Welsh public services on strike
Over 70,000 join strike over pay, cuts and pensions
At last! The trade union movement organises a co-ordinated strike. And what a response! At least some of the accumulated bitterness at the government's attacks on working people was unleashed today. But this new mood must be built on and new actions called. Right wing union leaders cannot be allowed to postpone action or settle for the crumbs they got in the pensions dispute
Over 70,000 public sector workers were on strike today in Wales as part of national action of over a million workers against the government’s pay restraint, service and pensions cuts. Across Wales schools, libraries, government buildings, council offices, museums, refuse collection were all closed or cancelled by one of the biggest strikes in modern times. Members of UNISON, GMB, UNITE, PCS, FBU and NUT brought parts of Wales to a standstill and an early holiday for thousands of school students.
The mood on the picket lines was confident and light hearted as pickets basked in the early morning sunshine. At every picket line in Swansea it was reported that most workers had stayed away. At the refuse depot only four out of 200 had gone into work, at the Pension Centre and Land Registry there were just a few cars driving through and there was a good response from PCS members at the massive DVLA.
UNISON's city centre rally brought together all the striking unions, each of them showing a determination to start fighting back. Despite Swansea Trades Council secretary and UNISON member Ronnie Job being refused the opportunity of bringing solidarity greetings, another trades council member, Carrie-Anne Watkins, speaking from PCS got one of the best receptions at the rally when she said her members have been fighting the ConDems for years but would also fight as hard against any Labour government cuts if they dared introduce them. She was cheered when she condemned Labour controlled Swansea City Council for implementing £26million worth of cuts in this year’s budget.
At Cardiff’s Lamby Way depot over 30 refuse collectors collected to support their picket. In other workplaces like Marland House and the central library no pickets were needed as the buildings were completely closed. At the Job Centre only management and security (not on strike) had crossed the picket line. Even the Crown Prosecution Service was on strike. The National Museum was closed “what a beautiful sight – an empty car park!” said one striker. 30 strikers picketed the Welsh government offices in Cathays Park.
The massive July 10th public sector strike in Llanelli and West Wales made its mark. There were NUT pickets in a region where no such thing is usually the norm, Carmarthenshire Unison branch organised more than 20 picket lines across the vast spread of the county from 5.30am, and striking council workers and teachers joined each other’s picket lines in a superb show of solidarity, whilst the strike in the refuse depots was absolutely solid.
Over a hundred trade unionists turned up to an enthusiastic rally in Carmarthen called by Unison and Llanelli Trades Council appealing to the public for support and bringing together striking workers and supporters alike. There was a large contingent from the FBU, with their speaker deploring the thought of 60 year old firemen. Dave Warren of the PCS called for a 24-general strike and for obscene tax avoidance to be sorted out. Solidarity was brought by Ken Smith NUJ Wales Chairman, who said that the effectiveness of today’s action was shown by the fact that Cameron and Gove wanted to ban strikes. “They wouldn’t want to ban them unless you were being effective today” Scott Jones from USDAW called for a trade union led campaign to achieve a £10 an hour minimum wage and for trade unionists and socialists to challenge at the ballot box to prevent workers fighting with one armed behind out backs.
There was loud applause for speakers calling for escalating the action and for further co-ordinated trade union strike action including the consistent call made by many speakers for a one day General Strike. Carmarthenshire UNISON branch secretary Mark Evans warned that Labour councils and the Welsh Labour Government should also be put on notice that they will be held to account by trade unionists in Wales if they continued to carry out cuts. He said “Today has been a magnificent show of solidarity in this county. After months of battling this local Labour council on a whole number of issues from their plan to make more than £30 million of cuts, to them trying to end trade union facility time, it’s great to get such a united, strong response from our members. We have shown in our recent battles that we don’t give up. We’re not going away, this is just the start.”
In Cardiff and Swansea the strike had opposite effects on the traffic. In Swansea, Alec Thraves reported “The roads were really quiet in Swansea this morning which was the best indication of the impact of the public sector strike.” While in Cardiff Ross Saunders said “Gridlock on the A4232 as a result of striking workers closing the Bute tunnel”.
The media tried to turn the understandable frustration of drivers locked in jams in west Cardiff against the strikers, but generally it didn’t work. Despite Mark Hutchings’s hatchet-job on the BBC radio World at One there has been massive public support for the strike amongst the public – mainly working people themselves dealing with low pay. Strikers leafleting in Cardiff shopping centre reported not one adverse comment, a shopping centre security guard said “Yes we Do!” on seeing a PCS “We all need a pay rise” sticker.
At the Cardiff rally the loudest cheers were for those who made the most fighting speeches. Andy Richards, regional secretary of UNITE, got the loudest cheer when he responded to Tory threats to curtail the right to strike: “if the government puts the trade unions outside the law, then we will act outside the law!”
The general feeling of strikers was that this must not be a one-off, a proper programme of industrial action over the summer and autumn must be prepared to force the government to back down and at the rally in Cardiff dozens of strikers signed the Socialist Party petition for a general strike. This strike was a good start but with UNISON calling for two days of strike action in September the momentum must be maintained to turn that call into a 24 hour General Strike!
Steffan Bateman, Alec Thraves, Mark Evans, Ross Saunders, Scott Jones, Ken Smith
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