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Unison strike: "Striking for bread and milk"
Update three - more reports added
Hundreds of thousands of local government workers in the unions UNITE and UNISON have been taking strike action on 16 and 17 July against the government's pay freeze. With prices sky-rocketing many low paid workers are literally, as one striker put it, "striking for bread and milk" or to pay the mortgage or put petrol in the tank.
In many areas Socialist Party members played a key role in the strike. Below are initial reports from picket lines and demonstrations in some parts of the country. If there is no report from your area yet, or if you have something to add, please send your comments to us straightaway at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Unison Local Government strike 16-17 July in London, photo Paul Mattsson
More than 1,000 Unison and Unite members joined the march and rally in central London after picketing their workplaces on the first day of the Local Government strike. It was clear that Socialist Party members with key positions in many of the London branches had brought many of their members to the demo despite the very late notice from the London Region that there would be a demo and rally.
Union members packed out the rally venue with lively chants of 'Low pay no way!' which continued for ten minutes before the meeting could start. From beginning to end of the rally the audience set the tone.
Keith Sonnet, Deputy General Secretary of Unison announced that, "Unison will not accept our members taking cuts and suffering from inflation." He then explained that members were "angry that the Labour government were sticking to pay cuts with inflation rising". Someone from the audience shouted "Break the link!" echoed by others until most of the room were chanting it. Sonnet complained that this was not the issue!
He ended by calling on members to "keep up the fight and together we will win" but not setting forward any strategy for after the strike days.
Jack Dromey from Unite and Alex Kenny from the NUT contrasted the huge bonuses in the city (£14 billion last year) to ordinary workers pay. Many in the audience were shocked to hear of the huge gaps between the rich and ordinary workers.
Unison Local Government strike 16-17 July in London, photo Paul Mattsson
Alex Kenny was confident that at the NUT executive on Thursday "would agree ballots for discontinuous action in the autumn" and hoped there would be joint action between the public sector unions.
Mark Serwotka, General Secretary of the PCS, spoke last to huge cheers and a standing ovation; such is the recognition of PCS as a left-led and fighting union.
He spoke about the 21 days of strikes that the DWP workers had already taken and the disgraceful pay offers to sections such as the Coastguards who have been offered 1% and start in the job on just £12,500.
"Today the DSA are on strike, the VO and Land Registry would be taking action on Friday with the Home Office out on Saturday and Sunday and the coastguards would be out for five or six days too. The Passport Office had voted by 70% majority to strike for three days next week."
He urged that "we are stronger if we strike together" to huge cheers.
PCS members across the whole of the civil service would be balloting for 12 days of strikes to take place in September. Some days would involve some of the sections with some involving everyone. He called for other public sector unions to take action with the PCS on some of these twelve days.
This rally represented many activists in London as well as a newer layer of union members who were participating on picket lines for the first time. The message from the rally and when Socialist Party members discussed with them was that united action was needed, a decent leadership was needed and that their unions should stop funding New Labour.
Success for solidarity in Waltham Forest
Unison strike 16-17 July 2008 Waltham Forest, London
"It's about time the trade unions got together." These words, from a GMB member working in the refuse service run by Verdant for Waltham Forest council in London, summed up the momentous victory for all council workers when GMB members decided not to take out dustcarts for two days running and were sent home by management on both occasions.
In the face of solid support for the strike in the borough, and anger amongst many GMB members that they had not had the chance to vote in their union's consultative ballot, they wanted to leave some mark on the strike. They are the biggest union in the refuse collection service.
Neither the Unison nor the Unite (T&G) branches waited for the official literature to come out before building support for the strike. They produced local bulletins for members and organised a series of meetings in departments. Trade unionists in the council, including Socialist Party members, had a number of friendly discussions with GMB members to convince them to have some form of protest on the first day. They agreed they would tell managers they would hold a mass meeting at 6.30am, half an hour into their shift. But the 'mass meeting' stretched for half an hour, an hour... the GMB members did not want to take the vehicles through the picket lines!
Encouraged by the growing number of Unite and Unison members on the pickets and enraged by managers' threats, they stayed where they were. Finally, at 9.30am, managers conceded defeat and said the workers could go home. Apparently, the GMB asked for that decision to be put in writing!
The GMB members promised to have another meeting on the second day of the strike. Unite and Unison members felt they had done splendidly anyway and would not have been disappointed if they had driven the vehicles out. But, they stood their ground again and this time, managers sent them home at about 7.15am!
On both days, Unite and Unison members applauded the GMB members as they went home, having established a benchmark for union solidarity in the borough, which all unions must build on. This will include building support for the National Shop Stewards' Network, which was used to organise joint meetings of union reps.
NUT members in South Grove School also defied their head teacher's instructions, who told them they could not even stand on the picket line in solidarity with the school kitchen staff before classes began!
Elsewhere, the strike was solid, closing several schools, including Whitefields Special School, eight libraries and severely disrupting other services. This was a great two days for trade unionists in the borough and showed how careful persuasion on trade unionists and their representatives can build solidarity on a far more effective scale than the usual message of support.
At the picket at Juniper House, which contains the Waltham Forest revenues and benefits department, Angela said: "Over two days we've had quite a lot of support. We're hoping by the majority of people coming out, not just in Waltham Forest but nationally, that we can get what we want. Even if they go back to the table and discuss for next year will be hopeful, but I'm hoping that this action will get a result for this year too".
Maxine said that their picket line had received good support from the public: "We've given out a few leaflets and people have come over and given us the thumbs up - it's been quite good. Each gate has been covered."
Another picket, Dan, said that the action had been worthwhile: "People haven't gone into work. We don't want to affect council services but we have to show a unified response."
On the second day of the strike, there were about 20 members on the picket line at Percival House, the main administrative offices for Ealing, London, and another dozen out on the main road outside the Town Hall, and others at sites around the Borough. The confidence was high with a constant blasting of horns of support from the private cars and commercial vehicles.
A Greenford Library worker said only two of the 14 Libraries were working, and added that the London Rally at the end of the March was enthusing and breaking the Link with Labour had become the main theme when it was raised from the floor.
Another picket said she thought the March would have been bigger, but the strike had been a success; it now depended on the union leaders being firm in challenging the government and bosses to get the maximum benefits from these two days.
The Car Park Attendants while leafleting said all their fellow workers were out as the management wanted to cut the staffing levels by half. They also expressed anger at their union money going to New Labour.
Classroom assistants in Greenwich set the example for workers across London. For many it was the first time they had been on strike. Schools across the Borough closed for two days as a result of their action.
The picket at the main depot was nearly one hundred strong with waste severely affected by the strike.
A great rally at the town hall on the second day saw social workers, technical assistants, library workers and road sweepers sending a clear message to the council's Chief Executive: "Mary Ney, hear us say, a fair day's work for a fair day's pay".
The overwhelming feeling in Greenwich is to ensure that these two days are not seen as an exercise in letting off steam, but instead are part of a campaign leading to further action, to unite public service workers in a national campaign for a decent pay rise.
Picketing with the dawn chorus in Camden
Unison Local Government strike on 16-17 July in Camden, photo by Hugo Pierre
Inflation is beginning to clamp the purses and wallets of UNISON members but on Wednesday morning they fought back to regain their spending power. For many long-time campaigners in the union all the hard work in the previous month brought its rewards.
The birds were still belting out their dawn chorus when I arrived at South Camden Community School to meet my first picket. Within the hour (by 6.30am) we were joined by 6 more - young members I'd never seen before.
By 7.30 there were 16 of us covering all four school entrances. All looking forward to see what support the teachers would give them.
Unison Local Government strike on 16-17 July in Camden, photo by Hugo Pierre
By 8.30 over 30 teachers joined 15 UNISON pickets in solidarity before having to go to in but wishing them luck. Of course the main discussion was about how united action would have closed the school and probably all the others in Camden.
Although initially shy a couple of members explained to the TV cameras how the big rises in the cost of living meant they might have to leave their jobs teaching kids which they really loved.
Unison Local Government strike on 16-17 July in Camden, photo by Hugo Pierre
The early start didn't stop them from joining 100 other members from Camden schools on the demonstration to Friends House. A loud and lively contingent showed the determination needed to win this dispute. Everyone was asking what's next and how can we make it bigger next time. But even better more were willing to take on the role of steward so they can make a difference for the union in their school.
Hugo, Camden UNISON Schools Convener
South West Wales
Alec Thraves reports:
Socialist Party Wales members visited dozens of picket lines across Wales offering solidarity and support and receiving a warm welcome for our special public sector leaflet as well as selling our paper to many of the pickets.
The strike in South West Wales was solid and our members reported overwhelming support for the action.
In Swansea, pickets at the County Hall, Guildhall, Refuse depot, Building maintenance, social services, the Grand theatre and others all reported just a handful, of mainly non union members, crossing the picket lines.
Clive Williams, UNISON shop steward for the Housing Department of the City and County of Swansea said:
"My colleagues ask me - Do I think this dispute is winnable? I reply, yes I do think it is winnable but it depends on the tactics of the trade union leadership. There are two factors I would like to highlight:-
"Firstly, the Labour Party has to be taught a lesson and that is you don't bite the hand that feeds you! The Labour Party is funded by the trade union movement and that funding must stop because we aren't get anything in return for the money we are paying out, so that link must be broken.
"Secondly, when industrial action is being considered, the leadership of the public sector trade unions should carry out a ballot simultaneously with a recommendation for strike action and if that happens then success will be very likely. Today's action has seen 99% out on strike and the few who have gone in have been insignificant"!
40 copies of the Socialist were sold in Swansea city centre at a lunch time stall supporting the council workers.
In Llanelli the main council building had a lively picket with hardly anyone going in and similarly at the leisure centre.
Mark Evans, UNISON, Assistant Branch Secretary of Carmarthenshire County Branch, with 4000 members spread across Carmarthen, Llanelli and the Amman Valley told the Socialist that the strike had been solid with the most number of pickets ever!
"The GMB refuse depots have been picketed with no one crossing the picket line, whilst pickets at other council premises were solid, upbeat and reported that very few staff have gone into work. Our shop stewards discussed the excellent response today but felt that 2 days would not be enough to win our demand and that in September we expect an escalation of the dispute. There is a great deal of enthusiasm for joint action with other public sector workers".
Pickets at the Council buildings in Bridgend town centre reported that the strike was solid with few workers turning up. Bernard Roome, CWU National Executive member, spoke to them and gave solidarity and support from the communication workers union.
South East Wales
Ross Saunders Cardiff UNISON Schools Convenor reports:
"Thousands of Unison members went on strike in Cardiff and the rest of South East Wales today against a pay offer that amounts, yet again, to real-terms pay cuts. Many schools and council workplaces were shut, with a number of lively picket lines outside those that management refused to close. Postal workers refused to deliver the mail and many members of GMB and other unions refused to cross the picket line in solidarity.
"Council management have been condemned in the press for risking unsafe working practices in order to try and hide the impact caused by the strike. They forced Butetown tunnels, a series of covered dual carriageways, open with a small crew of three untrained scabs. Every 12 hours 40,000 cars travel through the tunnel, which is usually staffed by 20 skilled technicians, all UNISON members out on strike.
"There was a feeling of grim determination on the picket lines I visited. Local Government workers are the most lowly-paid in the whole of the service sector, and UNISON organises some of the worst off of these - including the care-workers, teaching assistants and cleaners. Pickets said that, despite the financial sacrifice, they were glad they were taking action against attacks on their pay, working conditions and the quality of the services they provide.
Labour Assembly Member Carwyn Jones spoke at UNISON, saying he thought it was unfair for some to have to suffer "pay restraint" and not others. The irony was not lost on the members who listened to him speak from the platform, which was decorated with placards, including one pointing out Assembly Members had themselves just accepted an 8% rise in their already inflated earnings."
Report from Denbighshire County Council Offices, Ruthin, North Wales
40 strikers approximately from across Denbighshire converged at Ruthin for a lunchtime rally calling for "fair pay", many wore t-shirts emblazoned with the slogan "I'd rather be skint than a scab". Many reported support from the public and as the rally progressed many passing vehicles sounded their horns in solidarity.
The majority of strikers highlighted that the Welsh Assembly Members had no shame in awarding themselves an 8% pay increase (double the rate of inflation), while expecting ordinary workers to accept 2% (half the rate of inflation) - irony gone mad.
The UNISON/UNITE strikers chanted to each other, "what are you going to spend your £3 rise on", "1/2 a gallon of petrol" came the reply from the crowd.
Other demand raised were "we want the John Lewis list", and "money for bread and milk."
Several raised the point that while striking for a pay rise to keep up with inflation they were also there protesting at cut backs in their departments - resulting in worsening services for those vulnerable and extra workloads for the staff.
The speakers at the rally commented that council workers have worked so well that they have doubled the government's target for efficiency savings, meaning that Conwy council has £3 million of unallocated funds and Denbighshire having £5 million - in the strikers own words this would be more than enough to meet the unions pay demand in full.
Cardiff County Unison strikers at County Hall have been very effective. They've stood in the road, stopping every car, with a polite but firm, "May I ask you not to cross the picketline?" As a result, even most managers have felt the need to explain themselves.
Delivery vans have turned back and not attempted to cross the picketline. About 30 strikers were on the picketlines at County Hall at some point during the day.
People crossing (other than management) were those with exemptions from the union, because they were about to retire (and days off would count against their pensions) and temps. Temps were encouraged to join the union and assured that - management threats not withstanding - they would not have action taken against them for taking part.
Management had sent out an email warning staff that they would be in breach of their contract if they didn't belong to the union, but respected the picketline. Pickets explained that all strikers were "in breach of their contracts", but were covered by provisions for legal strike action.
The second day, the small numbers going into work - including management - were greatly reduced. An excellent result.
Lincoln Stays Solid for Strike
Unison Local Government strike on 16-17 July in Lincoln, photo Lincoln Socialist Party
Lincoln showed what can be done when workers get organised. The biggest team of pickets seen in recent years staffed the lines from 7.00 am onwards. Initial predictions of an 80% solid strike were proved to be pretty accurate, as workers stayed away in protest at their pathetically low pay offer.
The picket lines were dominated by young workers, determined to get their message across. These workers, already low-paid, were prepared to lose two day's pay so that the entire workforce could benefit. It really put to shame those who were prepared to cross the picket line, albeit with their heads bowed!
At mid-morning we held a spontaneous demonstration around Lincoln, followed by a rally with speakers challenging the government to justify their attacks on public sector pay and calling on Gordon Brown to open his wallet like he did for the bankers. Kerry, a first time picket, told me: "It really brought home how many people are having their pay held down. From health to education, there are so many public servants being affected."
The government will claim that we don't have support. Yet our bucket collection would suggest otherwise, with over £160 being collected to help striking workers who are facing severe hardship. The spirit of workers solidarity is alive and well!
Marc Glasscoe Branch Secretary Lincoln City UNISON
"If we all came together we could tell them what to do with their pay cut!"
Around 300 County and City UNISON members gathered, after being on dozens of picket lines, outside the Town Hall to give the government a strong message that they will not accept their pay-cut "offer" of just 2.45%. Schools, Libraries and other services had been shut down. Members from UNITE joined the rally and solidarity greetings from UNISON health, the NUT and the UCU were also given. Other public sector trades unionists such as PCS members also joined the rally in their lunchtime.
Josie Nicholls, Leicestershire County Branch secretary picked up on the mood of unity when she said "We should join together with all the other unions, the NUT, UCU, PCS: If we all came out together we could tell them what they can do with their pay cut!"
Other speakers such as Pete Flack from the City of Leicester NUT agreed that what is needed is collective action not only to win decent pay rises but stop the government's privatisation agenda.
The biggest response was when Josie said: "The governments call for cutting back and tightening our belts doesn't wash with us - Its disgusting that they are asking us to take a pay cut when we are paying MP's to have second homes and furnish them, no wonder a lot of members are questioning why UNISON are giving money to the Labour Party. "
The Deputy Leader of the council decided to get up and speak and try to say that he supported us. Yet he went on to say they needed to keep the council tax low and because the local UNISON branch had won back-pay on equal pay claims for their members - he said that could leave council broke. This met with an angry response from UNISON Convenor Gaynor Garner: "Don't pin that one on us, you should have been paying us equal pay in the first place".
Today on the picket line we have been discussing what next, if they don't listen what action can we take next and what can we do now to start building for it.
Picket lines were solid and angry in Bristol on Wednesday and Thursday. There was a steely determination to see this battle through. It's personal now, summed up by a woman who spat her contempt for Brown in acquiescing to the plan to give Thatcher a state funeral, while blaming low paid workers like her for holding the country to ransom.
Over half the 1,000 strong Bristol rally received Campaign for a New Workers Party material which was eagerly read and discussed. Typical of the response was the incredulity from 4 UNISON members when they realised their union dues were still subbing Brown's dirty little privatisation plans. One turned to her mates and said 'the Labour Party's supposed to be bankrupt. If enough of us withdraw our funding, they'll be finished. Either that or they can pay us what we want, but I'm not holding my breath'.
Significantly a very senior and well-respected UNITE fulltime official approached me and said he has torn up his Labour card after over 30 years of membership. He agreed that union leaders, including his own, now have to think bravely about creating a new force that can appeal to those on this demo and beyond.
Recession means no hiding place for the likes of Woodley and Prentice. They will come under titanic pressure to deliver, as a whole generation of workers feel the cold winds of the dole queue and housing repossessions for the first time in their working lives.
Now that Brown, Clegg and Cameron are just three differently coloured brands of the same failed product, it's no wonder some on the demonstration were saying that they'll consider voting Tory in 2010, as they 'can't be as bad as Brown'. It's shocking to hear this for those of us who fought Thatcher in the 1980s, but such is the frustration that has built up, that people will look for an alternative wherever it appears to be offered.
That's where we come in. The CNWP is rapidly reaching the end of its beginning. Tomorrow the idea of a new mass workers' party can grow into a powerful material force.
South West Socialist Party has posted a video of the strike demonstration in Bristol, including an interview with a leading PCS member, to their YouTube site:
Cowardly Treasury minister Yvette Cooper ducked out of a photo-opportunity rather than face the anger of local government strikers in Plymouth.
Cooper, deputy to Chancellor, Alistair Darling, was due to attend the Tamar Science Park with Plymouth City Council's chief executive on the second day of the pay strike.
But the visit was hurriedly cancelled when strikers converged on the venue to form a welcoming committee for her.
Plymouth UNISON officer, Jeremy Guise, told the strikers: "This shows the Labour Party daren't face us. They know they have no answers to our questions and when they find out we're waiting for them, they bottle it."
Throughout Plymouth on the two strike days, lively pickets at most of the council workplaces gave a determined signal that workers will no longer settle for crumbs at a time of obscene wealth and rising prices.
At the Ballard House social services centre, union members stayed out but there were disappointingly high numbers of GMB members and non-union workers who went through the picket lines.
We were buoyed up by freshly cooked scones, a gesture from Helen, a 60-year-old worker in her final year who was gutted at having to come to work to preserve her pension. There were also solidarity doughnuts from local CWU members and plenty of support from passing drivers.
Before the next set of strikes there is clearly a lot of work to be done persuading colleagues to join us.
Devon and Exeter
This strike had a very local feeling with many picket lines within easy reaching distance in many of the small towns in Devon.
The holiday resorts of Teignmouth and Dawlish had four picket lines resulting in the closure of three schools and very dubious lack of Health and Safety cover in the other.
Classroom assistants. technicians and caretakers were at the forefront in a determination to make a stand against low pay. This was their first taste of strike action and many felt that this was not the last against what they see as a paycut.
What was surprising was how quickly they have learned to organise themselves into effective pickets given how little industial action occuring in this area over the past decades.
Towns such as Torquay, Totnes also saw schools and libraries close with disruptions in bin collections. In North Devon, Barnstaple Civic Centre had only a few going in but there was reports of agency staff covering for normal staff. Unision is taking this 'scabbing' up with the Council.
It was reported that one of the Unision shop stewart was calling for union canditates in the next election. Socialist Party Members donated to the strike fund. This is something that the Campaign for a New Workers Party would support.
Plymouth and Exeter saw fairly well attended demonstrations. However the impression of the 48hr strike was that this was about workers taking widespread strike action in their local area.
As one picket said ' We did not take serious action against pensions - but now our backs are against the wall and this is serious business, our bills have gone through the roof and we must defend ourselves and our families'.
Sean Brogan Secretary Devon and Exeter Socialist Party
Unison Local Government strike on 16-17 July in Coventry, photo by Fiona Pashazadeh
Workers showed the power of striking and the vital role they play when they went on strike, as the libraries and council tax office closed and there was virtually a complete shut down of the bin collection service and many other services were heavily disrupted.
Sunara Begum, Coventry North West Socialist Party
As one striker put it "the workers are the back bone of the country, we keep it going" and the strikers in the local government workers in Coventry showed just how our jobs are crucial in the running of our services.
Many on the picket lines argued that the government should live on our wages and see how they manage to cope. As one striker eloquently put it "its one rule for them and another for us" whilst expressing his contempt at the double standards of MPs who have lavish expenses paid for, and an eleven week summer holiday.
As a Socialist Party member and a young worker in the retail sector the experience of the strike and speaking to the people on the pickets was fantastic and a true inspiration. It was great to see young workers together with workers who could remember the strikes of the 1970s, one of whom argued that "we never got anything without fighting for it, everything we've got today from the right to strike to the paid holidays were won by strikers at the beginning of the last century".
As a socialist I was proud to see the traditions of workers fighting back up held during the strike.
'the socialist' spoke to a UNISON rep in the Revenues and Benefits section at Coventry council
'Our strike has been very solid amongst UNISON members in our area. Our section voted by 98% to reject the offer in the consultation, and many members have been frustrated about the delays in taking action. To their credit a small number of non-union members and GMB members have also not crossed our lines. We ran lively pickets with members from Local Tax, Housing / Council Tax Benefits and Enforcement, turning a number of people away. Our strike had a big impact, with management saying before the strike that the service would be 'severely disrupted' and it was!
'The public support was there, with cars tooting constantly. After the first day one our members went on to the internet to get 'support us by tooting' translated into Polish for our placards, so on the second day Polish bus drivers were giving us the thumbs up and sounding their horns!'
'We had welcome support on our picket line from a local PCS branch official, which gave us a nice boost, as many of the issues that we are facing are the same.'
'We then retired to the pub for a well earned pint.'
Reading UNISON branch closed Civic centre which included public access to the post office too. They had a rally at 11am and then marched from civic centre down main shopping thoroughfare. We had a stall on the Campaign for a New Worker's Party during rally till 1pm - got 10 signatures on CNWP declaration, £10 in donations for CNWP and sold 6 papers.
Newcastle: One young picket explained: 'I had to clear my desk for people who were crossing the picket line (from other offices). However, I left union strike leaflets and a Socialist Party leaflet supporting the strike on my desk, they'll have to look at them before they can do any work,'
Picket lines across Liverpool were quite good. Many GMB members refused to cross the picket lines and a number of messages of support from NUT members were received.
The vast majority of Special schools closed and a number of Secondary schools were open but not for pupils.
Raph Parkinson, Chair, Liverpool UNISON
Unison Local Government strike on 16-17 July in Knowsley, photo by R Bannister
The strike was very solid in Knowsley. Management had reconciled themselves to this, and closed several premises for the two days, meaning that we did not have to picket them.
Two attempts to use agency workers to strike break, (this is illegal under current legislation), were stopped after UNISON intervention.
Unison Local Government strike on 16-17 July in Knowsley, photo by R Bannister
Pickets were mounted by UNISON & UNITE, and several GMB members, which union disgrcefully did not support the strike, refused to cross picket lines.
Pickets reported less strike-breakers on the second day than on the first day of the strike. Talk on the picket lines was about rising inflation, and the need to secure a decent pay rise.
Jim Cessford, senior steward at Manchester Advice, spoke to the socialist in a personal capacity:
"In Manchester, the strike is solid with over 80% of all workers, including union members, staying away. In areas like Manchester Advice, where there is a strong fighting union leadership, we managed 100%.
"If we're going to build for further action, we need to strengthen that stewards' organisation across towns and cities like Manchester, and build further solidarity with other public-sector trade unions.
"My members want the 6%, not any half-way offer. Much of the leadership's literature doesn't even mention the 6% claim, it just talks about 'fair pay' which many in the union see as a green light to the employers to offer us some half-way-house deal. We need to campaign for the full claim."
Striking Local Government Workers stand strong in Bolton
Approximately one hundred striking local government workers in Bolton gathered outside the Town Hall last Wednesday in a mood of spirited determination and solidarity. Unison Senior Steward Steve Rigby explained:
"After ten years of below inflation pay rises we have been put in a position where we have to take action. Everything is going up apart from our wages."
The decision to go on strike was not taken lightly by anyone; as Joan Johnson of Bolton's Homeless Team said:
"Two days pay is a lot to lose, for everyone here, especially in the current economic climate.
"There are people asking whether they can even afford it, but we have been left with no choice, we can't let ourselves be pushed around any longer by a government that doesn't care and won't listen."
In Bolton the message was clear:
"We can't afford not to strike and let the government get away with further attacks on pay and conditions."
At the strike meeting Bernie Gallagher, (Bolton Unison Branch Secretary and UNISON NEC) applauded a successful first day of action, on which there had been in excess of a hundred pickets and all council buildings had been closed to the public. She also stressed the significance of this dispute in the long-term struggle between Bolton Council and local service workers over pay and conditions.
Speaking with The Socialist after the rally, Bernie said
"The momentum has really been building up in the last 24 hours and I think we're going to see that movement continuing tomorrow."
The Socialist sends its full support to those workers striking in Bolton.
There was a strong show of unity in Cambridge as Unison activists picketed local government offices at Mandela House, Guildhall, Shire Hall and North and South City Homes. Reports from the county heard that many facilities had been closed down and in a show of solidarity, 12 GMB members refused to cross a picket line, affecting bin collections in the city.
Around 50 people attended a lunch time strike rally at the Guildhall and heard speeches from those on strike and supporters from PCS, UNISON Health, Cambridge TUC and UCU. The speakers dismissed the government's claims that public sector pay causes inflation and attacked New Labour's obsession with the marketisation of services.
Jill Eastland from Cambridge UCU branch said that ordinary people are being blamed for everything at the moment and being asked to tighten their belts, while New Labour continues to subsidise big business. She said 'New Labour keep telling us that there is no money to pay low paid workers a decent wage, yet finds £76 billion for Trident and a blank cheque for the illegal wars in Iraq and Afghanistan'.
Other speakers stressed the need for joint action. The Socialist Party leaflet calling for a 24 hour strike was well received. The idea of a new workers party was supported by many and local trade unionists have taken literature to distribute to members and raise at branch meetings about the CNWP and the Cambridge meeting.
Basildon and Southend.
SUPPORT FOR the strike was solid in the main council offices in Basildon. The cashiers were out as were nearly all of the housing department. Pickets joked that the top managers would have to learn how to answer the phone.
There was a good turn out for picketing, with around 30 at the main site at one point and most other office buildings covered. Although the parks and leisure staff and many other manual workers in Unison and Unite supported the strike, unfortunately a number of the refuse drivers crossed the picket line. However, with swimming pools and day centres closed, schools affected, and strikers handing out leaflets in the town centre we managed to get the message across.
Members of the fire brigades union, the college lecturers union and a group of mid day assistants from a local school came to show their support and the postman, a CWU member, refused to cross the picket line to deliver the mail.
IN SOUTHEND, strikers marched from the picket line at the Civic Centre to a rally in the town centre. Nick Bradley, Unison full time organiser, spoke, exposing the hypocrisy of MPs voting to keep their 'John Lewis list' of expenses yet expecting low paid teaching assistants, care workers and admin staff to tighten their belts.
PCS members from the DWP office joined the march and rally. Their branch organiser addressed the rally, pointing out that sections of the civil service were also striking. He got a big cheer when he said 'we are with you', reflecting the general support which we found at the rally for the idea of united public sector action.
(All statements in a personal capacity)
THE UNISON strike was a massive success across Kirklees, especially in Huddersfield, which was described by one striker as a ghost town. Kirklees had 80 schools shut, which was nearly as many as the rest of West Yorkshire put together.
Socialist Party members were active around the picket lines, showing solidarity and contributing to the political discussion.
There was some disappointment at members of other unions crossing the picket lines, as well as management, but this provided extra motivation to keep the pickets going. The line at Oldgate House successfully stopped cars from entering the car park, forcing the management to turnaround.
Later on in the day, there was a demo in the centre of Huddersfield of around 300 people, at which Socialist Party members led the chants.
Socialist Party members were busy throughout the day, with many papers sold and signatures for CNWP petitions, as well as putting on two public meetings on the issues of disaffiliating from the Labour Party and whether strikes are still effective.
The mood and the turnout amongst council workers was positive throughout Brighton with over a dozen pickets across the city.400 strikers gathered in Hove and marched into Brighton for a large rally.
Buses that were held up on their way honked their horns in support following the bus drivers' own pay dispute in June.
Speeches at the rally condemned the attack on pay with the largest cheers given to demands on the need to link up for united public sector action. Fourteen copies of The Socialist were sold with the confidence of many workers boosted by the strike action and our support.