's pockets and the day-to-day problems at work. What is missing is a clear and bold strategy to take this fight forward.
Many speakers rightly criticised the impact of government cuts but it was only NUT and Socialist Party member Liz Filer who captured the mood demanding that the TUC name the date for a 24-hour general strike.
It gained the largest cheer of the day. To make this happen will require a concerted campaign amongst union members to ensure that strong support is built for further action and pressure put on branch, region and national leaderships to deliver. We have a fight to win!
In Hull up to 1,000 workers took part in the joint trade union strike day rally and march. Workers striking in the FBU, NUT, PCS, GMB, Unite and Unison all marched united against the decimation of public services.
The determined mood surrounding the strike was summed up by the Willerby refuge workers, who for the first time managed to all but close the depot. Only two of the machines went out, all rub by management. This news was greeted with cheers from the crowd.
Local GMB rep Tony captured the militant mood perfectly with his speech. Tony gave trade union leaders Kenny, McCluskey, Prentis and O'Grady a mandate for a general strike, to rapturous applause demanding that the trade unions bring the government to its knees to show where the power in society really lies.
The final speaker, Mike Whale of the NUT and secretary of the joint council trade unions shop stewards committee laid out a stark warning to the Labour Party.
After backing Tony's call for a general strike, Mike told the crowd that as important as getting rid of the Tories is, the Labour Party has a simple choice to make, it either stands with the working class or it stands against us.
And if Labour leaders stand against the working class then the strength of the trade union movement will sweep them away!
The Hull TUSC banner was visible throughout and many copies of the Socialist were sold.
Hull Socialist Party
A Unison member in Birkenhead, Merseyside said:
"Our members showed strong support today to my union Unison's demand for fair pay. We have had no pay rises for the last three years. The morale is low and we are working under pressure. As care workers we want to give the best possible care but our services and pay continues to be cut.
"Unison has called for further action in September which we welcome ... With other public sector unions joining us we are stronger together. Enough is enough. The message I would like to give is it's crucial we make a stand for our members and also for future generations."
A Unite shop steward:
"As leisure industry workers we provide vital services for the local community. Yet we have had no pay rise for the last four years so how are we expected to live? The cost of living has gone up, council tax is up and our money goes nowhere.
"We have also lost four days unpaid holiday leave and have also lost pay enhancements. But we have had fantastic support today from our members, our customers and the general public. The leisure centre is closed. We won't give up the fight. We need to make a stand. We have had enough. Everyone now needs to join the fight to get what we deserve and for a living wage and decent conditions."
Lively and noisy picket lines made their presence felt across Bolton this morning, at schools, the fire station, and council and civil service buildings.
The vast majority of schools were closed, whilst the strike was very solid amongst council workers. Later, around 300 protesters joined a march through the town centre and rallied on the town hall square.
Jo Johnson, Unison steward in housing services, told me on the picket line: "Our members are really suffering because of poverty pay. The government tells us that the economy is in recovery and business is picking up. Well, if that's the case, we want our fair share!"
"We want to put an end to poverty pay in both the public and private sectors", said Suzi Boardman, a worker in children's services. "This isn't a race to the bottom and we refuse to fall for the government's divide and conquer tactics of pitting public sector against private sector workers. Enough is enough. We all need a pay rise."
Matt Kilsby, Chair, Bolton Unison LG branch
Picket lines were everywhere and the council offices were pretty empty at 9.30am. Most striking workers were out to defend the services as well as for their own pay, terms and conditions.
One library picket made the point that "the bankers and politicians insist that we're all in it together while giving themselves pay rises and freezing ours, it's insulting to our intelligence", and a striking worker at the DWP said that "we need a general strike. ...[for a week] ...everyone is under attack and we need to get together to fight back against it". There were at least 2,000 people on the march.
Brighton, photo Sarah Wrack
Thousands of workers marched through Brighton to a rally on the Level. Three young and vibrant feeder marches from Hove town hall, Hollingdean bin depot and the Jobcentre converged for the final stretch.
At the rally, PCS rep Serena Cheung said: "Politicians complain about voter turnout but today people are voting with their feet ..."Today has been magnificent but this is a start not an end".
Phil Clarke, secretary of the local trades council and an NUT NEC member, added: "It's going to take more - not just a day in September but a programme of industrial action" and appealed for strikers to go back to their union branches and argue for that.
Andrew Carss and Hugh Caffrey spoke to striking Unison and PCS members across Salford:
Stella, PCS rep, Ministry of Justice:
"I'm striking today because there's been no wage increase in six years, people think we're on a fantastic wage, but that definitely isn't the case".
Bora Oktas, Unison convenor at Salix Housing:
"We are in one of the most deprived areas in the UK, Salford. It's quite a tough area to work in, it's not like working in Didsbury or Wilmslow where you're dealing with lots of rich people! Working in Salford takes a lot from us. We suffer a lot of stress and make a lot of sacrifices to do our job. We love our jobs but in return we want what we deserve, because we deserve it for sure!"
Richard, Unison social workers' convenor at Salford council:
"I'm striking today for fair pay, services here have been slashed to pieces. My own pay has been safeguarded, but they're getting rid of that too, next year, it was the only thing left to slash. People here are frustrated with conditions, that's why we're all here."
Tens of thousands of trade unionists marched from Portland Place in central London to a rally in Trafalgar Square.
Addressing the rally were union general secretaries Mark Serwotka (PCS) and Matt Wrack (FBU), and Jeremy Corbyn MP, among others.
For more info about the London rally, see the editorial in the Socialist:
Central London PCS:
A PCS organiser commented: "Our PCS picket lines around central London were really good and Ministry of Defence pickets were much better than they sometimes might be". PCS strikers joined in the march as it went through central London, gathering up contingents of workers usual.
Pete Dickenson reports that at Harbinger primary school on the Isle of Dogs, there were about 20 on the picket - nearly all the teachers were there.
One of the many picket lines across the capital was a show of strength by PCS members who work in the National Gallery. Around 25 were supporting the picket in front of the gallery in Trafalgar Square, and more assembled at the back entrance.
They are striking as part of the coordinated action to end the public sector pay cap, but with added anger because the gallery's director spread shock waves when he announced a week ago that up to 400 out of 600 gallery staff are to be privatised.
Gallery workers have already been struggling to get by on poverty levels of pay. Now management has said it's decided to privatise because it has been trying to change - ie erode - the workers' terms and conditions 'without success'.
So further attacks on the workforce would go hand-in-hand with privatisation, an outcome that the PCS members are determined to fight.
Local government workers in Unite held a 100-strong picket at the Woolwich centre. Socialist Party members were out in full force to support them. Many low paid workers were wearing the new '£10Now' t-shirt in support of the campaign for a genuine living wage.
A caretaker who had been working for the council for eight years and had never been on strike before told me that "this country needs a revolution" and bought a copy of the Socialist.
The mood on the picket was lifted by the appearance of Unite general secretary Len McCluskey who gave a speech calling on council workers to carry on the fight until they win.
One Unite member received rapturous applause when he said in his speech to the picket: "I say we need two things; a general strike against austerity and a mass party that actually represents working class people".
Setting up a Socialist Party stall on Oxford Street, near the march assembly point outside the BBC offices in Portland Place, Sarah Sachs-Eldridge commented:
"Even before the strikers come through it's clear that low pay is THE issue. There's big interest in the strike and especially in the call for a £10 an hour minimum wage. Reflecting that, ordinary Oxford Street workers have bought ten copies of the Socialist from the stall in less than an hour".
Services and schools across Carmarthenshire stopped on 10 July when thousands of council workers, teachers and firefighters took action against austerity.
Carmarthenshire Unison branch organised more than 20 picket lines across the vast spread of the county from 5.30am, and striking council workers and teachers joined each other's picket lines in a superb show of solidarity.
More than 100 strikers and supporters turned out for a lunchtime rally in Carmarthen's Nott Square, to hear speeches from PCS, FBU, Unison, NUJ, Usdaw and NUT trade unionists, along with solidarity brought by Jonathan Edwards, Plaid Cymru MP for Carmarthen East and Dinefwr.
Dave Warren, as PCS rep at DVLA Swansea, said that the magnificent action today had to be just the beginning of a concerted and coordinated campaign of action to force back the austerity programme of the Westminster coalition government.
Carmarthenshire Unison branch secretary Mark Evans warned that Labour councils and the Welsh Labour government should also be put on notice that they will be held to account by trade unionists in Wales if they continue to carry out cuts.
Scott Jones, a local Usdaw shop steward, echoed the call made by others at the rally that future action needs to bring in private sector workers to make it even more effective.
Ken Smith, NUJ Wales chair, said that the effectiveness of today's action was shown by the fact that Cameron and Gove wanted to ban strikes. "They wouldn't want to ban them unless you were being effective today", he added.
Mark Evans summed up the day as "a magnificent show of solidarity in this county. After months of battling this local Labour council on a whole number of issues from their plan to make more than £30 million of cuts, to them trying to end trade union facility time, it's great to get such a united, strong response from our members. We have shown in our recent battles that we don't give up. We're not going away, this is just the start."
Portsmouth had a great turnout for the strike, with a number of unions picketing the civic offices. The strikers were determined that the fight back would go on, they will no longer tolerate poverty wages.
One Unison member raised the need for an alternative to the main parties and cuts on services.
At the 600-strong rally and march many of the workers supported the call of the Socialist Party for a 24-hour general strike, realising what would be needed to beat this austerity government.
The speakers at the rally echoed the defiance of the workers that the fight will go on.
Leeds, public sector strike 10.7.14, photo Iain Dalton
Around 2,500 trade unionists attended the rally in Leeds. PCS speaker Marion Lloyd got a huge cheer when she called for opposition to Labour's cuts as well as those of the Tories.
It was an early start on picket lines around Hampshire where striking trade union members picketed council offices, libraries and fire stations.
It was an opportunity to engage with the public and deliver the message that public sector workers deserve fair pay instead of being the victims of the Con-Dem cuts.
We received widespread support from the public, many sounding car horns and passing with a thumbs up.
At a lunchtime rally, preceded by a traffic-stopping march through the city centre, speakers made it clear to all that this is just the start of the fightback. We now need to galvanise support for further actions in the autumn.
Dave Anderson, Unison convenor
PCS members picketed at Hilden House pensions centre, at the front and back of the building.
At the Town Hall Unison members were in good heart by the Golden Gates. They estimated about two-thirds of the workforce had heeded the strike call. The pickets explained that people are struggling after years of pay freezes.
At New Town House, Unison pickets were handing out their leaflets to passers-by and the majority of the hundreds of council workers employed there had not come in.
The Job Centre on Mersey Street was also on strike. As was the Woolston bin depot, where the strike was 100% solid.
Unite members were not impressed with the salary increases handed to senior executives at the council last year while the workforce are expected to just struggle on.
We also visited a picket of the FBU at Winwick Road, among others.
On 10th July schools, libraries and council offices were closed to protest against the measly 1% pay rise (while 'we are all in it together' MPs received 11%).
Chesterfield council is proposing cuts of £157 million which will effect many low paid female workers, the disabled and elderly.
There were speeches from several union representatives including GMB, FBU and Unison, and finishing with Labour MP for Bolsover Dennis Skinner.
Every council building apart from two and 80% of schools were shut down. All non-union members and scabs were forced to run the gauntlet of a huge picket line as only one of the council buildings was open to those who wanted to work!
About 800-1,000 turned out for the very lively demo which went round the town centre twice, each time past the building for strike breakers and then the cafe where a sympathetic ex-council worker provided refreshments for all the pickets (he opened the cafe with the proceeds from a payout at a tribunal hearing when he was unfairly dismissed).
All the speakers reflected the mood by calling for more action and coordinated strikes in the autumn; the biggest cheer going up for speakers who questioned support for Miliband who had failed to support the strikes.
The rally was followed by a very successful NSSN meeting of around 20 strikers who all expressed interest in future activities.
An NUT activist decided to join the Socialist Party, just short of 30 copies of the Socialist were sold and our new '£10 now' t-shirts made their first outing.
Sunny weather greeted us in Bristol on the morning of the J10 public sector strike and it seemed to match the mood of local government workers, teachers, firefighters and civil servants on the picket lines and on the 3-4,000 strong march and rally.
Not that workers aren't angry with the Con-Dems and their policies of pay restraint, cuts and privatisation, but people seemed pleasantly surprised by the level of support for the strike across the many workplaces affected.
After years of constant attacks and vilification by politicians and the media matched by prevarication by some of the unions, it was good to see the power of six big unions coordinating strike action against the government again.
In Bristol we have the added problem of a toxic 'independent' mayor who treats local government workers and their union representatives with contempt.
Although the strike was on national issues, it sent a clear message to George Ferguson that Bristol City Council employees are prepared to strike to defend themselves.
Cakes in Nottingham
This version of this article was first posted on the Socialist Party website on 10 July 2014 and may vary slightly from the version subsequently printed in The Socialist.