Steve Ryan, a PCS activist in Wrexham, looks at the aftermath of the November 30th pensions strike and the opportunities for class struggle in the year ahead.
November 30th. I was dropped off by the picket lines outside a large government building in Cardiff. The line was well attended, the PCS yellow jackets bright in the dawn light, The wood was already blazing in the brazier, The mood was upbeat and determined.
As the dawn broke a rainbow appeared over the building: that’s where our pensions are, someone quipped. Pictures were taken, reports sent in.
From the lines we travelled into Cardiff to join the march. 5,000 people, some say, certainly it was big, biggest for years, The march was noisy, with music and chants, Crowds thronged the pavements clapping and cheering, We debated when we could last remember this happening. The march needed with the usual speeches from union bosses and sympathetic politicos, By about 3pm we were done and drifting home, or to cafes and pubs. It had been a momentous day , reports had been received from comrades all over the UK with similar stories, biggest ever march, solid picket lines, huge support from the public.
The above is a picture of November 30th, a snapshot. It will be familiar to thousands of workers, It was the biggest strike for decades , and came on the back of a the demo in March in London, the strike on June 30th, and a small but significant rise in industrial militancy generally, including HMRC workers over sick absence policies and privatisation, strikes in the private sector over pay and pensions, and the resurgence of rank and file action via the Sparks in the building industry
More widely 2011 saw the Arab Spring, riots in UK inner cities, general strikes in Europe, massive demonstrations against the Chinese and Russian governments. All over the world the Occupy movement sprang up, and Time magazine had “the protestor “ personality of the year
So 2011 was an exciting time for communists… but the inevitable question is, what next?
That there has been a rise in militancy is clear. However, there is still a way to go.
Despite the demos, strikes etc, it could be argued that little has changed, Europe presses ahead with austerity cuts, Egyptian workers are back on the streets, the Occupy movement seems to have already run out of steam.
In the UK, November 30th may already have been futile as the TUC and bigger unions look set to sell out over pensions, leaving the more militant PCS union isolated. The Sparks have not yet gained wider rank and file support to the extent many may have wished for,
But, but… all is not lost yet.
Whist the movement is at a crossroads , there is always hope as to the direction of travel.
There is a growing mood of anger , all over the world. Moreover that anger is translating into the confidence to act from strikes and demos to occupations.
Speaking to PCS members about the possible sell out over pensions , and the refusal of PCS to give in, the response was angry and supportive of PCS. Such a mood is growing within the rank and file of the other unions. The role of anti-cuts groups has helped here by uniting rank and file union members with community activists, unemployed groups etc. making it harder to isolate the struggles but moreover making it easier to generalise the fight back .
Also the usual role of the social democratic parties as the defenders of capital has collapsed as they adopted neo-liberal policies. In the UK this is especially so: no one has any illusions in New Labour. This will create a vacuum as workers, pensioners, unemployed and so on begin as they have to seek reasons for their situation but moreover a solution, Such a vacuum once filled by illusions in reforms can just as easily be filled with a communist solution, as has happened many times in the past, such as before the First World War in the UK.
Workers will also be considering what action to take next . The lack of gains from the one day strike will be, and already is being, questioned. More imaginative action will develop, often as per the Sparks, outside of the control of the union structure.
Action also needs to develop from passivity, demos and marches to active resistance. Non payment of the Poll Tax was a good example, more will be found as opportunities arise, and the resistance need to go to the bosses, politicians and the rich in general,
The role of communists in all this is not be with those fighting back , to assist, to argue the direction of travel towards revolution and communism but also to learn from those fighting back, who will undoubtedly throw up structures and methods that suit the circumstances and are innovative and challenging.
It will be an exciting time.