For coverage of the 10 May pension strikes see http://www.socialistworker.co.uk//art.php?id=28447
Teachers and lecturers in London struck on Wednesday of last week in the ongoing battle to defend pensions.
Some 8,000 strikers and supporters marched through central London on the day. Strikers were angry about the Tories’ assault on pensions—but their anger went far deeper too.
Pedro Montiel teaches biology at City and Islington Sixth Form Centre. He told Socialist Worker, “The government uses the recession as an excuse to make cuts.
“But why are we in recession? It’s not because of public sector workers. It was precipitated by casino bankers. They bankrupt the country—and still get their bonuses.”
Sally Bradley, a teacher from a Westminster school, agreed. “The people who are working hard are the ones making sacrifices,” she said. “Those at the top, the bankers, aren’t making any.”
Phil Vellender, a UCU union member at London South Bank university, described the Tories’ pension plans as “theft by a
neoliberal government”. “They want to destroy the welfare state,” he added. “That’s why we have to strike.”
Workers from other unions joined the march, including members of the PCS, Unison, Unite, TSSA and Prospect unions.
Kate Roberts, a housing worker and Unison union member in Southwark, said, “We should be on strike today. We should stand together as a union movement and not let the government fragment us. This government has got to go.”
Students joined the protest too. Nafiya Horozoglu came from George Mitchell school in Leyton, east London.
She said, “We can only make a change if we unite together. David Cameron is a wanker. He’s a prime minister for the rich, not for working class people like us.”
Retired teachers also attended the march. They pointed out that the government pension changes affect retired workers as well as current ones.
Gail Newnham brought the Rochdale NUT banner to the march. She said, “You plan your life around your pension—but now the government is stealing it.”
NUT general secretary Christine Blower addressed strikers. She said, “London teachers have often shown the way, and you have today.” But some strikers heckled her with calls of “national action” and “national strike”.
UCU general secretary Sally Hunt didn’t come to address them. But Mark Campbell, a member of the UCU’s national executive committee, did.
He was cheered when he told the rally, “This strike in London is brilliant—but it should have been a national strike. We want a national strike, and for more than one day. We need to get together, come out and hit them hard.”
On 30 November last year, 29 unions struck across Britain—some 2.6 million workers. Last Wednesday’s strike involved NUT and UCU members in London who are in the Teachers Pension Scheme.
Many workers were rightly angry that the strike wasn’t national and didn’t involve more unions. As John Warr, an NUT member from Barnet, put it, “It’s better if we’re all on strike together. The unions need to get their acts together.”
Monica teaches at a primary school in south London. “I would like to see more support from other unions,” she said. “The fact that some unions pulled out of joining strikes has made our voice weaker.
“And it’s created divisions in workplaces. On 30 November, our school was closed. Today it was open because people in other unions were going in.”
The confusion and anger caused by many union leaders’ retreats meant that today’s strike took place in difficult circumstances. Understandably it was weaker in some places than the action on 30 November.
But despite that, it had a big impact. The NUT estimates that around 70 percent of London schools were fully or partially closed. And thousands turned out to join the demonstration.
PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka told strikers he was recommending his union calls a strike “at the end of April with as many unions as possible”.
Serwotka told the crowd, “Your fantastic action today has got to be seen as the latest step in a campaign to defeat the government over pensions.”
Wednesday’s strike showed that the mood to fight the Tories has not gone away. Striker after striker said that 28 March must be a stepping stone to more national strikes involving more unions.
It is now up to every union member to fight to make that a reality. As Kevin Courtney, deputy general secretary of the NUT, told Socialist Worker, “If unions stick together, we can stop the Tories.”