The hugely successful strikes and protests showed the potential to build a movement that uses the organised and collective resources of trade unions to involve workers who aren’t in a trade union at all – students, pensioners, unemployed people and every section of society.

London j30 protest

Yesterday was an amazing show of strength by our side. I was enormously impressed by the lunchtime march and rally in Newcastle.

It brought together 2000 strikers and supporters, with a great atmosphere: determined, united and vibrant. From reading of events elsewhere, its clear that our local demo was typical.

There was no feel of a routine or token protest. Instead there was a sense of real commitment to winning, with an awareness that it will take further action and depend on broadening the movement still further. In the rally it was the comments linking pensions to the broader Tory-led attack on public services, and the appeals to build a broad-based movement beyond the unions, that drew the loudest, most passionate, response.

Political arguments about the majority being made to pay for a crisis we didn’t create, busting myths about the ‘inevitability’ of cuts and instead outlining alternatives, got an especially warm reception.

An obvious characteristic of yesterday was the supreme importance of street protests: all those city and town centre rallies throughout the country. There’s sometimes a tendency on the left to think that developing workplace resistance mean the streets become a less important site of struggle, the tactic of demonstrations somehow overtaken by the tactic of strikes.

As one assessment of the direction of the anti-cuts struggle, ahead of J30, put it: “resistance is now taking a different form‚Äîit is moving away from the street and into the workplace, where workers wield power as an organised force”.

Yesterday illustrated why that is only half-right. The movement of the streets is in fact re-invigorated by strikes. The countless picket lines were essential, but our city centres were where yesterday’s strikes found their most visible expression and where co-ordination and unity were made concrete.

The real prize is a broad political movement in which strikes and demonstrations are fused, where the streets and the workplaces are combined to create something that can’t be dismissed as ‘sectional’ or ‘self-interested’. A movement that reaches out beyond the unions’ public sector bastions to millions of private sector workers, countering the Tories’ ‘divide and rule’ propaganda.

We need a movement that uses the organised and collective resources of trade unions to involve workers who aren’t in a trade union at all – they are the majority. A movement that links students, pensioners, unemployed people and every section of society with the trade unions.

The organised force of the working class is mobilised on the streets as well as through strikes. If we’ve learnt anything from Cairo, Madrid and Athens it is surely that. In the autumn we need co-ordinated strikes, potentially involving 4 million workers, and another massive TUC-organised national demonstration – which would gain far greater charge from taking place in the context of large-scale strike action.

A number of elements underpin this phenomenon. When different unions are striking simultaneously, it makes sense to organise events which bring everyone together. No individual picket line – however vital picket lines are – is sufficient.

We generally don’t live in an age of large workplaces as the site of strike action. Dozens of different workplaces were represented at Newcastle’s march and rally. We’re not talking about big factories, shipyards and mines anymore. There are exceptions – PCS members at the the huge Longbenton ‘Ministry’ in Tyneside were on strike, but it’s mostly smaller workplaces taking action. They need to be pulled together.

We’ve been through over two decades of low strike levels but a series of street-based protest movements, from the anti-poll tax movement through to 26 March and today. The streets are where we have been strongest. The student protests and 26 March, the numerous local anti-cuts marches and the UK Uncut actions, have all fed the confidence of trade unionists to take strike action. They fed, also, the mood for demonstrating our collective strength on the streets on J30.

Public sector strikes are primarily about making political impact, rather than directly cutting off profits at the point of production. This means that demonstrations take on special importance. They are vital in getting media coverage, gaining public support and fighting the battle of ideas. On the streets we put across the political arguments that Ed Miliband should be making (but emphatically isn’t).

There is tremendous enthusiasm for building further co-ordinated strikes, but also for expanding the anti-cuts movement as a whole. The months ahead can see action on an even bigger scale.

Discuss the next steps at the Coalition of Resistance national conference.

Luna17 Activist

Alex Snowdon

Alex Snowdon is a Counterfire activist in Newcastle. He is active in the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, Stop the War Coalition and the National Education Union.​ He is the author of A Short Guide to Israeli Apartheid (2022).

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