Friday, 1 July 2011

Magnificent 4,000 strong demonstration on June 30th: Next Step, 24 Hour Public Sector Strike

Yesterday up to 4,000 striking teachers, lecturers and civil servants marched through the streets of Brighton in a massive display of working class strength, and opposition to the government’s attacks on pensions (click here for an article debunking the government's plans). The march followed a morning of well supported pickets at schools, colleges and university campuses around the city, as well as the jobcentre, courts, DVA and HMRC as workers took part in the first mass co-ordinated strike action against the Con-Dem’s brutal cuts.

By Jack Poole, Brighton and Hove Socialist Party

Around three quarters of a million workers were taking strike action nationally in the NUT, UCU, PCS and ATL, against the government’s plans to make workers work longer, pay more into their pension pots and receive less.

Despite the lies and slander in the press and from the Tories, the strike was clearly well received by ordinary people, with on-lookers applauding the march as it passed through the centre of Brighton. The first major strike action against this government will give confidence to those who are being affected by the cuts, but up till now have no one sticking up for them.

The enormous TUC London march of half a million on march 26th showed the potential of the trade union movement to take a lead in fighting the cuts and defending ordinary working people, and yesterday's strike put that potential into action, with three quarters of a million workers on strike. There is no doubt that a huge campaign in needed to defeat the Con-Dem cuts, it is now clear that the backbone of such a campaign must be the mass mobilisation of the trade union movement in order to be successful.

Socialist Party members in Brighton spent the morning visiting the picket lines with messages of solidarity and then joined the mass demonstration later in the day. If government does not drop its plans, something that does not seem likely, our call for the next step to be a 24 hour public sector general strike, with the other big unions, especially Unison taking part. This was well received by demonstrators, with many seeing this as the natural move for the campaign to defend pensions to take next. This must be linked to an appeal to private sector workers to join their trade unions and fight for decent pensions, wages and conditions. The divide and rule of this government must be met by a united struggle of private and public sector workers.

If Unison joins the strike action in the autumn, then the strike could spread to as many as 4 million workers nationally. Dave Prentis recently attacked the government’s proposals for pensions and said that he wouldn’t have second thoughts about balloting the membership for strike action. However past actions of the Unison leadership show that we should take his words with caution, and fight for the leadership to name the date for a ballot of its members for all-out industrial action.

A Political Voice?

The day of strike action also raised starkly the question of working class political representation, as disgracefully - although not surprisingly - the Labour party failed to support the strike, with so called “Red Ed” coming out and stressing how he thought the strikes were wrong and even urged Labour party members to scab on the day!

None of the main political parties supported the strikes. In Brighton it was also obvious by the complete lack of a Labour party presence on the demonstration that the party not only has very little connections with the interests of working people, but has very little grass roots organisation and membership, with local Labour parties being a hollow shell of activity and discussion. Caroline Lucas, Brighton Pavillion MP, spoke at the strike rally in support of the strikers and Green party councillors attended the demonstration. However the Green council has made it clear that while they formally disagree with the cuts locally they will carry them out through lack of an alternative. Without a conscious policy of joining up with the working-class struggle - the strength of which was displayed on the 30th - the Greens will be, at best, reluctant administrators of the government cuts.

Socialist Party members on the day stressed the need for a new party that represents the needs and interests of the working class, and is rooted in the trade union movement. In the May local elections we worked with militant trade unionists and other left groups to stand under the banner of The Trade Union and Socialist Coalition (TUSC). Which although receiving a modest vote, showed the possibility of forming a new party of the working-class.

Workers taking strike action to defend their pensions, pay and jobs against this government need a political voice to defend them as well as their trade unions. It is absolutely vital that the arguments for the formation of a new workers party continue to be argued, and in the coming months of struggle against the government, won as well.

The 30th of June was a great success locally and nationally. Brighton's march was the largest turnout in proportion to population in the country! However we must make sure this is a building block for further, bigger strike action against the cuts. A public sector general strike in the autumn would shake the government and its allies in big business and the market.

Yesterday showed that working people are not going to lie down and take these attacks, they will stand up and fight, and when they do in their hundreds of thousands, and soon millions, the government will be forced to pay attention. This is a fight we cannot afford to lose, let’s make sure we don’t!