Next Thursday, June 30, is the first big day of action involving widespread strikes since the coalition government began its miserable assault on the state after the General Election last May. 750,000 public sector workers from the Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS), the National Union of Teachers (NUT), the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL) and the University and College Union (UCU) will take part in a one-day walkout, primarily over the government’s planned pension reforms, which will almost certainly be the trigger for further strikes in the autumn. As the Guardian explained, the day of action “is expected to bring schools, colleges, universities, courts, ports and jobcentres to a standstill, and comes as millions of staff face pay freezes, job losses and pension reforms.”
Speaking to the Guardian last week, Dave Prentis, the general secretary of Unison, the largest public sector union, with 1.4 million members, was already discussing a possible follow-up. Although he is hoping for a negotiated settlement with the government over pension reforms and other pressing issues of concern to Unison members, and is not taking part in the action on June 30, he “described plans for waves of strike action, with public services shut down on a daily basis, rolling from one region to the next and from sector to sector,” fuelled by “growing anger over a public sector pay freeze that could trigger more disputes further down the line,” and “changes [which] would unfairly penalise women, who form the majority of low-paid public sector workers.” He told the Guardian, “It will be the biggest since the general strike. It won’t be the miners’ strike. We are going to win.”
Prentis’ warning to the government has not yet materialised, of course, but, crucially, the striking union workers who are committed to action on June 30 will be joined by many other people who will be using the day to campaign more broadly against the bitter fallout from the government’s largely indiscriminate austerity programme, which has prompted a steep decline in the government’s popularity over the last 12 months.
With schools across the country closed next Thursday, schoolchildren and university students are also expected to take part in the protests, reviving the spirit of resistance they summoned up before Christmas, in their stirring campaign against cuts to university funding, the near-tripling of fees and the scrapping of the Education Maintenance Allowance, which, although ultimately unsuccessful (largely through the cowardice of Lib Dem MPs), showed how easy it was to politicize a generation.
As the Guardian explained, “school and college students are expected to stage walkouts” as “part of a growing wave of occupations and demonstrations planned to support the co-ordinated strike action organised by trade unions,” and are “mobilising in schools and further education colleges as part of a wider campaign to turn 30 June into a national day of action against the government’s austerity programme.”
Michael Chessum from the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts, which was a key player in last year’s protests, said, “It was the student movement before Christmas that really kicked many of the major unions into action, and we’ll be there again in force on 30 June. One of the successes of the student movement was that we abandoned passive, A-to-B marches in favour of direct action in the streets and on campuses. Mass strike action is the logical extension of that. We’re not here to protest; we’re here to actively resist.”
UK Uncut, the direct action group, will also be taking part in the day of action, “joining picket lines and staging a ‘public spectacular’ in London to coincide with the industrial action,” as the Guardian described it. On their website, support for the day of action was announced as follows:
UK Uncut will be part of the “Big Society Breakfast,” joining striking teachers and public sector workers across the country to show support for the strikes. They are expected to join picket lines across the country, bringing breakfast to the striking staff and building links between local direct action groups and union members. The protests will highlight that the strikes by the unions are another form of direct action against the cuts being taken by people in towns and cities across the country. It’s predicted that strike action will grow rapidly towards the autumn and UK Uncut are vowing to support and build on the strike action with more direct action protest against tax avoiders and the banking system.
As the Guardian also stated, activists are hoping that a “wider campaign of demonstrations, occupations and walkouts will build a broad coalition of people opposed to the government’s programme of cuts,” and explain that they have “been inspired, in part, by protests across Europe over recent months –- particularly those in Spain and Greece.”
Preparing for June 30, various groups opposed to the government’s cuts have been holding a series of “J30 Assemblies” across the country under the slogan, “Generalise the Strike.” Please check out the Peoples Assemblies Network website for further information, and also see the website J30 Strike, which has details of actions across the country on June 30. Another group, the trade union-affiliated Right to Work, has organised more than 40 events to coincide with the strikes, and also see the website of the Education Activist Network for details of dozens of “Strike the Streets” protests on June 30. The EAN, which produced the poster used at the top of this article, is an alliance of student activists and trade unionists, which has been fighting against university funding cuts and a rise in tuition fees since February 2010.
OK, thats it for now. I hope to see you on the streets on June 30!
Andy Worthington is the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by Macmillan in the US, and available from Amazon — click on the following for the US and the UK) and of two other books: Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield. To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to my RSS feed (and I can also be found on Facebook, Twitter, Digg and YouTube). Also see my definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, updated in June 2011, details about the new documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (co-directed by Polly Nash and Andy Worthington, on tour in the UK throughout 2011, and available on DVD here — or here for the US), my definitive Guantánamo habeas list and the chronological list of all my articles, and, if you appreciate my work, feel free to make a donation.
On Facebook, Stephen Cairns wrote:
Cool Andy I will repost this to all my groups! (-;
Tom Krohmer wrote:
Me thinks the USA news agencies are scared we might have one here, if people saw this story.
Thanks, Stephen and Tom, and everyone who has shared this.
Marilyn Lamb wrote:
The Brits are at it again.
George Kenneth Berger wrote:
I’m sharing this, Andy. I wish the Swedes were so active.
Thanks, Marilyn and George. I have to confess that I wish my fellow Brits were more active, but I’m glad to see mobilization again. It’s hard to get these things moving, and after last year’s excellent protests by students and schoolchildren (and university lecturers and staff), it’s been far too quiet for the last six months, with the exception of the big march three months ago. Resistance has to be more than just an outing every three months …
Megan Redmond wrote:
Unison isn’t striking (quelle surprise) but I’ll be there to protest the eugenicist policies of the con-dems.
Well put, Megan – both about Unison and the Tory eugenicists!
Lewis Mackenzie wrote:
This is great news. I just wish they’d organised the strike for a weekend – I’m working on the 30th.
Donna Ellison wrote:
Go Brits!! I only wish those of us in the US whose lives are most intimately affected by the Wall Street Bankers Club would also stand up for ourselves. Sharing this . . .
Gaian Aware wrote:
Thanks, Lewis, Donna and Gaian. Great to hear from you. I suppose a Saturday wouldn’t work well for lots of people, Lewis, as they wouldn’t actually be on strike! I think you should perhaps have a very long lunch break! And Donna, I agree, of course. I hoped that the protests in Madison, Wisconsin were the start of something big, but our populations are not actually used to agitating for change on a permanent basis, and haven’t been for at least a generation, We are awakening slowly …
Lewis Mackenzie wrote:
Yes, Andy, it was an attempt at humour – not always my strong point, I must admit!
Re. agitation for change, and our slowness in taking up the challenge, I think one of the greatest successes of the right over the last few decades has been the abolition of class consciousness among much of the population. This was aided by the relative prosperity of the pre-crisis years, when debt was fuelling growth and people were generally doing ok, but now that that fool’s paradise has been exposed for what it was and the living standards of working class people are being attacked in order to further enrich and consolidate the class power of the economic elites who caused the crisis, people are beginning to realise that they must make a stand. What’s encouraging is that the ruling classes are in a very weak position at the moment – they have shown that they lack the competence to rule effectively and, more and more, people are beginning to view their power as illegitimate. Let’s hope their greed will bring about their downfall.
Lewis Mackenzie wrote:
Richard Seymour has a good article on the subject, here: http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2011/jun/21/austerity-politics-dissatisfaction-mainstream-parties
Thanks, Lewis. Yes, I should have followed the logic of your joke …
Excellent points you make about class consciousness. I tend to frame my discussions in terms of what happens to societies when politics are removed — or political consciousness, or political awareness — and I believe that we end up with a kind of social cannibalism. It was why I was so delighted to see schoolchildren on the streets before Christmas, and to realize that the words “Poll Tax riot” and “Tory scum” had been miraculously resuscitated, as through they’d been cryogenically frozen since 1997.
Lewis Mackenzie wrote:
Yup, good times.
Earl Feagans wrote:
I strongly support unions.
Thanks, Earl. Yes, people have no sense of history. They forget what the unions fought for, and are therefore ignorant of what life would like for workers if all the unions were destroyed.
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