Category Archives: strike

Striking Teachers Rally in Liverpool

Teachers and supporters at St George’s Hall. Photo: @atjackson

As a march of five hundred or so striking teachers snaked its way through Liverpool city centre this morning, the woman with the megaphone tried to get four different chants going. First was “2, 4, 6, 8, Mister Gove negotiate” (he argues he already is). Second was “1, 2, 3 and a half, Mister Gove you’re having a laugh” (this rhyme only worked in her southern accent). Then “2, 4, 6, 8, we won’t work til 68” (this attack on pensions is already being implemented). All these failed. Then finally, in desperation, “Gove out!”. This, at least, got some of the teachers shouting. But attending the march in solidarity, I got the impression that the strike itself was the manifestation of the teachers’ power, and the march – which attracted a small fraction of the striking workforce – was a stroll in the sunshine.

Across England and Wales, teachers numbering in the hundreds of thousands struck, closing many schools, and affecting lessons in others. On Merseyside, thirty-six schools in Liverpool, fourteen schools in Sefton and twenty in Wirral were expected to shut for the day.

Last year, the National Union of Teachers and the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers called three jointly-organised, regional strikes last year. They had proposed a joint national strike for November 2013, but this was then called off. Last month, the NASUWT pulled out of today’s strike, claiming a “key development” when Education Secretary Michael Gove agreed to hold meetings with the union.

In truth the changes today’s strike was officially over are coming into force, with the assistance of union bureaucracies which are stacked with Socialist Workers Party, Workers’ Liberty and Socialist Party members. That’s not to say they couldn’t be overturned by a big, rank-and-file controlled, teacher-led, student and parent-supported movement – but that’s not what the tops in NUT or NASUWT are planning. Teachers will now have to pay more for a pension that they cannot access until they are 68, and pay rises will be directly linked to the annual test/exam results of pupils. It is an open secret that this was more of a ‘political strike’ – even though these are forbidden under the anti-trade union laws. On the Liverpool march, teachers expressed discontent about changes to the curriculum, the increase in academy schools, and a proposed lengthening of the school day. However, performance related pay is also a particular concern in a city with high levels of social deprivation – which obviously impacts on children’s learning.

Liverpool’s turnout was around a quarter down from last June, when “confidence was boosted by the sheer numbers of people venting their anger together”. Few NUT whistles were blown, few NUT clackers were rattled, and the previously mentioned chants went down like lead balloons. But for the most part, the atmosphere was upbeat and relaxed. People seemed to be enjoying themselves.

The public reaction was mixed. Many passers-by smiled, some stopped and clapped the whole march, while a few coming out of one pub booed. One man started shouting something about UKIP as we approached the end at St George’s Plateau, while emphasizing that he didn’t support them personally.

By all accounts, there is broad public support for the teachers. One tweet doing the rounds shows a large majority of ITV Daybreak viewers – many of whom will have been inconvenienced by today’s strike – backing it. But if a movement of teachers is to be successful, this support would have to be transformed into active solidarity.

Like many public sector workers, teachers’ morale is at rock bottom. Today’s strike gave a small hint of what an education workers’ movement could be like. Can we imagine teachers setting up committees in each school, getting support like this from students, involving parents in actions to protect their children’s future? We must start dreaming – and planning – bigger and better.

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Liverpool Uni Workers Strike as Grassroots Rebellion Grows

Photo: Liverpool UCU

University staff across Liverpool went on strike yesterday, in action which coincided with the national dispute over a one per cent ‘pay rise’. However, the Liverpool situation has specific differences to the state of play country-wide, and there is an element of unpredictability which from reports seems absent elsewhere. In a slow, but steady way, staff at campuses in the city are becoming more militant, and building links with each other which here and there is breaking the control of the union hierarchy.

It was the third time university staff had struck since October. On Halloween, an enthusiastic crowd of workers from all four Liverpool universities (University of Liverpool, John Moores, Hope and Liverpool Institute of Performing Arts) plus Edge Hill had gathered for a noisy demo, having shut down campuses. In early December, a large demonstration made the same points once more, before students occupied the Irish Studies building in solidarity. They raised much awareness of the dispute, before the university management erected scaffolding outside, compelling the besieged occupiers to quickly leave.

Certainly at University of Liverpool, this third strike was a big success. There were three hundred workers on picket lines fanned out across every building and car park, ensuring that it was far from business as usual for £300k+ a year vice chancellor Sir Howard Newby and co.

Compared to Halloween, the rally at U of L and subsequent march through town did not seem particularly inspired. Numbers were slightly down, with less travelling from other unis and less solidarity from the wider left. The march itself had an unusual atmosphere, with few banners or placards, no chanting, and people generally chatting in small groups as they ambled towards their refreshment destination. Scenes like this were likely repeated across the country.

So some of the immediate enthusiasm felt at the start of the dispute was clearly missing, and in some respects this is surely due to the way that the bureaucracies of University and College Union, Unite and Unison have strung out the dispute over such a long period. With UCU, there is the added factor of the two hour mini strikes which have seen lecturers to lose pay in recent weeks.

However, there have been developments in in Liverpool which make the local picture different. The roots of this go back to early last summer, when a separate dispute began at U of L. As I wrote last July:

“In June, the University of Liverpool demanded that 2,803 non-academic staff accept drastically inferior working conditions (longer hours without overtime pay, and on weekends and bank holidays without compensation) or face dismissal. The Vice Chancellor, Sir Howard Newby, did so on the basis of new, anti-working class laws brought in by the coalition government, reducing the required notice in such cases from ninety days to just forty-five. The attacks from Newby are so far unprecedented in the education sector, and will therefore be used to set a ‘new normal’ benchmark for the rest of the country.”

Unite called a demonstration against a posh dinner for Newby and friends at the city’s St George’s Hall, but then pulled back from this on the sole basis that the negotiation deadline had been extended into the summer break. A farcical non-demonstration then took place. Alone amongst the university’s unions, UCU threatened strike action over the attack, and shortly before the new September semester, management gave in to the union’s members…but not those of Unite and Unison employed at the same uni!

Following this, Unite and Unison members at U of L held their own extra strike day following the one with UCU in December. Management instructed UCU members to cross picket lines. Parallel to this development, Unite officials had tried to call off their members’ strike action at short notice, but the members refused to be swayed, and took the action they had voted for anyway. The U of L Unite branch had not actually met in many years, and on one member’s suggestion, the event proved the catalyst for an agreement to meet regularly, in conjunction with UCU and Unison members on the campus.

These meetings are still taking place. According to one striker I spoke to yesterday, there is a growing militancy within them, which will resist any attempts to play members of one union off against another. If and when the national bureaucracies try to wind down the countrywide dispute, it seems like something else could develop in Liverpool, and particular at U of L. That militancy was buried deep yesterday, but given the right conditions, it could come to the surface. Even if that doesn’t happen over current disputes, rank and file cross-union roots are growing which will help resistance develop in future struggles.

Violent Attacks Highlight Need For MORE Student/Worker Solidarity

Police violently handling a ULU protester last night

The ferocious treatment police meted out to non-violent occupiers at the University of London last night demonstrated one thing above all others – the ruling class are scared of students and workers finding common cause and struggling together. Though students across the country are facing severe repression during the current wave of protest, the most speedy and brutal state response has been reserved for those standing in solidarity with rank and file workers in the IWGB’s 3 Cosas campaign. This raises the memory of the “total policing” attack on students marching with the Sparks movement of electricians in 2011.

The assaults on democratic rights at Sussex (where students have been suspended for their protest), and Sheffield (where the uni are reportedly seeking a second injunction on campus protests) must also be condemned. Solidarity actions must be organised. But the events at ULU in particular mark a new stage in the UK’s descent into totalitarian rule.

Without a court injunction or even so much as a warning, and after only a few hours of occupation, the police broke in to the Senate House building, and set about punching, pushing and arresting students. As the University of London Union statement describes:

“This evening, the University of London colluded once again with police to evict occupiers, in a violent attempt to harass and silence dissent on campus. Their actions are a disgrace, and show their disregard for both the welfare of their students and their own university community.

“Hundreds of police descended on the occupation at around 8.30pm and broke into the occupation. We are still investigating what happened inside, but initial reports indicate that protesters were assaulted by both police and security: thrown to the ground, kicked and punched, and dragged to the ground by their hair. When supporters gathered outside to show support for the occupation, they were beaten back and assaulted. A number of arrests were made, and protesters are demonstrating tonight outside Holborn police station.”

It is likely that the occupation’s solidarity with the successful and inspiring 3 Cosas campaign was a leading factor. The despised Coalition government has every reason to fear the good example of collaboration between workers and students, particularly workers who are organising themselves non-hierarchically, and are forcing employers onto the back foot.

At exactly the point in space and time when students in struggle physically linked up with electricians in struggle two years ago, police unleashed another brutal onslaught, using what had been trailed in the corporate media as “total policing” methods. Amidst the state violence, students and electricians were arrested for carrying tools of their trades – pens and screwdrivers respectively.

Students who want to reach out to workers in struggle need to be aware that there is a possibility of heavy retaliation from a rattled ruling class. But my time at the occupation of Liverpool University’s Irish Studies building yesterday convinced me there’s a growing awareness that precisely such collaborations are essential for the development of each other’s struggles. The uni workers facing attacks on pay and conditions were extremely grateful for the solidarity shown by students, bringing huge donations of food, drink and blankets. Students occupiers also grasp that if there is to be a fight for the defence of not for profit campus life, they will need to have the workers – academic and non-academic – on board too. Whatever happens in
the rest of this week, the past few days need to be a beginning, not an end, to this new solidarity.

Student Guide To Supporting Strikes

There was a dress-up aspect to the picket lines at Halloween

A comrade has produced the following text for next week’s higher education strikes, explaining to students the importance of supporting the action by university staff, and suggesting ways this can be achieved. A leaflet can be downloaded from this location, and references to Liverpool could be changed to something more appropriate to comrades in other areas:

On Tuesday 3rd December, university staff will be striking over pay and conditions. This leaflet aims to persuade students to support the strike and give advice on how to support it.

Why you should support the strike

• University staff came out in support of students’fight against tuition fee hikes in 2010. While we lost this fight, we should show the staff the same support that they gave us.

• Many students hope to work in academia after we graduate. The pay and conditions of university staff today could be our pay and conditions in the future.

• Academic and support staff make our education possible through their work. Giving up one day of work in order to support them is hardly a big ask. 

Picket lines

Staff will be picketing university buildings that are still open. They do this in order to persuade both other staff and students to support the strike by not going into those buildings. If you wish to support university staff, do not cross picket lines – by entering a building being picketed you undermine the strike’s effectiveness. This will include libraries and administrative buildings.

In order to support staff on pickets:

• Take the time to get any books or resources you need to check out the day before.

• If you need to work on the day of a strike, prepare to work from home or a public library (Liverpool Central Library on William Brown Street has plenty of computers and printers that you can use).

• If you have deadlines on or near the day of the strike, talk to your lecturers and course reps about an extension.

Join the pickets! Approach staff and ask them if they would like your help, spend some time on the picket line and try to persuade other students not to cross.

South Africa: Workers are "very angry and the situation has gone out of control”

The militancy of South African workers is growing by the day, and the ruling class is struggling to contain it

It is nearly a month since I reported on the fears of top South African trade union bureaucrat Zwelinzima Vavi. Following the victory of self-organised and armed miners at Marikana, which had been paid for in the blood of thirty-four comrades executed by police, he fretted that:

“If those workers forced the hand of the company in that fashion through an unprotected strike, what stops Driefontein [a gold mine in the West Witwatersrand Basin] in doing the same? […] We are not saying that workers do not deserve their money, but if we are not careful this may mean an end of the central bargaining system in the country. […] Workers will just embark on wildcat strikes and steam ahead and force us to follow them.”

Vavi’s worst nightmare is rapidly coming true, and threatening not only his comfortable lifestyle, but also the African National Congress’ grip on power. The following disputes are currently taking place, not only in the mining industry shaken by Marikana, but across many sectors:

A Rustenburg Joint Strike Coordinating Committee has been established, in opposition to official trade union structures. On Friday, the Committee declared that:

“Well over 100 000 mine workers are on strike across the country for demands that have key common denominators – workers are all fighting for a R12 500 basic salary, for equal pay for equal work, an end to sub-contracting, and in protest against the deadly lack of safety underground and the sub-human living conditions in mining communities. On Saturday October 13, 2012, the Rustenburg Joint Strike Coordinating Committee, which co-ordinates the strikes of the wider Rustenburg mines, including Anglo Platinum, Samancor and Royal Bafokeng Platinum, will host a first national strike committee meeting in Marikana.”

However, there is a growing sense that even these committees – which prominently feature members of ‘socialist’ parties – are not radical enough to satisfy the rank and file workforce. Evans Ramokga, a young winch operator at Anglo American Platinum’s Khuseleka Mine, admitted that the committee’s attempts to “calm down workers seem to be falling on deaf ears”. “They’re very angry and the situation has gone out of control”, he added.

Post-apartheid South African capitalism’s safety buffers – the official trade unions and the South African Communist Party – have been caught totally off guard by this developing grassroots insurgency, and can offer no answers beyond appeals for state repression. If the situation is now “out of control” for the ruling class, it means the question of workers’ control must now be raised.

Walmart Warehouse Workers Claim Victory

Workers at a Walmart supplier’s warehouse in Elwood, Illinois are claiming victory today, after a wildcat walkout against victimisation for protests against their horrific working conditions. Below I repost the statement from the Warehouse Workers for Justice group, but there is much controversy over their affiliations and objectives, which is the focus of a thread on LibCom. Still, with parallel strikes amongst Walmart retail workers taking place yesterday, the first serious attempts at worker organisation in the history of the supermarket giant are certainly a significant development in the United States and international class struggle:

“In an historic victory, all striking Roadlink workers at Walmart’s Elwood warehouse have won their principal demand for an end to illegal retaliation against workers protesting poor conditions.  They will return to work with their full pay while they were out on strike.   Workers will return to work and continue the fight for safe working conditions, fair pay for all hours worked and an end to discrimination.
“During the 21 day strike, strikers have received a tremendous outpouring of support.  On Oct. 1st strikers and their supporters succeeded in shutting down Walmart’s largest distribution center in North America, while clergy, community and labor leaders blocked the road leading out of the warehouse to support workers on strike at the Walmart warehouse in Elwood, near Joliet.  The rally brought Walmart’s distribution system into the public eye to protest unfair labor practices and other abuses in the nation’s largest inland port.   On Oct. 5th, Walmart received a letter from over 100,000 supporters of striking workers at the Walmart warehouse demanding Walmart take responsibility for what is happening in their warehouse.
“Striking Roadlink worker Ted Ledwa said, “With this victory, we forced the company to respect our rights.  We showed that when workers are united we can stand up to the biggest corporations in the world and win”.
“Warehouse workers labor under extreme temperatures, lifting thousands of boxes that can weigh up to 250lbs each. Workplace injuries are common; workers rarely earn a living wage or have any benefits.
Warehouse Workers for Justice is an Illinois worker center dedicated to fighting for quality jobs in the distribution industry that can sustain families and communities. The strikers are members of the Warehouse Worker Organizing Committee.”

Spanish Miners Strike Back Against Austerity

Two sets of miners have now been occupying their workplace for a month

Spanish miners are now a month into action against the Popular Party government, and behind them the international banking aristocracy, as they demonstrate against 60% cuts in subsidies, which are expected to result in the loss of 40,000 jobs.

Spain is a social and political powder keg, with record 24% unemployment being exacerbated by austerity measures dictated by representatives of high finance. Even when Franco’s political heirs in the PP were brought to power by a collapse in support for the Socialist Workers’ Party last autumn, the markets immediately put them on notice that enormous cuts were expected. Just this week, Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy has agreed terms for a €100 billion bailout, making Spain the fourth country to require this following a banking collapse.

An indefinite mining strike began on 31st May, and two sets of mining crew immediately began a workplace sit-in, in dangerous and unsanitary conditions. Over the weeks, there have been many reports of cops charging into pit towns like invading armies, and often being held-off or deterred by the miners’ use of improvised rockets and road blocks.

Events described by the Internationalist Communist Tendency reported at the start of the month have proved typical in this regard :

“The day before yesterday (June 6) the Spanish Civil Guard was decisively repulsed and driven back into Ciñera de Gordon, a small town about halfway between Oviedo and Leon. They had arrived in force on Tuesday to clear a roadblock on highway N-630 near the village wedged between the mountains of Asturias, between Oviedo and Leon. But they did not have to wait long for a response from the miners. Taking up their shields once again and supported by the inhabitants of the village, they launched an assault on the Civil Guard which was driven from the town centre. After a heavy crackdown, with mad chases through residential areas and in the surrounding countryside, a veritable manhunt, the bourgeois forces of order finally decided to leave because of the resistance on all sides from, both the motorway to the edges of the town. Their flight was celebrated with a long applause from the local population who thus expressed solidarity with this group of miners, proletarians in struggle.”

Miners have set up barricades to defend themselves from the state’s forces

At 150 million euros, the subsidy cuts amount to a tiny fraction of the €27 billion slashed from the national budget in April. For this reason, the nightmare plaguing the ruling class is practical solidarity between other workers and the miners. The trade unions have dutifully played their part in trying to isolate the miners’ struggle by calling miner-only demos and asking the government to draw up a new ‘plan for coal’, rather than calling out all workers against all cuts.

Typical of this reactionary reformist approach were the words of General Workers Union general secretary José Angel Fernandez Villa, when he called for a “monitoring committee” to hear new mining industry proposals, and bemoaned the fact the government was “encouraging radicalisation” of the dispute by refusing to hold meaningful talks on the issue.

The trade unions would gratefully grasp the slightest concession, which they would then try to sell as a victory to their memberships. But the government is concerned that this would embolden other workers coming into struggle, and is therefore using force wherever it can to beat – and perhaps eventually starve – the miners into submission.

Like the year-long UK miners strike of the 1980s, this Spanish conflict looks like it could set a pattern for years to come.