3 years on from the J1O strike

3 years on from the J10 strike

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Ginger Jentzen address the rally

Today marks 3 years since public sector workers in Coventry and across the country took action against pay cuts, attacks on pensions and in defence of public services. It gave a glimpse of the power of workers from different unions striking together. Here in Coventry the strike was very well supported, with workers being given a boost by Socialist Alternative member Ginger Jentzen who was visiting from the United States. Ginger spoke at a 500 strong rally in Broadgate Square bringing solidarity from American workers and Socialist Alternative in the US.  To see pictures and reports of the picket lines, read our article here.

With the focus being brought back on to public sector pay, trade union members and activists needs to discuss the lessons of previous pay campaigns in order to make sure this time we win a decent pay rise as well as getting rid of the Tories. We encourage readers of this site to have a look at the article by Socialist Party trade union organiser Rob Williams who discusses how we can take the movement forward.

Want to help break the pay cap and get the Tories out? Fill in the form below!

 

New issue of bulletin for Council workers out now

New issue of bulletin for Council workers out now

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The “Cov Council Socialist”, a bulletin for workers at Coventry City Council is out now. Issue 21 looks at the massive cuts that are being proposed by the Local Authority and outlines how a fightback can be started. There is also information regarding the national demonstration to defend the NHS on 4th March. The bulletin can be downloaded-here.

Coventry City Council announces plans for devastating cuts

Coventry City Council announces plans for devastating cuts

Coventry City Council plans more cuts

Coventry City Council has announced plans for further crushing cuts that will affect people all across our city.

Working class people across the board will be hit – there are plans to increase Council Tax whilst weekly bin collections are stopped meaning the public paying more but getting less, reductions in Council Tax Support that will damage low paid workers, the threat of another 200 jobs being slashed (on top of the 2,100 that have been lost since 2010), and the possibility of the terms and conditions of the remaining staff being attacked and much more.

The Council are already ‘consulting’ on plans to close and cut public libraries, nursery provision and youth clubs, looking to replace staff in libraries with volunteers who will work for free. All this at the time Coventry is bidding for City of Culture!

In addition to the council cuts, of £19 million in the next financial year rising to £36 million a year by 2020, Coventry is also due to lose by 2020 a further £30 million across all schools in the city. That’s a 14% funding cut and, if those cuts are not challenged, they could be hundreds less teachers in the city in four years’ time.

Tory austerity is hitting cities like Coventry hard. The Coventry Telegraph estimates that the city has lost around £95 million in funding since 2010.

Is there an alternative to hundreds of job losses, “redesign” of bin collections, rising charges for burials and cremation, for car parks and in the council tax – whilst the vulnerable and the working poor face cuts in Council Tax Support?

Yes. And it has to start with Labour standing up to the Tories, not just, however unwillingly, doing their work.

Unfortunately rather than put up any resistance the Council have proceeded to implement all cuts that have been asked for by central government.

The Labour Council should be honest with the people of Coventry: cuts are already hurting – and the further cuts coming in educational services such as speech therapy and the Performing Arts service make hollow the aspiration to be UK City of Culture 2021.

Total council reserves, which rose from £41 million to £84 million over the last five years, have risen again, to £95 million! Surely, within that sum, there is scope for not proceeding with the £19 million cuts proposed for 2017/18 and instead temporarily funding those services from reserves whilst leading a serious campaign against the Tories for the restoration of essential local funding.

Cllr John Mutton and others have said that this is not a solution and you can only use reserves once. However what the Socialist Party have consistently argued is that the reserves should be used as a short term measure to plug the gap and keep key services going whilst at the same time building a massive campaign to demand more funds from central government.

We have explained before how this approach worked in cities like Liverpool where the equivalent of £60 million was won for the city from the claws of Margaret Thatcher. Would this be easy? No, absolutely not. The choice though is to fight, or to implement cuts that are going to hit the people of Coventry. Labour have a duty to stand up for the people of Coventry, not carry out this savage austerity.

A campaign should include:

  • public meetings in every ward explaining the consequences of Tory cuts;
  • a march and rally through the city, with national labour and trade union speakers, to unite the thousands who could be involved if a serious lead was given;
  • a conference held in Coventry of Labour local authority representatives and trade unions from across the country, to broaden support and work out a common agenda of resistance;
  • a national demonstration organised by Labour and the TUC early in the New Year to demand an end to cuts and restoration of the billions of pounds stolen from local towns and cities.
  • The council trade unions should gear up to oppose these cuts and defend jobs and services, if necessary by taking industrial action

The Socialist Party will be campaigning against these attacks, and for a fighting programme to defend our jobs and vital services. If you agree and want to get involved, fill in the form below

We urge readers to join the campaign event organised by unions outside the Central Library on Saturday 3rd December at 12pm

UNISON and UNITE in local government must co-ordinate action with the teachers and junior doctors!

UNISON and UNITE in local government must co-ordinate industrial action with the teachers and junior doctors!

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Strike together

By a local government worker in Coventry

The 3 local government unions – UNISON, UNITE and GMB have concluded their consultations on the pay claim. The offer from the employer was just 2 per cent over 2 years.

UNISON and UNITE returned big majorities for rejection, 64 per cent and 87 per cent respectively. GMB  members voted by a margin of 9-1 to accept the offer.  The GMB result is disappointing for anyone wanting to fight for decent pay. Certainly the scandalous bulletin being distributed by GMB national officers, in which UNISON and UNITE are attacked for delaying members’ pay increase is particularly unhelpful.

The fact that the GMB have departed before the battle has begun is a certain blow. It is always preferable for the maximum possible unity to exist, but that unity can’t be based around sub-standard pay deals and surrendering without a fight.

What has since become clear is that UNISON and UNITE put to the employer that instead of the pay deal being over 2 years, it should be for 1 year. This was rejected by the employers side and both unions appear to be seeking full industrial action ballots.

Activists in UNITE and UNISON should push for the building of ‘the spirit of N30’, when over 1 million public sector workers  from a whole host of unions came out on strike together in defence of pensions in November 2011

We should urgently look to co-ordinate our action with those of the teachers who are likely to strike over the academisation of our schools, and the junior doctors who are fighting against the imposition of changes to their contracts.

With the allegations of serial tax evasion from David Cameron, the steel crisis, and open splits over the EU referendum, the government is far weaker now than in 2011.

What is more, the billions squirreled away in tax havens show once and for all that the money is there for council workers to have decent pay. The money is also there for play centres, libraries and other vital public services that we all rely on.

This government can not only be defeated on pay. By piling on the pressure we can force the Tories out and defend working class people against austerity and build a movement that puts a new type of society on the agenda.

Five years ago – when 750,000 people marched against the cuts

Five years ago  – when 750,000 people marched against the cuts

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Enormous show of strength against the cuts

Saturday 26th March is the 5th anniversary of the mass TUC march through Central London that saw up to 750,000 people protest against the cuts of the ConDem coalition government. It showed clearly that people were up for the fight against austerity. Unfortunately since then the leaders of the TUC and many of the trade unions have squandered opportunity after opportunity for a co-ordinated, sustained fightback.

We are pleased to republish two key articles below. The first is from the issue of our newspaper The Socialist printed a week after the demo. As you will see from the headline on our paper we fought for the next step being a 24 hour public sector general strike.

The second article was published in June of 2011, and looks back at the months following the mass demo, examining the role of the trade union leaders whilst posing the need for a political alternative – in our view socialist policies to break with capitalism.

With major battles looming, being headed by the courageous junior doctors, the need for a militant and combative response from the unions combined with the fight for socialism assumes even greater importance.


 

We said: NO CUTS!

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Front page of The Socialist

From every direction they poured onto London’s Embankment, from up and down the country, a magnificent surge of workers, their banners and placards, transforming London for a day.

Previously the governor of the Bank of England expressed surprise that there has not been greater anger against the cuts from those affected. Even some trade union leaders, the very organisers of the demonstration, had estimated that ‘up to 100,000’ would march.

But the number on the day was six or seven times that as the opposition to the government’s cuts was made clear. This was a reflection of the rage that has been building up, not having found a national expression until 26 March.

Not only was it huge, but this was unquestionably the working class on the march.

Firefighters, nurses, teachers, civil servants, transport workers, carers, young people, and their families surged through the city.

Trade unions

Union t-shirts, bibs and flags made blocs of purple, of green, of blue, orange, yellow, red and white. They marched against job cuts, against library closures, for a future for young people, for decent pensions, against the whole spectrum of suffering that the Con-Dem government intends to rain down on us.

But marchers drew confidence from their sheer number and also knew that more has to be done to stem the flow of cuts. Only days before the march the budget had granted further tax breaks to the richest and spelt greater suffering for the most vulnerable, such as the cuts in the winter fuel allowance.

Vince Cable has made the government’s position clear. “Certainly we’re listening, and I talk regularly to the trade union movement. I think [it’s] important we have a dialogue with them, but we’re not going to change the basic economic strategy.” But that’s what they think! Leaders of two of Britain’s biggest trade unions called for coordinated strike action to follow the demo.

They are absolutely correct: this demo must form the platform for an almighty and powerful campaign of action, of occupations of threatened services and, especially, of coordinated strike action, so the cuts can be defeated.


 
TUC demonstration biggest in decades
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General Strike!

On 26 March 2011 the British working class rose like lions and took to the streets in an immense show of strength. The massive TUC demonstration against public spending cuts was well over half a million strong, possibly 700,000 or more.
 By Hannah Sell

The capitalist media has attempted to completely downplay the importance of the demonstration, concentrating overwhelmingly on the clashes with the police at far smaller protests on the same day.

And the turnout on the main demo was far bigger than has been reported. The BBC, for example, claims there were just 250,000 attending.

Unfortunately, the leadership of the TUC itself has also underplayed the turnout as between a quarter and half a million.

This was the biggest trade union organised demonstration in decades.

It had widespread support from the working class and from wide sections of the middle class.

As a TUC-commissioned poll showed, a majority of the population – 52% – support the aims of the demonstration, with only 31% opposing them. Several Socialist Party members got free or reduced price taxi rides to catch early trains from sympathetic cabbies.

On the journey to London even first class passengers bought copies of the Socialist out of sympathy with the demonstration.

The potential power of the trade union movement was graphically demonstrated as a tidal wave of humanity flooded the streets of London. Among the protesters were pensioners, community campaigners and students, the latter veterans of their own movement before Christmas.

The overwhelming majority of marchers, however, were trade unionists, many taking part in their first ever demonstration. The Unison contingent alone took an hour to pass and it seemed as if every trade union – from the largest to the smallest – had its own lively and colourful contingent.

All of those capitalist commentators that have written off the trade union movement today as a spent force were decisively answered by this demonstration. The power of the trade unions was undisputedly established.

But the question on demonstrators’ lips was ‘what next?’ How can the trade union movement use its power to stop the cuts?

Clearly rattled by the size of the demonstration, Lib Dem business secretary Vince Cable has declared that marching will not stop the government, which he laughably described as “one of the strongest the country has ever had”.

In reality this is a weak coalition government, far weaker than the Tory governments of Maggie Thatcher – the Iron Lady. Yet the Iron Lady was reduced to iron filings by a mass movement of 18 million people refusing to pay the flat rate tax (poll tax) that her government had introduced.

That movement ended the tax and brought down Thatcher. Len McCluskey, general secretary of Unite, was right when in his speech he called the anti-cuts movement the Con-Dem’s poll tax.

This government is already rattled and can be decisively beaten by the huge power of the organised working class. Nonetheless, few demonstrators imagined that this savage government of millionaires will be stopped in its tracks by one demonstration, no matter how big.

Correctly, it was widely understood that the demonstration needed to be a springboard for further action.

What alternative?

TUC demo 26 March, photo by Peter Knight

TUC demo 26 March, photo by Peter Knight   (Click to enlarge)

Alongside the vital question of how to stop the cuts, the other issue of the day was what the alternative to cuts is. The march was officially called the ‘march for the alternative’.

For some right wing trade union leaders ‘the alternative’ is code for New Labour.

Labour leader Ed Miliband spoke at the demonstration. A small minority booed him, but in the main he was politely received.

He was very careful, however, not to put Labour’s real programme, of supporting massive cuts in public services albeit carried out at a slightly slower pace than that of the Con-Dem government. Instead he made an empty speech.

He made no concrete promises that a Labour government would reverse cuts. He compared the anti-cuts movement to the struggle of the suffragettes, anti-apartheid and civil rights movements without once mentioning the history of trade union struggle in Britain, or for that matter the anti-war movement against the New Labour government.

Unsurprisingly, the man who has said he “opposes irresponsible strikes” did not say a word about what action workers should take to defend their jobs and services from attack.

Many workers on the demonstration will undoubtedly vote Labour in the elections on 5 May in the hope that Labour will, at least, cut more slowly. A significant minority, however, are too angry at New Labour’s record in government and the way Labour councils have willingly implemented government cuts at local level to vote Labour again.

The Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) – which is standing anti-cuts candidates across the country in the May elections – received a good response.

And those that will vote Labour understand that doing so will not stop the cuts and that therefore further strikes and demonstrations are essential.

All the platform speakers were in the main greeted warmly by the crowd, but the loudest cheers came for those who called for the demonstration to be followed up by strike action.

Len McCluskey declared that the demonstration would have to be followed by coordinated industrial action. Mark Serwotka, general secretary of PCS, summed up the mood of many demonstrators when he said: “Today we’ve marched together; next we’ve got to strike together”.

The Socialist Party’s call for a 24-hour public sector general strike as the next step in the battle to stop the cuts received wide support from the crowd.

At the National Shop Stewards Network (NSSN) stage many hundreds of workers stopped to hear speeches about how such a strike could be made a reality. If the TUC was now to start seriously building for a one-day public sector general strike it would receive enormous support from trade unionists.

It would also attract millions of non-unionised workers and sections of the middle class towards the trade union movement, as the force in society with the power to stop the cuts.

Such a strike would terrify the Con-Dems and give enormous confidence to the working class. Unfortunately, other trade union leaders speaking from the main platform did not put forward a strategy for strike action to defeat the government.

Dave Prentis, general secretary of Unison, put forward local demonstrations against cuts. While such demonstrations can be an important part of the movement they are not a substitute for strike action – both locally and sectorally and coordinated on a national basis.

Brendan Barber, general secretary of the TUC, rightly declared that the trade unions would not allow public services to be destroyed but did not make any concrete proposals on what the next step should be.

Before the demonstration he had emphasised the role of “peaceful civil disobedience”. As the Socialist Party warned at the time, we agree, but not if community campaigns and civil disobedience are used as an excuse to avoid strike action, rather than as an addition.

Civil disobedience

TUC demo 26 March, photo by Peter Knight

TUC demo 26 March, photo by Peter Knight   (Click to enlarge)

It should be added that Barber’s call for civil disobedience does not seem to have translated into supporting it when it took place on Saturday. It was only a small minority of Saturday’s demonstration, mainly young people, who organised sit-ins in shops and other civil disobedience.

Such actions were secondary to the huge power shown by the main demonstration, despite the capitalist media’s inevitable concentration on them.

However, unfortunately the TUC has been reported in the media as just giving a blanket condemnation of ‘violent protesters’, without a word about the role of the police.

We do not support the smashing up of shops as a method of protest, and unfortunately it gives the government, the media and others a way of trying to detract from the magnificence and size of the main demonstration.

But in the main it was the police, not the demonstrators who were violent on Saturday. It seems that the majority of civil disobedience which took place around the demonstration was peaceful, but faced kettling and arrests.

The Guardian website shows film of young people – many singing the international revolutionary workers’ song ‘the Internationale’ – being kettled and manhandled by the police for taking part in an entirely peaceful protest.

Len McCluskey was right when he supported the student protests and demanded “the police keep their grubby paws off our kids”. The fact that so many students attended the TUC demonstration shows that they are rightly looking to the trade union movement to take the lead in the fight against the cuts.

If that is to remain the case it is essential that the trade unions support the youth’s struggle, including against police repression, but also take decisive action against the cuts.

Opposition to cuts in pensions is one issue around which there is a clear prospect of coordinated strike action. The UCU have already taken strike action and is considering more, and the civil servants union, PCS, is discussing balloting for strike action on pensions to take place in May or June.

The NUT is also discussing action before the summer. To have these three unions – one million workers – strike together over pensions would be an important step forward in the battle against cuts.

However, we need more. Unison has also promised national action over pensions, but unfortunately Prentis made no mention of it in his speech.

Unison members, however, want to see action on this issue. There was support among Unison members and others on the demonstration for the Socialist Party’s call for a national midweek demonstration on the day of the next national strike against cuts and attacks on pensions in order that workers from across the public sector can show their support for strike action and to increase the pressure on other public sector unions to build for a one-day public sector strike.

The political alternative

From the platform there was little explanation of the economic alternative to cuts. Much emphasis was put on the need for job creation but without explanation of how that can be achieved.

Almost every speaker criticised the bankers although from the most right wing, like Usdaw general secretary John Hannett, this was no more than a plea for the bankers to “lead by example”.

This is like asking Dracula to lead by example in refraining from drinking blood!

Several speakers called for a Robin Hood tax on the finance sector which is estimated would raise around £20 billion a year. Mark Serwotka rightly opposed all cuts and very effectively pointed out that tax avoidance by the rich is equal to £120 billion a year, which is almost as much as the total government budget deficit, £143 billion, to be eliminated over four years.

Therefore, at one fell swoop, it should be possible to cut the deficit!

The problem that was not addressed is how to collect the money. As the unpaid £120 billion indicates, the capitalist class is not prepared to pay even the puny levels they are currently taxed.

To collect the money is virtually impossible unless the government uses wide economic powers. This poses the question of the complete nationalisation of the banks and finance houses under workers’ control and management.

Even this would need the cooperation of workers throughout workplaces and industry with the powers – workers’ control – to really open the books, discover the scale of tax avoidance taking place and bring offenders to book.

In other words, socialist measures are needed even to eliminate tax avoidance and evasion, which the overwhelming majority of ordinary working people would support.

Unfortunately, speakers at the main platform did not raise the case for socialism; for a society run in the interests of the millions rather than the billionaires.

However, more than 50 Socialist Party campaign stalls put the case for socialism to the demonstrators. For many of them, on their first demonstration, socialism was a completely new and very interesting idea.

Hundreds wanted to join the Socialist Party, several thousand went away with a copy of the Socialist and many tens of thousands went away determined to struggle, alongside the socialists, to go in the coming months from a massive demonstration to a massive public sector general strike.

Lobby Coventry Council against cuts

Lobby Coventry Council against cuts

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UNISON members marching against austerity

Coventry TUC has organised a protest outside the council house on Tuesday 23rd, when Coventry Council will set the budget for the next year. The planned budget includes proposals to close libraries and reduce their opening hours, close Edgwick and Eagle St play centres, close public toilets and cut another 1000 council jobs.

UNISON, the largest union on Coventry Council, is calling on the council to pass a legal no-cuts budget, using the £84million+ the council has in reserves to avoid making cuts and to build a campaign to win more money for local services.

The protest is outside the council house from 1pm on Tuesday 23rd February.

Coventry refuse workers take unofficial action to defend victimised union rep

Coventry refuse workers take unofficial action to defend victimised union rep

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Outside the Council House

 

Coventry refuse workers based at Whitley Depot today downed tools in response to the suspension of a UNITE shop steward amid allegations of ongoing bullying by management.

In a show of strength and solidarity over 30 workers descended on Coventry Council House in the City Centre to protest and support their colleague, as union representatives talked with management.

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Workers receiving updates from union officials

Determined to show their support, workers remained outside the building all morning and early afternoon. A meeting tomorrow morning was planned to discuss any updates and any further action. It is vital that UNITE nationally throws its support behind the rep and this group of workers, and activists from other Council unions need to discuss how to show support. Unions are fighting not just for their own members, but also the future of public services. Everyone in Coventry needs to support the action today, and any future action called by the union.

An injury to one is an injury to all! We demand the immediate reinstatement of the suspended rep!

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Discussing the next steps