Thousands of public sector workers and supporters descended on Trafalgar Square in a protest over pay, pensions and living standards. Reuben Bard-Rosenberg reports
Thousands of striking workers and activists marched to trafalgar yesterday, as public services were brought to a standstill throughout the country. Large contingents from the NUT, the GMB and other organsations came together to express their defiance against ongoing the attacks on working class living standards and governments commitment to austerity.
Matt Wrack drew big cheers when he told the crowd we need to "do this again and do it again soon… what we see here is just an inkling of the power that rests in the hands of working people...I travel up and down the country talking to firefighters, and they’re in no mood to surrender… the only people who will decide when this dispute ends will be our members”.
Meanwhile, Mark Sewotka, noting the defeats, two years ago, over pensions, made clear that yesterday had to be “just the beginning”, and unless action was ratcheted up the unions didn’t stand a chance.
There was a clear expectation that workplace resistance will be expanded in the coming months. Linda Potts regional secretary of greater London Unison told the crowd that thir members were now twenty per cent worse off than when the government came to power, and said that the union’s executive would be meeting soon to decide whether to ballot their health members on industrial action. They would, she hoped, be taking action along side other public sector workers in September or October.
The other key message of the day - from marchers and from the podium - was the importance of making these strikes into a wider political struggle against the current order. Clare Solomon from the People’s Assembly said “You’re not just here to defend your pay. The whole society benefits when public sector workers stand up and take action”. Jeremy Corbyn similarly said “We owe so much to the strength of organised labour, without it we wouldn’t have the NHS and the welfare state”. “This is about jobs and wages” he added, “but it is also a challenge to the parliament over there which is politically engineering society to make it less equal, together we will win on jobs and wages and we will win the argument against austerity”.
Finally, towards the end, Mark Serwotka, enjoined the crowd to shout out to the workers at the nearby National Gallery who were on strike against job cuts and privatisation, and offered some harsh words to Labour’s Chuka Umuna who had expressed opposition to any strike that “inconvenienced his constituents” - reminding Umuna that his constituents included teachers, and firefighters and many others who were out today to defend their standards of living.
Reuben Bard-Rosenberg is a socialist activist and radical folk music promoter.