Thousands of workers in London will be striking in what is likely to be the highest level of industrial action in the capital in a decade, writes Cici Washburn
On Tuesday 1 March, London will see thousands of workers involved in several disputes taking strike action at the same time. London Underground workers, staff at 17 universities, ancillary workers at 4 hospitals and teachers at 13 independent schools will be leading a partial shutdown of the capital city.
This is likely to be the highest level and most wide-ranging, simultaneous strike action we’ve seen in at least ten years. It is part of a national picture of growing industrial struggle and a mood of combativity.
After a decade of depreciating real-terms wages from austerity and two years of a deadly pandemic in which some of the lowest paid workers were the ones that had to keep working at the risk of their lives, workers are now facing a deepening and catastrophic cost-of-living crisis.
A growing national consciousness of who is essential to the functioning of society has been met at the same time with an assault from bosses employing fire-and-rehire tactics and a government determined to make working people pay for their crisis.
The decisions to cut Universal Credit and raise National Insurance, end self-isolation rules and maintaining one of the lowest rates of sick pay in Europe, and to raise the energy price cap while energy companies report their highest ever profits will hit working people hard and have rightly provoked rage.
We’ve already seen this pour onto the streets at People’s Assembly demonstrations around the country on 12 February, and which will continue on 5 March. The political and industrial fightbacks are part of the same struggle and it’s important that we build the biggest possible solidarity at every picket line and in every trade union branch, and that the strikes are represented as widely as possible on the anti-austerity demonstrations.
London Underground workers represented by RMT on the trains and in the stations will be on strike on 1 and 3 March. Facing bankruptcy and receiving only short-term cash injections from the government with huge strings attached, Transport for London is attempting to make £1.6 billion in savings by shifting costs onto its workers.
600 job cuts on stations have already been announced, plans to ‘reform’ pensions are being created and this is just the beginning.
This will be a long running dispute that will eventually involve the other transport unions Aslef, TSSA and Unite, all of whom are balloting to strike or have a live industrial ballot. This action by the RMT is an incredibly important start to the battle on the Underground.
All major stations and depots will have pickets on 1 and 3 March.
Nationally, UCU members at 68 Universities are striking in defence of their pensions, and for the ‘4 fights’ – pay, casualisation, workload and discrimination. In London, 17 universities will be on strike on 28 February - 2 March as part of the national dispute. At several universities, Unison members have also balloted and will be joining the strike on 2 March.
Goldsmiths, University of London and the Royal College of Art are additionally striking as part of local disputes. Goldsmiths staff were on strike for 3 weeks last year and are now on a second round of strike action against 52 redundancies.
Managements at a number of the universities taking strike action including Goldsmiths, City and QMUL are being threatened with 100% pay deductions for action short of strike (ASOS). ASOS includes not rescheduling lectures cancelled due to strike action taking place and not covering lectures when other workers are absent. Zara, a QMUL striker said that this is a ‘vicious campaign aimed at union busting and breaking the strike’.
Solidarity on the picket lines in the face of these attacks is crucial. There is a rally at Goldsmiths with Jeremy Corbyn and others on Monday 28 February from 10am – 12pm, and there will be picket lines at all the universities with staff on strike on all three days next week.
NEU members at 23 Girls Day Schools Trust schools nationally, 13 of them in London, are striking against attacks to their pensions. They’ve already taken three days of strike action and will again be out on strike on 1-3 March. As NEU president Daniel Kebede said on the Newcastle picket line “The employer intends to fire and rehire them and employ them on lesser conditions, take them out of the Teachers Pension Scheme.”
These are independent schools and the bosses are not used to strike action and have been ‘caught off-guard’ by this action. The striking teachers held a very large and lively strike rally in Parliament Square on 23 February. They are confident, prepared to keep fighting and determined to win. There will picket lines at all the schools with staff on strike on all three days of strike next week.
Ancillary workers (cleaners, porters, security guards and others) at Whipps Cross, St Barts, Royal London and Great Ormond Street hospitals will be striking the whole of next week. These outsourced workers are some of the lowest paid with the most insecure working conditions, who worked throughout the pandemic with no sick pay, and are mostly black, brown and migrant workers.
At Great Ormond Street Hospital (GOSH), security guards who are members of UVW are in the midst of 6 weeks of strike action where they are fighting against outsourcing and to be brought in house so they get the basic rights of sick pay and maternity pay. They are following in the footsteps of their cleaning and catering colleagues who last summer fought for the same thing with strike action and won.
Last week, their employers brought a court injunction against them which restricts their ability to picket, but they will still be holding picket lines with as close to the hospital as they legally can every day next week.
At the 3 Barts Trust hospitals, hundreds of workers employed by Serco, are commencing their second set of two weeks’ strike action on 28 February. They are also fighting to be brought in house and against low pay and exploitation. Their fight is at the forefront of the struggle to defend the NHS from the government’s attacks, as one of the strikers told us,
"We’re trying to stop privatisation, private sector companies like Serco only want profits, they don’t care about us workers, we’re often doing 3 people's jobs, there’s no respect and we’re fighting to win."
On Monday 28 February, the Barts Strikers are holding a rally at 11am at St Barts hospital and further rallies are planned for Wednesday and Friday. There will also be picket lines at all three hospitals from Monday to Friday 5-10am until 11 March.
Support the strikes!
As the cost-of-living crisis deepens, we could see larger groups of workers fighting back and the potential for coordinated action. Supporting these struggles is an important part of rolling back years of worsening conditions for working people – I urge everyone reading this to go to a picket line on 1 March!
Talking to these brave workers is incredibly inspiring, seeing their courage and the determination in their resistance. Raise solidarity at your trade union branches and, get to the strike rallies next week!
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