Scotland: Thousands march and prepare to strike against cuts

“People First” demonstration in Glasgow on 1st October

As towns and cities across the UK basked in a record October heatwave, the 1st October “People First” demonstration in Glasgow took place in an unrelenting deluge of rain. The PCS emerged as the most popular union on the demo, not just for its leading role in fighting the cuts, but also for its generosity in handing out many “PCS poncho’s” for soaking marchers. (see picture)

Despite the horrendous weather around 15,000 marched against the impact of the cuts that are getting deeper by the day. The demo was made up overwhelmingly of public sector trade unionists. Large delegations were there from unions planning strike action on 30th November including Unison, PCS, the EIS, Unite the union and the FBU.

Workers involved in strike action including Remploy, Quarriers and Stow college staff were out in force. Students from Abertay Uni and Angus College who are facing cuts to courses marched alongside students from Strathclyde who hade been occupying the university in protest at sky-high tuition fees being imposed on students from England, Wales and Northern Ireland. Disabled rights campaigners demanded an end to the attacks on benefits and the services they rely on.

The turnout was significant given the weather and the STUC’s lacklustre attempts to build the event. The decision of public sector unions to ballot for a coordinated strike on 30th November, which has the potential to be a one-day general strike across the public services, played an important role in mobilising the turnout.

The response to the Socialist Party material calling for a mass strike on 30th November to defend pensions and against the cuts was also telling. In contrast the STUC’s official material failed to advocate a fighting alternative. Ironically given the proximity to November 30th , set to be the largest strike since 1926, the STUC attempted to build the event around “civic Scotland” The churches, NGO’s charity’s etc were billed as providing the majority of speakers, rather than putting the trade union movement at the centre of the demo. No public sector trade unionist for example was on the platform – an incredible omission. In the end because of the weather the rally only had one speaker – Tony Benn.

In contrast to the STUC leadership, who only oppose the speed, depth and timing of the cuts, and advocate a Plan B with slower cuts, the Socialist Party put forward opposition to all cuts.

We set up our stalls from 9am – three hours before the demo started. The two main tasks were to try and keep the material dry – a Herculean job in itself – and to hand them out to the thousands running for shelter. Socialist Party activists distributed thousands of leaflets supporting a one-day public sector general strike on 30th November. These were enthusiastically received by those workers now focused on the effects of the wage freezes, attacks on pensions and deep cuts to public services.

Our leaflet also advertised the 22nd October conference to discuss standing anti-cuts candidates in next May’s local government elections. This is an initiative taken by leading Socialist Party trade unionists in conjunction with a number of PCS NEC members.

We also gave out Scottish Anti Cuts Alliance flyers, while our young members distributed hundreds of Youth Fight For Jobs leaflets and got names for the campaign.

Special SPS No Cuts badges had been produced for the Demo and were sold widely for the party Fighting Fund. Never have the plastic covers to protect the Socialist newspaper been so useful (see picture) and despite the difficulties trying to sell the paper because of the pouring rain we still sold over 50 copies. A number of people also gave us their names who were interested in finding out more about the Socialist Party.

The Scottish Anti-Cuts Alliance held a joint meeting with PCS Scotland entitled “striking for the alternative” after the demo. 50 trade unionists came along – glad to be in out of the rain – to here PCS president Janice Godrich, Brian Smith of SACA (see picture) and Jamie Cocozza – one of the YFJ Jarrow to London marchers.

The focus for the next few weeks is to build the workplace, stewards and city-wide trade union meetings to build support for the strike ballots that are taking place. It is vital that big majorities are secured for action on the 30th November strike – which has the potential to shake the government to its creaky foundations. It will also take the struggle against the cuts onto a higher level.

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October 2011