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From The Socialist newspaper, 16 July 2014

J10 strike success: Now build movement to end low pay

At the Trafalgar Square rally on the 10 July 2014 public sector pay strike, photo Paul Mattsson

At the Trafalgar Square rally on the 10 July 2014 public sector pay strike, photo Paul Mattsson   (Click to enlarge)

"Work should pay, not keep you in poverty." After 10 July no one could be in any doubt that low pay is a major issue in Britain. The Financial Times (FT) quoted striker Barbara Plan, 57, a teaching assistant in Lewisham (11/7/14). Some of her colleagues are working three jobs in schools, as cleaners, teaching assistants and midday meal supervisors "just to keep up with the pay to make a living wage, you ... shouldn't have to go to work to then have your pay topped up with benefits."

Over one million workers are reported to have participated as schools and public services shut down for the day. The Evening Standard's resentful report indicated the strike's success: "In the worst-hit areas of London almost every school was affected, including Enfield where seven schools were open and 76 shut. In Barnet just five secondary schools were fully open while 16 were shut or partly shut."

The reports on the Socialist Party website give a taste of the enormous support for the fight against low pay, including from the general public and private sector workers, and the mood for further action. It is also clear that workers must get organised to make that a reality.

We support the public sector unions' call for an increase of 1 an hour to end the pay freeze. This will not be enough, however, to lift the lowest paid out of poverty. Socialist Party members found huge enthusiasm among strikers and the public for our demand for a 10 minimum wage.

Fuelling the rage and the mood to fight on, no doubt, will be the news that executive pay has grown to almost 180 times that of the average worker. The FT's detailed report indicates it is warning its big business readers that an explosion of anger over low pay is on the cards.

We call for an escalation of the coordinated action, building towards a 24-hour general strike. The National Shop Stewards Network, at its annual meeting the previous week, made the issue of pay central and reiterated the urgent and ongoing need for activists to build pressure on the trade union leaders for more generalised action.

Historic action

Following a lively and impressive march of London workers in the nine trade unions on strike, the Trafalgar Square rally opened with its chairperson, president of South East TUC Martin Gould, declaring it to be nationally the second biggest public sector strike since World War Two.

Picketing Hackney Town Hall on 10 July 2014, photo Paul Mattsson

Picketing Hackney Town Hall on 10 July 2014, photo Paul Mattsson   (Click to enlarge)

All the platform speakers described well the plight of low-paid and over-worked public sector workers. A number of them echoed the mood of the marchers, saying the fight would go on; "to the general election and beyond if necessary", as the Unison rep put it. She reminded the audience of the very welcome impending ballot of Unison NHS staff, which means they could be "out in September or October with the rest of us".

Firefighters' union general secretary Matt Wrack made a rousing speech in which he emphasised that "we should do this again, we should do this again soon". It is a testament to the firefighters though that they were on their 15th day of strike action in their pension dispute and "there is no mood for surrender", as Matt spelt out.

Strikers understood that more action will be necessary to defend living standards. There were huge cheers for PCS leader Mark Serwotka, the final speaker of the rally, who said: "Today has to be just the beginning."

Mark warned that there must be no repeat of the sell-out by right-wing trade union leaders of the huge pension strikes in 2011. "Every union here will have to meet together as a matter of urgency to make sure that the action gets bigger and bigger and bigger."

24-hour general strike

At some of the many strike rallies across the country, platform speakers made the call for a 24-hour general strike, which was music to the ears of the workers listening. The one million-plus workers on strike were losing a day's pay in order to fight a battle that must be won.

At the Durham Miners' Gala Steve Gillan, general secretary of the POA prison officers' union, raised the issue to enormous applause among the estimated over 100,000 trade unionists and working class people there, proof if it is needed that a call for such action from the TUC would be welcomed.

A 24-hour general strike has the potential to transform the situation, building workers' confidence in their ability to challenge low pay and austerity, showing the Con-Dems as weak, as they in fact are.

The working class, when organised and acting independently, is the biggest social force in society, capable not only of defending our pay and public services, but also of promoting a different type of society, one where the wealth is democratically planned to meet the needs of all not just the super-rich - a socialist society.

But the working class needs to increase its level of organisation both industrially - via building a fighting trade union movement - but also politically, by building a new mass party that represents the interests of our class instead of those of the 1%.

Political alternative

Unfortunately none of the platform speakers in London put forward any political alternative to Labour, that didn't support the strike action. Worse, a number of them fed illusions in Labour. This is quite incredible when the Labour leaders have made it absolutely clear that they will stick largely to the Tories' cuts agenda.

Clare Soloman from the People's Assembly gave a completely mixed message, by saying "no cuts" and no to "slower cuts", but preceded that with an appeal to people to go to their local People's Assembly gatherings "to join with people in the Green Party, the Labour Party" and trade unionists, etc. This is no way forward for all the striking local authority workers who work for the Labour-run councils that won't even meet the unions' modest pay requests. Nor for the Brighton workers suffering cuts at the hands of their Green-run council.

Many of the conversations with both strikers and private sector workers referred to the magnificent victory for workers in Seattle who recently won a $15 minimum wage. Seattle shows that workers can win. But it also shows the importance of the workers' movement building its own political voice.

The election of socialist Kshama Sawant gave the movement for $15 an uncompromising voice in the decision-making chamber to act on its demands. Seattle also shows that the pro-big business parties, be that the US Democrats or Britain's Labour, cannot be relied on to defend workers.

Workers must rely on their own strength - bringing that to bear through industrial action, by putting up worker and other anti-austerity candidates in elections to oppose all cuts, and by fighting for every improvement to the lives of the 99% and for socialism.

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Finance appeal

The coronavirus crisis has laid bare the class character of society in numerous ways. It is making clear to many that it is the working class that keeps society running, not the CEOs of major corporations.

The results of austerity have been graphically demonstrated as public services strain to cope with the crisis.

The government has now ripped up its 'austerity' mantra and turned to policies that not long ago were denounced as socialist. But after the corona crisis, it will try to make the working class pay for it, by trying to claw back what has been given.

  • The Socialist Party's material is more vital than ever, so we can continue to report from workers who are fighting for better health and safety measures, against layoffs, for adequate staffing levels, etc.
  • When the health crisis subsides, we must be ready for the stormy events ahead and the need to arm workers' movements with a socialist programme - one which puts the health and needs of humanity before the profits of a few.
Inevitably, during the crisis we have not been able to sell the Socialist and raise funds in the ways we normally would.
We therefore urgently appeal to all our viewers to donate to our Fighting Fund.

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In The Socialist 16 July 2014:


Socialist Party news and analysis

Raise the minimum wage: 10 NOW

Abuse scandals reveal abusive system

Scotland: Threat of a Yes majority forces concessions

Cherry Groce - Met apologises 29 years later

Con-Dems and Labour fast-track 'snoopers charter'

Them & Us


10 July public sector pay strike

J10 strike success: Now build movement to end low pay

Reports from 10 July pickets and demonstrations

NSSN: Packed out London J10 post-demo meeting


International socialist news and analysis

No more onslaught on Gaza!

Solidarity protests against Israeli state terror


Socialist Party workplace news

Tyneside Safety Glass strikers' stunning victory

Eve-of-strike success for Look Ahead Unite members

Napo election: militant strategy can defeat privatisation

Workplace news in brief


Reports and comments

Leicester anti-cuts councillors join up with TUSC

Royal Mail: Profits for rich, insecurity for workers

Obituary - John Hayes

SWP's Marxism: absence of serious debate and strategy


 

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Related links:

Public sector:

triangleLessons of the 2011 pensions strike: when workers showed their power

trianglePublic sector workers respond to the budget

triangleNapo kickstarts fight against pay freeze

triangleUnions must resist return to austerity

triangleCovid crisis: "We won't pay the price"

Strike:

triangleReaders' comments

triangleLeicester University workers strike against redundancies

triangleEngineers in fourth week of strike action

triangleTV review: Mrs Thatcher vs the miners

Pay:

triangleSparks win victory!

triangleJohnson's G7 hypocrisy

triangleEnfield byelection: We need councillors prepared to resist

Low pay:

triangleFreeports spell deregulation, low pay and a new race to the bottom

triangleLondon bus dispute against low pay, pay cuts and longer hours

Labour:

triangleBirmingham Clean Air Zone a tax on the poor

Union:

triangleRedbridge school walkout over victimised union rep

Cuts:

triangleSocialist Party to the fore at Unison LG conference

General strike:

triangleNigeria protests shake regime

Firefighters:

triangleSurrey firefighters to ballot on Christmas industrial action

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