Now Strike Together!
By Richie Venton, SSP national workplace organiser
It was a human flood that clogged up the streets of London for several hours.
The biggest demo, by far, in the UK since the 2003 marches against the Iraq invasion.
The biggest trade union-led demo for several generations, some say for a century.
Half a million strong, loud, proud, colourful and determined to fight the cuts.
All ages represented, from kids in buggies to pensioners; veterans of many marches, complete newcomers on their first ever; mostly public sector workers, but supported by big private-sector contingents.
Overwhelmingly working class, an almighty display of the potential power of the organised trade unionists in this country; a devastating rebuttal of the sneering jibes and whingeing pessimism about the ‘death’ of the workers’ movement in modern Scotland and Britain.
Marchers were still trying to leave the assembly points four or five hours after the head of the march had arrived in Hyde Park . This was a mammoth display of unity and working class solidarity, attracting tens of thousands of young people not in a union, boosted by the sheer scale and sense of power on the streets.
The TUC’s 26 March demo against the cuts was a decisive turning point in the battle to save benefits, pensions, jobs, pay and public services from the millionaire assassins trained on the playing fields of Eton and Oxbridge. At least 10,000 Scots made the horrendously long trek by train and bus, from every corner of the country (including Shetland!) and from every section of public sector workforce – plus students, claimants and community campaigners.
The critical question on most people’s lips then (and since) was: what next? How can this powerful force be turned into an unbeatable army of resistance to the butchers of Westminster, Holyrood and local councils?
On the train from Glasgow , for instance, we held a succession of discussions – lasting four hours there and at least two hours on the return journey – with groups of workers on every coach, from every union present, where we discussed ideas on how to build on the TUC mass march.
Virtually everyone, from trade union veterans of struggle to new fighters, was wide open to the suggestion of a one-day public sector strike, as we advocated in the SSP leaflet and the Voice. The only real dissent was from Scottish Prison Officers’ Association members – who thought it didn’t go far enough!
Coordinated strike action
Everyone echoed the SSP’s view that the TUC demo should be just the start, a launch-pad to go into workplaces, communities and colleges with the call for further action – including coordinated strike action, as spoken of in resounding speeches at TUC conference as far back as last September.
Likewise, all those we discussed with shared the SSP’s opinion that there is absolutely no excuse for any cuts; that there’s more than enough wealth around, but that we need to tax the rich and make them pay for the crisis they and their system created – instead of attacking the poor and the working class, who played no part in causing the economic crisis.
This openness to a clear-cut plan of action and a principled socialist alternative to the cuts was confirmed by the response to speakers at the TUC Hyde Park rally. The more hard-hitting the speech, the warmer was the reception. And perhaps the best received of all was PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka’s demolition of the excuses for cuts from tax-dodging millionaires, and his call for those who had just marched together to now strike together.
The enemy prepares
The employers and their vicious puppets in government are deadly serious about imposing the cuts and preparing for a showdown with workers and their families, in mortal fear that they face mass resistance. That upper-class fear and ruthless preparations have increased with the spectre of mass resistance displayed on 26 March.
Already reports have leaked out of plans to use the army against potential industrial action by prison officers. Tories like Boris Johnson and others more outwardly serious have called for bans on the right to strike in essential services (which of course they refuse to deem ‘essential’ when it comes to cutting them!). NHS bosses have let slip their plans to build up a strike-breaking force of volunteers in case their staff revolt against cuts to their pensions and jobs. And the Coalition is discussing “a war plan” on how to resist coordinated strike action across the public sector by use of the existing anti-union laws and the enlistment of a scab army to replace strikers.
Workers prepare for action
It is high time the national trade union leaders made similarly serious preparations.
The response to their call to demonstrate is a sure sign of people’s readiness to resist the cuts, given even half a lead, especially if it is not restricted to one union or one workforce, but coordinated across the board.
And already, several sections of workers are squaring up for action, balloting for work-to-rules and strikes on issues such as pensions – a common form of cut that lends itself to helping the unions coordinate common days of strike action.
The fifth-biggest union in the country, PCS, is about to ballot 250,000 public service members for strike action, in June, on pensions, jobs and pay. They are seeking coordination in their action with teachers’ unions UCU and NUT, and others.
EIS members are up in arms at a deal with COSLA being recommended by their national leadership – the same leadership who marched through London just days before – which would include a 47 per cent pay cut for supply teachers, a cut of two-thirds of training time for probationary teachers, a two-year pay cut of 10 per cent, and removal of payments to teachers on maternity leave or falling ill during annual leave.
NHS workers – contrary to the charming lies of Cameron, Clegg, Nicola Sturgeon and NHS bosses – are facing drastic cuts; £60m of them this year alone in the Greater Glasgow and Clyde Health Board.
Council workers are starting to feel the full force of the savage cuts, despite the pre-election delaying tactics by the SNP government.
Royal Mail workers face devastation if the planned privatisation of the service goes unchallenged.
Education is particularly in the firing line – which helps to explain why UCU members have been on strike, EIS members been on several rallies to stop college/university cuts, and why students have staged some of the most daring anti-cuts deeds to date.
STUC: name the day!
The role and duty of the trade union leaders who had the influence to muster a monster march of half a million weeks ago is to now pull together the different strands of struggle. They should give a lead, and name the day for a simultaneous strike across the entire public sector against the simultaneous attacks from all the governments of all the various pro-business parties.
Such a stoppage would dwarf even the impact of the biggest trade union-led demo in a century. It would hammer a wedge into the Demolition Coalition, whose retreats on woodlands privatisation and some benefits cuts have already shown how vulnerable they are to mass pressure.
One golden opportunity for such a call to ‘strike together after marching together’ is the forthcoming STUC conference.
Last week’s NUJ national conference passed a powerful anti-cuts motion, including the call for a 24 hour general strike against the cuts. A similar motion should be agreed at the STUC, and then a concerted campaign launched to explain and convince Scotland ’s 600,000 public sector workers that they can and should defeat the cuts by staging such united action.
Combined with direct action exposing the tax-dodging corporations whose wealth could pay for the protection of public services several times over, and occupations of threatened facilities in communities and colleges, united strike action could not only halt the cuts, but rock the entire Millionaires’ Cabinet.
United action – and socialist arguments
The fight against the cuts is also an ideological battleground. All four mainstream parties – Tories, LibDems, SNP and Labour – accept the case for cuts. They only fight over the scale and timing of the butchery, not the principle, not the fact there is absolutely no excuse for any cuts.
In contrast, the Scottish Socialist Party stands four-square with everyone prepared to resist the cuts, whilst arguing the case for measures to prevent any need for any cuts.
We have exposed the £120billion a year tax that is avoided, evaded or uncollected from big business and the rich.
We have exposed the simple fact that the 100 richest Scots have combined wealth of £16.4bn, which means a modest 10 per cent wealth tax on just these 100 parasites alone would raise £1.6bn – far in excess of the vicious cut to Scotland’s block grant, imposed by Westminster, spinelessly passed on by the SNP government, implemented by a rainbow coalition of cutters from all four mainstream parties in Scotland’s 32 councils. For 12 years, we have championed abolition of the Council Tax and its replacement by an income-based Scottish Service Tax, which could raise an extra £1.6bn this year for local jobs and services.
And we have spearheaded the case for democratic public ownership of the vast fortunes stashed away in the banks, big business and utilities, as a means of freeing it up for the construction of a clean, green, nuclear-free, poverty-free socialist Scotland .
In the looming Holyrood elections, every opponent of the cuts has the opportunity to vote for these measures by voting Scottish Socialist Party.
Every vote cast is another voice of reason in revolt against the most obscene attacks on living standards in generations.
Claim the future
As two of the SSP’s banners on the TUC demo declared,
No cuts – tax the rich, and
Defy all cuts – unite, strike, occupy. The time is ripe for united strike action, occupations and an ideological struggle for a socialist alternative to the cuts. The SSP will play its full part in campaigning for the unions and community organisations to take up these twin weapons in a war to survive that could shape the kind of society the next generation inherits.