Scotland: Over 20,000 take to the streets against government savagery

Build a one-day public sector strike!

There was an emphatic response to the savagery of the Con Dem spending cuts on Saturday in Edinburgh. Just 3 days after the government’s spending review that had proposed cuts of £81 billion in public spending, well over 20,000 people took to the streets for the Scottish TUC demonstration.

In the run up to the march, the press was full of reports of the inspiring struggle of the French workers against the Sarkozy government’s pension “reform”. Many cynically claimed that such events could not happen here. This lie was at least partially rubbished on Saturday. The demonstration was a fantastic and concrete confirmation of the huge opposition that exists among workers and broader society to the planned cuts.

Well over 100 trade union-organised coaches arrived from all corners of Scotland. Thousands more arrived in Edinburgh by public transport to fill the city centre with a sea of colour. There were huge turnouts from Unison (Public sector and health workers), PCS (Civil servants) and the main Scottish teachers union, the EIS. Each union marched in their own delegations. UNITE, the GMB (general workers’ unions), RMT (transport and maritime workers) the FBU (fire fighters), CWU (Communication workers) and the POA (Prison officers) were out in force. It was a marvellous display of the potential power of the trade unions and the working class – which, if organised behind a clear programme of action, can stop the government in its tracks. Workers from the private sector, particularly transport workers also came out to show support, as did significant groups of young people.

Saturday’s STUC (Scottish Trade Union congress) demonstration also exposed the scandalous decision of the TUC, at a UK level, to refuse to call a demonstration in London at the same time. If more than 20,000 can march in Edinburgh, a TUC demonstration would have seen at least 250,000 on the streets of London. By refusing to act the TUC are making it easier for the ConDems to carry out their brutal assault. A demonstration must be called in London before Christmas by the left trade unions if the TUC refuses to act.

While the decision of the STUC to call the demonstration is welcome, the lack of a lead given by the speakers at the main rally was not. The demo was called under the slogan of “There is a better way”. This is deliberately vague and can mean different things to different people – including for Labour and SNP politicians who support cuts but at a slower pace.

Shockingly, the STUC refused to allow any trade unions the opportunity to speak at the rally, despite the fact that it was the individual trade unions who had been responsible for mobilising their members on the day. The main speakers were Grahame Smith of the STUC and Jack O Connor, president of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions. O Connor, in reference to the huge attacks on the Irish working class by the Fianna Fail government, commented:” They did it to us. Don’t let them do it to you too," What he didn’t point out was that the ICTU have not lifted a finger to help organise meaningful strike action to defend Irish workers.

The STUC said they would give support to trade unions who organised strike action against the cuts – but this was more of an aside. The STUC’s main strategy was to call was for a lobby of the Scottish parliament in January and build for the TUC demo in March next year.

However, interestingly, Grahame Smith did call on councils not to be “collaborators for the ConDem cuts” Instead they should do what “our colleagues in local government did in the 1980’s and 1990’s did and refuse to make cuts.” Was this a reference to the stand of the socialist Liverpool Labour Council in the 1980’s who were the one council that did refuse to carry out cuts – and defeated the then Thatcher government?

However, Joy Dunn the president of the STUC, who chaired the rally and is also a PCS member, did at least say, “organised strike action is now inevitable.”

The politically confused nature of the rally was also indicated by the big screen video clips that allowed Labour and SNP politicians to condemn the cuts. But both parties are making cuts in Scotland and only oppose the depth and speed of the cuts – not the need for cuts but at a “slower pace”. Both Labour and the SNP in Scotland have now called for “pay restraint” by public sector workers in Scotland. In other words low paid workers should be paying the price for the economic crisis created by the bankers and big business.

Build a one-day public sector strike

In contrast, Socialist Party Scotland (CWI in Scotland) made it clear that we were against all cuts in a very good intervention into Saturday’s demonstration. Our members in the trade unions played an important role in helping build for the turnout in the run-up to the demo. We also produced 5,000 copies of a leaflet calling for the trade unions to name the day for a one-day public sector general strike. It also called for the setting of no cuts needs budgets by councils and the Scottish parliament and advertised 6 November’s Scottish anti-cuts meeting called by the Defend Glasgow Services campaign. The leaflet also raised the need for a socialist answer to the cuts – tax increases on the rich and big business and public ownership of the banks and big industry.

This idea – of coordinated public sector strike action as the next step in the campaign – was enthusiastically received on the march and our leaflet was widely read and distributed. We also sold 120 copies of the Socialist (paper of the CWI in Scotland) and gave out hundreds of Youth Fight For Jobs leaflets as well.

Well over 100 trade unionists also attended a PCS meeting, which followed the STUC rally. Janice Godrich, president of PCS, explained the action that PCS is planning to organise against the huge attacks on civil service workers. This will involve strike action and supporting the building of a UK national demonstration against the cuts before Christmas.

Organised and coordinated strike action by the public sector unions is now vital. The Scottish government is drafting a cuts budget for November, to be voted on at the end of January. Local councils are due to set budgets in February/March 2011 and strike action has to be organised by the trade unions. Resolutions should be drawn up in all public sector unions demanding strike ballots in response to the cuts. These strikes should also be coordinated early in 2011. Socialist Party members in the trade unions will be playing a leading role in helping to build support for these urgent measures.

Saturday’s demonstration was an excellent start but it must only be the start of a mass campaign to drive the demolition coalition into the ground. They have declared war on the working class and nothing less than mass action is now needed to stop them in their tracks.

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October 2010