strikes and solidarity

If this year’s strikes are to have power, we must take our lead from the electricians, bypassing union attempts at defusion by offering each other solidarity in new ways and across artificial divides, writes Deb Harris.

Solidarity is illegal. Thatcher said so. She only permits us to strike if we have a specific and identifiable common complaint – we are not allowed to strike together in recognition of the general horror. In 2011, submissive as ever, the unions found the only thing that the public sector can legally unite around – pensions – and conveniently forgot that everyone is angry about a lot more than that. Their speeches, placards and leaflets were all about pensions. As if we had given up on anything but retirement. Continue reading “strikes and solidarity”

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taking control of our struggle

A college worker recently on strike describes how the  mood in her workplace has developed throughout the pensions dispute, in tandem with a local fight over redundancy and restructuring

In my workplace both the admin staff and the teaching staff were out on strike together for the first time in years, which made the strike a very different experience. Normally, although we talk to each other every day in the course of work, we don’t organise together or support each other much in the face of redundancy, restructuring, disciplinaries etc. The teaching staff are better organised than the admin staff and usually have better working conditions, and haven’t tended to pay much attention to the problems faced by the other workers.

Unions struck on the same day, but they aren’t necessarily well linked up with each other, still less the non-unionised majority

In the buildup to the strike we had some joint meetings, both informal canteen meetings and one formal union meeting, and we did some activities together, such as leafleting. It bought it home how separated we are in the two unions, UCU and Unison, and how unnecessary it is – I had never even met most of the Unison people, and yet we work in the same building. This is not only because of the union bureaucracies. We could easily talk informally to each other but we don’t, due to inertia and inward looking attitudes. Continue reading “taking control of our struggle”

the n30 strike day and a 2012 of struggle

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. Continue reading “the n30 strike day and a 2012 of struggle”

‘one hundred unions. thirty countries. one class’

Omid Rezai of the International Alliance in Support of Workers in Iran reports on the Labourstart conference in Istanbul 

‘One hundred unions. Thirty countries. One class.’ – Derrick Blackadder, of the Canadian Union of Public Employees, advanced this as the slogan for trade unionists to take home.  It was an accurate summation of the discussions and workshops of the last two days.  It was an exciting conference to be part of.  The Internationale was sung in more languages than I had ever heard spoken before, by avowedly class-conscious trade unionists, who were calling for international solidarity against capitalist exploitation.

workers in Iran need class solidarity, not US interference

The conference began with participants taking part in a picket line with 62 locked-out members of Birlesik Metal-Is, outside GEA Klima Sanayi ve Ticaret A.Ş. (ATR) in Gebze.  Members of the International Alliance in Support of Workers in Iran took part and reported a lot of good feeling on the picket line as links were made between Metal-Is workers and German comrades who work at related factories.  Full details of the dispute can be found hereContinue reading “‘one hundred unions. thirty countries. one class’”

make or break moment for ‘sparks’

Adam Ford writes on the latest turn in the electricians’ struggle

The grassroots ‘Sparks’ movement of electricians continues to organise direct actions and protests across the country, but it is running out of time before construction companies impose huge pay cuts. Meanwhile, the same Unite bureaucracy whose negotiator Bernard McAulay labelled the Sparks “cancerous” is seeking to gain control of the struggle, the better to strangle it. The rank-and-file workers need to develop a resistance strategy, and fast.


The dispute began back in August, when electricians angry about the proposed new Building Engineering Services National Agreement (BESNA) set up their own rank-and-file campaign committee, with the intention of pressurising Unite tops into adopting a more combative stance than usual. Non-unionised workers were urged to join Unite, with the idea being that they would be able to vote for official strike action. Since then, the national and local committees have organised various wildcat actions, such as brief site ‘occupations’ and road blockages. This momentum has built week on week. Continue reading “make or break moment for ‘sparks’”

electricians occupy site in farringdon

Siobhan Breathnach writes on the ‘Sparks’ latest action

Today at 7.30 am hundreds of electricians briefly occupied a building site in protest at attempts to cut their pay and conditions.

The conflict is because the “Big 8” of construction employers want to withdraw from the JIB (Joint Industry Board) agreement on pay, grading and seniority. They want to bring in new grades of semi­skilled electricians earning £10.50 and £14 an hour instead of the current hourly JIB rate of £16.25.  The protests against this change have been going on for several weeks now all across the country. Last week at the Olympic site workers blocked the site entrance for some time but, as the site is so huge, the management just moved people coming in to work to a different gate, so the protesters blocked the main road near the site for twenty minutes. The demo today was bigger, maybe 250- 300 people, and started out next to Farringdon Station. Continue reading “electricians occupy site in farringdon”

proposed electricians’ pay cut sparks resistance

Adam Ford writes on the electricians’ struggle and rank-and-file organising

Electricians angry about proposed swingeing cuts to their wages are taking an innovative course of action in an attempt to resist the employers’ attacks. The success or failure of their initiative may serve as a useful pointer for other workers defending their livelihoods.


Eight major construction employers (Bailey, Balfour Beatty, T. Clarke, Crown House, Gratte Brothers, MJN Colston, SES and SPIE Matthew Hall) want to tear up the “archaic” Joint Industry Board, Pay and Conditions agreement. If they get their way, separate pay rates will be imposed for metalworkers (£10.50 per hour), wiring (£12), and terminating (£14). At the moment, all electricians across the board should receive £16.25. For metalworkers, this would represent a pay cut of 35%, at a time when inflation is running at around 5%. Deskilling and its corollary – increased workplace ‘accidents’ – would inevitably follow. Continue reading “proposed electricians’ pay cut sparks resistance”