The revolt against Gordon Brown’s cuts and pay freeze in the public sector is fuelling the feeling that Tuesday 1 May should be a day of resistance.
The TUC has named May Day as a day for the defence of the public sector and in many parts of the country unions have organised demonstrations, pickets and rallies.
The strike by over 250,000 civil service workers in the PCS union is acting as a catalyst for other groups of workers who can see that a united campaign could force the government into major concessions.
Both the main teachers’ unions voted at their conferences last week to look at striking alongside other public sector unions. The nurses’ RCN union has cleared the way for industrial action over pay (see page 6).
In London the Organising For Fighting Unions group is bringing together trade unionists from across the public sector at May Day events.
Civil service workers on Merseyside can’t wait to join the strike action on 1 May.
“People here are champing at the bit,” said Dave Owens, who is a member of the group executive of the PCS in the Department for Work and Pensions.
“They can’t wait for a chance to hit out at Brown over the job cuts and the rubbish pay offer.You can taste the mood.
“I think that the May Day march in Liverpool, called by the Merseyside TUC, will have a lot of PCS members on it. Our branch is backing it.
“The march is going to be a chance for public sector workers in Liverpool to come together and show our combined strength, and Gordon Brown’s weakness.”
Adam from north London said, “During the last civil service workers’ strike we found very few picket lines.
“We have decided to be proactive this time round. A group of us have been to many of the workplaces where the PCS is striking and arranged to meet reps. We’ve had a great reaction.
“The trades council has called a May Day protest outside the local college at which we hope to gather people who are fighting NHS cuts, Esol cuts (English for speakers of other languages), pay freezes and redundancies.”
Students at Manchester university are organising a May Day protest against the threat of up to 400 job losses at their university.
Andy Cunningham, the student union campaigns officer elect, told Socialist Worker, “We are planning a lunchtime protest outside the university and are planning to march from the university to the PCS rally in the city centre.
“I think it’s important to build links between students and workers. May Day is a chance to say we are fighting together for the future of education and other public services.”
Sean Vernell, a member of the new UCU lecturers’ union executive, said, “London Region UCU are calling on all further and higher education colleges to organise lunchtime protests on 1 May over attacks on education.
“In further education in London this will focus on the cuts in adult education – a planned 7 percent cut across London which threatens hundreds of jobs – as well as opposition to cuts in Esol.
“At my college we are hoping to organise a lunchtime rally and invite local trade unionists, MPs, community leaders and other local figures to join the protest.”
Jacqui Freeman, a Unison union member at the School of Oriental and African Studies, has been part of a campaign to win decent pay and unionisation among cleaners at the University of London.
She told Socialist Worker, “We are planning a lunchtime march of cleaners around the colleges in central London.
“These colleges all have low paid workers, usually working for contractors, who need a union to stand up for them. That’s what May Day should be about.”
A postal worker from the giant Mount Pleasant office in central London said, “My CWU union branch last week passed support for the protests and for the Organising For Fighting Unions rally on May Day.
“A civil service worker talked about how we are all facing the same neoliberal attacks. We have agreed to take our banner along to support the PCS strikers and to the rally.”
The events of May Day are also inspiring private sector workers to organise.
Pat Carmody is a CWU union member at the Pell & Bales call centre in Old Street, east London. He is helping to organise the union in a workplace where it is not recognised.
Pat told Socialist Worker, “We are planning an Organising For Fighting Unions planning meeting for May Day on Wednesday 25 April. This will bring call centre workers around the Old Street roundabout together.
“The meeting will discuss how it is possible to build trade unions in difficult circumstances. We have done it in Pell & Bales, where union membership has gone up from next to nothing to over 70 in the last year or so.”
The prospect of united industrial action across many public sector unions over Gordon Brown’s 2 percent pay freeze is a step closer.
The NASUWT teachers’ union conference passed an emergency motion over pay last week.
This authorises the union to ballot its membership to gauge the level of support for industrial action if such a pay offer is made to teachers later this year.
The vote came just days after delegates at the NUT teachers conference voted to ballot its members on the same issue.