“We’ve had enough”
“Hardly a damp squib Mr Cameron, you pension snatcher.” Karen Grogan Unison steward Dundee. Scotland witnessed a massive outpouring of anger at the ConDem government as over 300,000 public sector workers took part in a magnificent strike against attacks on public sector pensions on N30.
The turnout for the strike by trade union members was unprecedented. As Brian Smith, the branch secretary of Glasgow City Unison commented. “Yesterday was an historic day for our trade union movement with the biggest strike day any of us will ever have been involved in. The level of participation in the strike by the 11,000 UNISON Glasgow City Branch members was unprecedented. 95% of members took part in the action."
This was repeated across the trade unions. PCS reported over 90% of their members taking action, the teachers union, EIS, the same. The numbers of teachers taking action was bolstered by the head teacher’s unprecedented decision to strike. As a result out off Scotland’s 2,700 schools only 33 opened. A colossal 98.7% shutdown.
This was the biggest, deepest and widest working class movement since the opening day of the1926 general strike. It eclipsed the numbers involved in the 1979 winter of discontent. It was larger than the movement around the Upper Clyde Shipbuilders work-in of the early 70’s. With almost 1 in 4 workers in Scotland employed in the public sector, N30 took on many of the features of a general strike.
All public services were shutdown. Schools, colleges and universities, benefit offices, all council departments, courts, the subway system in Glasgow and some airports ceased to function. Police support staff walked out at midnight to mark the start of the mass strike. Scottish government and civil services came to a halt. Tens of thousands of operation were cancelled as the NHS ran only for emergency cover as health workers took national action for the first time since the 1980’s.
Nursing assistant and Unison member Pam Cathro summed up the reason why by telling us “To make people work until their 68 is to me an absolute insult. As a nursing assistant we work on the minimum staffing going with long shifts. If this government gets away with any more cuts people won’t see 68! That’s why we have to join together and fight against cuts in public services.”
Such was the enormous mobilisation and mass support for the strike that even the Labour Party in Scotland – unlike in June 30th when they opposed the PCS strike – was forced to come out in support. Labour MSPs refused to cross the PCS picket line at the Scottish parliament, as did the two Green MSPs. This left the SNP alone in the parliamentary chamber with the ConDem parties – appropriately enough. John Swinney and Alex Salmond both crossed the picket lines with Swinney boasting on radio that it was his “duty as a government minister” to break the strike.
The SNP have imposed the pension tax on many Scottish public sector workers. At the strike demonstration and rally in Paisley trade unionists refused to read out the hypocritical message of support from SNP MSPs because they had crossed the picket lines at the parliament.
"We couldn’t believe the numbers of strikers who were arriving at the assembly point – they just kept coming! There were flags and banners from loads of different unions and we felt like we were part of something huge, like we were all united – it was fantastic. There were tens of thousands marching along the streets of Glasgow, and by-standers were applauding and shouting messages of support –I’ve never seen anything like it. There was a feeling that we were marching for everyone! It was a brilliant day, a real show of strength, and we’re ready to do it again to stop the onslaught of attacks we’re facing."Diane Harvey Unison Steward SCRA Branch
If the scale of the strike was unprecedented, the turnout at the rallies and demonstrations on N30 in Scotland were breathtaking. 35,000 plus marched in Glasgow on a demo that the STUC and Glasgow Trades Council had organised but expected only 3,000. The venue booked for the strike rally held 1,500. Initially the Trades Council had not even planned a demo but under pressure from PCS and Unison eventually agreed to organise one. This indicted that some trade union leaders were totally unprepared for the scale and scope of the action on N30.
Well over 20,000 marched to the Scottish parliament in Edinburgh. 10,000 in Dundee in a city of 140,000 people. There were 5,000 in Aberdeen, 2,000 in Paisley, 1,000 in Inverness and many others across the country from the Western Isles to the Borders.
The impact on the public was huge. It totally undermined the attempts of the ConDem’s and the press to demonise public sector workers. Car and bus horns were tooted, shoppers burst into spontaneous applause, people cheered as they hung out of windows. It was as if the strikers were speaking for everyone suffering falling living standards and savage austerity. And indeed they were. This was the real “big society” written in the language of working class solidarity.
"Members have returned to work today with a spring in their step hoping that the action has made a difference but ready for further strikes if needed." Jim McFarlane Co-Chair Dundee City UNISON branch.
What is clear is that N30 has transformed not only the outlook and confidence of the workers who took part but also the millions who watched the strike happen. The idea that something can be done to stop the juggernaut of cuts and austerity is now concrete. The enormous collective power of the working class has been shown and it will leave its mark for years to come.
The immediate task is for the trade unions to now set a date for another 24 or 48 hour public sector shutdown in the new year, unless the ConDem’s back down. This is a fight that we cannot afford to lose and N30 can be the beginning of a movement that will make history.
The role of the Socialist Party Scotland
Many Socialist Party Scotland members were on strike. Our trade union members in unions like PCS, Unison and the EIS played a crucial role in local workplaces and major trade union branches in helping to make N30 a success. But all our members, including school students and young people took part in visiting picket lines, attending the demonstrations and raising our ideas for the way forward in fighting the cuts and the socialist alternative.
Across Scotland SPS members visited more than 60 picket lines. We also took part in 6 demonstrations in Glasgow, Edinburgh, Dundee, Aberdeen, Inverness and Paisley, distributing thousands upon thousands of party leaflets and selling hundreds of copies of the Socialist.
We also handed out thousands of leaflets for the forthcoming anti-cuts candidates’ conference on December 10th which our members are spearheading. We raised the need to call further national strike action if the Con-Dem’s don’t back down as well as putting forward the need for socialism as an alternative to the chaos of capitalism.
Socialist Party Scotland member Alan Manley a nurse and assistant branch secretary of Tayside Unison spoke at the10,000 strong rally in Dundee. Brian Smith and YFJ member and Jarrow marcher Jamie Cocozza both spoke at the joint PCS, Unison event after the Glasgow demo.
20 people, including 10 strikers came to the Socialist Party meeting in Dundee immediately following the main rally. Strikers, Alan Manley from the NHS and local government worker Jim McFarlane spoke as did Youth Fight For Jobs member Wayne Scott. One female worker joined at the meeting, she also sold 6 copies of the Socialist on the demonstration just before joining. A female Unison shop steward also joined the party in Glasgow after the demonstration.
Further public meetings are being held in Edinburgh and Glasgow over the next few days.
A day of mass struggle
Dundee – Sinead Daly
“I feel angry, devalued, disrespected and disappointed…and [Osbornes] 1% is just an insult to hard working NHS staff!” These views of a striking nurse in Dundee was reflected across the picket lines in Dundee.
The Dundee Trades Council estimate that between 8-10,000 public sector workers demonstrated – this is the biggest trade union demonstration since the TIMEX strike in 1992.
The NHS staff had their first strike action in over 20 years. There was real anger about the misinformation that is being pedalled out by the government and the media of their ‘gold plated pensions’. Alan Manley NHS Tayside made the point at the massive rally in Dundee that in fact nurses can expect to earn on average less than £5,000 a year – not exactly excessive. Compare that to Maude’s £43,000!
Another striking nurse stated that “I have been working for 30 years, accepting lower pay for better job security and a pension….I did not sign up for this!” The mood was very determined and there was widespread support, but more importantly, understanding of the need for more action if they are to be successful in fighting off these Tory and SNP attacks.
However, there were also some real concerns raised by the strikers about the attitude of the leadership of Unison. They felt that there was too much cosying up to the management, rooted in the ‘partnership’ agreements that prevail within the NHS. There was widespread intimidation and misinformation by management against groups of workers, and many felt that there should have been more done to prepare and inform workers about their rights.
The Socialist Party Scotland have put forward the suggestion of organising city wide trade union activist committees to help coordinate, build and prepare for future action. This demand was very, very warmly received.
The mood at the rally and demonstration was determined, hard and proud…I would go as far as to say for many it was also an emotional occasion.
Pam Cathro, a nursing assistant summed up the mood. “I felt emotional and honoured to march alongside so many public sector workers on the biggest strike that I’ve been on since the Timex strike. To make people work until their 68 is to me an absolute insult. As a nursing assistant we work on the minimum staffing going with long shifts. If this government gets away with any more cuts people won’t see 68! That’s why we have to join together and fight against cuts in public services.”
Jim McFarlane Co-Chair Dundee City UNISON branch.
The demonstration on N30 in Dundee will go down in working class history of the city as the day public sector workers said enough is enough to the ConDem attacks on pensions. The march was lead off by Gary Robertson of the local band The Cundeez playing his pipes. Up to 10,000 public sector workers and their families followed him down the Lochee Road into the City Centre. This was a noisy, angry and defiant show of solidarity and unity.
The newspaper, leaflets and ideas of the Socialist Party got a very warm response. Marchers were clear that this was just the start not the end of this struggle. Workers were determined that if the government didn’t back down they were prepared to take further strike action in the New Year.
As the demonstration reached the city centre they were greeted by members of the public lining the street breaking out into spontaneous applause in support of the strike.
Members have returned to work today with a spring in their step hoping that the action has made a difference but ready for further strikes if needed.
Karen Grogan Dundee City UNISON International Officer and steward.
What an amazing day, 10,000 bright and noisy Dundonians marching into the city centre, something I am sure we will all remember for a long time to come, Hardly a damp squib Mr Cameron, you pension snatcher.
Would not have missed that day for anything, fantastic, Leah (my baby daughter) also had a fab time and was extra jolly and chatty when we got home, unfortunately I doubt very much it will be her last anti-poverty march!
Edinburgh by Matt Dobson
Strength in unity was apparent on the morning picket lines in Edinburgh city centre with civil service unions, the PCS, FDA and Prospect having a lively presence outside the Scottish Office on Carlton Hill and Unite and Unison waving flags together outside the city chambers. Public buildings were either shut or barely staffed as trade unionists buzzed about the city centre gaining confidence from seeing each others pickets. Discusssions showed that workers feel more powerful when taking action together across the public sector.
Socialist Party Scotland leaflets calling for trade unions to name the day for the next united national action got a warm response. Unison members at Waverley Court (workplace for NHS IT staff) voiced their concerns that "with this lot (the Con Dem government) one day isn’t enough, they are ruthless but also arrogant and out of touch even more than Thatcher’s crew in the 80’s". Also that "sectional action would risk demoralising sections of the workforce, we hope our leaders are determined to fight this as we are, and we need a strategy, they should ask people on the frontline what they think!"
As well as calling for a voice in the formulation of their union’s strategy a backlash was apparent against the SNP government and Labour in opposition not coming out clearly in support of the strike.
SNP Finance Minster John Swinney walked past pickets on Carlton Hill refusing to even consider the appeals of FDA and PCS members . He had said in an earlier radio interview that he felt it was "his duty" to break the strike.
PCS members at the Courts wanted to discuss the question of political representation. Not a kind word was said about Ed Miliband or Labour in opposition, "Ed Miliband should just be clear about where he stands, the unions got him where he is, is he turning his back on them or not? Don’t forget we had a pensions dispute with the New Labour government they would have attacked our pensions as well, you wouldn’t vote for any of them, all they listen to is the markets and the bosses".
Clearly the attitude of SNP and Labour politicians to the strike and their weakness in opposing the Con Dem’s austerity plans have raised questions about the need for a principled, no to all cuts alternative. Leaflets advertising the December 10 conference on standing anti cuts candidates in the local elections were eagerly taken on the picket lines and the demonstration.
The Socialist Students society at Queen Margaret University in Musselburgh just outside Edinburgh was invited to take part in the UCU picket line to explain the issues to students. A student joined the society after a discussion about the strike. Socialist Students activists joined the delegation of UCU members in travelling to the city centre demonstration.
Blocs of colour, each thousands strong, representing each public sector union, formed a colossal demonstration that snaked down the Royal Mile to engulf the Scottish Paliament building. The size of the march, apparent only after the sea of people surrounded Holyrood amounted to over 30,000.
Diane Harvey Unison Steward SCRA Branch, Picket line at SCRA Bell St. Glasgow
We started the day with 5 pickets from Unison SCRA branch at our Glasgow Hearing Centre, many of them first-time strikers. Text messages from fellow strikers were met with cheers as reports came in of pickets out at the many Hearing Centres across Scotland. The mood was lifted further as 5 more pickets joined us, cars horns tooted and passers-by stopped to offer their support. After the picket, we went to the March and Rally in Glasgow. We couldn’t believe the numbers of strikers who were arriving at the assembly point – they just kept coming! There were flags and banners from loads of different unions and we felt like we were part of something huge, like we were all united – it was fantastic. There were tens of thousands marching along the streets of Glasgow, and by-standers were applauding and shouting messages of support –I’ve never seen anything like it. There was a feeling that we were marching for everyone! It was a brilliant day, a real show of strength, and we’re ready to do it again to stop the onslaught of attacks we’re facing.
Brian Smith Branch Secretary Glasgow City Unison
Yesterday was a historic day for our trade union movement with the biggest strike day any of us will ever have been involved in. The level of participation in the strike by the 11,000 UNISON Glasgow City Branch members was unprecedented. Over 500 new members have joined the UNISON Glasgow City Branch in the last month.
From the information we have the branch estimates that over 95% of members participated in the action. The branch would also like to thank our members who provided the life and limb cover yesterday.
Across Scotland tens of thousands of public services workers marched through the streets. Over two million were on strike across the UK. Responding to David Cameron’s comments, Dave Prentis, UNISON General Secretary, said yesterday:
“I wouldn’t call two million people taking strike action a damp squib. Cameron is sounding increasingly desperate in his attacks on public services workers. He has only to turn on the TV, or listen to the radio – or look out the window – to see public services workers standing up for their pensions. And the thousands of picket lines, demonstrations, rallies and events are not a figment of our imagination. These people are angry public servants who the Government has driven to the end of their tether."
Over the next couple of weeks we will all need to assess the outcome of any talks with the Government. However, we also all know that we may need to take further action to force the Government to back down.
Well done to every single one of you on yesterday’s magnificent action.