Solidarity Forever

Posted: July 5, 2011 by rabidleftwinger in Demonstrate, Rally & Occupy!

A report on 30th June strikes, by a striking Unison Teaching Assistant

The NUT rep and I mounted a picket at our school – much to the Headteacher’s surprise, who had expected a passive, going-through-the-motions strike.

Until yesterday, we had an agreement that seven Unison members would respect the picket line, but this crumbled at the last minute with colleagues fearing reprisals for taking unofficial strike action and feeling that, since the school was closed to students, the action was merely symbolic. But I was supported at the last moment by another teaching assistant, making the decision to go ahead worthwhile.

The NUT rep was disappointed to see four members cross – despite a 92% vote for action. At least Unison members had the excuse of not being balloted.

The NUT’s decision not to picket schools that planned to close was shortsighted: we need to engage all union members on strike days and pile the pressure on non-members and those who think they can betray democratic decisions.

After a strikers’ breakfast, we were ready for Brixton and the strike rally. When I got there, a good soundsystem was blaring out some reggae, while 30-40 activists on bicycles were delivering more food for strikers. I think they were from UK Uncut, though I recognised a squatter friend from back in the day.

Soon they were off on their solidarity itinerary – but not before about 50 NUT strikers emerged from the Town Hall to chant slogans on the steps. Then from Brixton Hill came another hundred or so UCU strikers and students from the Brixton campus of Lambeth College, marching down the road. Both of them linked up and some Unison and PCS members and I joined them too. A short impromptu demo down the High Street and back to Windrush Square perked us all up. Then there was a short rally. I got to speak as an unofficial striker, who had defied the anti-union laws to walk out, which went down well.

When I said we needed to learn from Greece, where they had moved from one-day to two-day general strikes and “launch a general strike here in Britain for one, two, three days – as long as it took to break this government” there was a big cheer.

As most of us left for the central London demo, some activists stayed behind to look after some kids in an “alternative adventure playground”.

This was also to make the point that the council was making playground staff redundant. Earlier a big cheer had also gone up for library staff that had won their ballot for strike action and would be coming out in a few weeks time.

Arrived at the London demo just in time to see the front of the march go past Waterloo Bridge and head down the Strand. Huge balloons for the unions lead the procession. And what a procession! It took over an hour before we finally saw the Lambeth contingent and behind them REVOLUTION, the socialist youth group.

It was good to link up with the others – and to meet more strikers from my school. The atmosphere was like a carnival. Another TA said she was amazed by the age range – from pensioners to teenagers – and the multicultural feel. Sound systems, loud hailers and whistles, were everywhere.

As we passed Charing Cross station a crowd were shouting, “Let them go! Let them Go!” at a group of 20 cops. In the middle were a couple of young teenagers (I’d say about 13 years old), who had been arrested for… wearing bandanas over their faces!

A group of us followed and chased the cops, who escaped down the tube with the “dangerous outlaws”. We harangued them for a few minutes more, one wag noting that the police enjoyed non-contributory pensions.

As we came to Westminster central Hall, the rally was packed and an outdoor overflow screen was all we could see. Why didn’t the unions organise the rally for Trafalgar Square or Hyde Park? It seemed unambitious to say the least: 2,000 capacity hall for a 30,000 demonstration.

Nevertheless, from what I heard later on there were some good speeches. I was especially glad that there was a big cheer for ATL chief Mary Bousted for denouncing Labour leader Ed Miliband, who had disgracefully called on teachers to cross picket lines. As Bousted pointed out, this was a man who had not uttered a word on public sector pensions until three weeks ago and was now “advising” the unions on how to win the argument and what stage negotiations were at.

The bare-faced cheek – Milibland has been compared to Neil Kinnock, who consistently denounced the miners and every other striker in the 1980s, on his way to, er, not winning a single election. But I have to say he’s worse. If a one-day strike to stop the government stealing hundreds of thousands of pounds from young workers’ future pensions and adding up to eight years onto their working life is “irresponsible” then clearly every strike is to much for this man, who has never worked for a single day outside of Labour Party HQ.

After the demo – where next?
Unfortunately, for whatever reason, there was no attempt to occupy a square and emulate Cairo’s Tahrir Square or Athens’ Syntagma Square. Maybe the direct action youth were kettled or maybe there was insufficient planning and leadership to pull it off. Shame, but if it was the latter, then we need to step up our organisation if we are to add some revolutionary fervour to our actions.

So, we ended up in a pub, discussing the way forward. Later that evening, I watched Newsnight with interest – not least because one of their journalists had interviewed me earlier in the day (clearly my call for a general strike was not required in the final cut!).
The programme, however, did mark a new approach to the public debate. Instead of interviewers treating union leaders’ points with incredulity and repeating the government’s lies to them, they cross-examined government advisors and quoted union positions as common knowledge.

Instead of mocking the unions and claiming industrial action was a doomed throwback to the 1980s, they had to report the extraordinary effect that the closure of four-fifth’s of the country’s schools had on the wider economy and public life.

This was aided by the fact that the unions have exposed systematic falsification on the Tories’ part: the pension schemes are “unaffordable” – lie; the demographic trends mean they are “unsustainable” – lie; the schemes are in “deficit” – lie.

I would not be surprised if the government comes up with some cosmetic changes at least for the teachers in order to take them out of the frame before the autumn. This would be a terrible short-selling of the teachers after their magnificent strike but, even worse, it would be a disaster for the wider movement.

We have the opportunity to turn the tide against the Tories and bring council workers, NHS staff and firefighters into the fray.
The spectre of this – and behind it a full-on general strike – is what is petrifying the Tories and their Lib-Dem hangers-on. Michael Gove may think he is Winston Churchill and dream of re-enacting the 1926 general strike. But our class only lost by a whisker back then – with rank and file organisations in the unions and councils of action in the towns, cities and metropolitan boroughs, this time we can win.

But to do so, we must ensure our union leaders do not back down, do not renege on their fighting talk and do not sign up to separate deals.

Solidarity forever!


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