Tommorow sees mass public sector strikes, and Birmingham will see some of the largest strikes, as teachers and civil servants are joined by council workers and connexions to strike for the alternative.
Over the last few days, final preparations have taken place for the hundreds of pickets, demos and rallies that will happen tomorrow. I have been trying to get as much information as possible and map out the actions so you know where you can go – at the moment there are over 70 actions listed around Birmingham, but this is by no means a complete list.
Have a look at the map to see what is happening near you, join a picket line in the morning (if there’s none shown near you, I’ve probably just missed it – PCS should be out at all Job Centre’s, and UNISON council workers will probably be picketing all the leisure centres).
Join one of the UNISON demos at 10am, UCU at Bournville College at 9:15, Connexions on Broad Street at 10:45 or the rallies in Wolverhampton and Stourbridge which will all converge on Victoria Square at 12noon for a huge regional strike rally, with national and local speakers from all the unions and groups involved.
Over the last few days, unions and activists have been working hard to build Thursdays’ events, and to take the argument for the alternative to parents, members of the public and of course the workers themselves.
From door-to-door leafletting and street stalls to the Unite The Resistance meeting last night, hard work has been going to make sure that tomorrow is a huge carnival of resistance to the ConDem’s austerity agenda, and the next stage in the struggle against cuts after March 26th’s March for the Alternative.
At the Unite The Resistance meeting last night, which close to 100 people attended, we heard from Alan Whittaker – past president of UCU – who spoke about how much teachers will be losing if the pension changes come in. For a teacher aged 25, the total loss over 25 years of retirement will be nearly £300,000. Even for those nearing retirement, the loss will be in the tens of thousands of pounds.
Alan told us how in 2007 the teachers pension scheme was audited and was in good stead, and how there is no reason other than ideology to make the changes to pensions the government are proposing.
Talking about the anti-cuts movment, he said
This Thursday we are going to see [the British revolt] come to life with a vengeance
Sue Bond – Vice President of PCS spoke next, continuing from Alan, saying that since March 26th there has been talk about what next, and that tomorrows action is what is next:
On Thursday, we are sending a message to the government that we will not pay for a crisis we did not cause
She told us how both the National Audit Office and the Public Accounts Committee say that civil service pensions are both affordable and sustainable – much like the teachers pensions, and that money saved will not go to make pensions affordable in the future, but will be going to pay off the deficit that was not caused by civil servants.
Sue then outlined some of the alternatives that are supported by PCS and the TUC – closing the tax gap (£120bn of tax avoidance, evasion and uncollected tax each year – enough to cover the whole of the deficit) & investment in jobs and growth (in particular green jobs in the manufacturing sector).
Calling for unity, and crediting the students and UK Uncut for inspiring the cuts movement and the unions to take action, see said that the private sector should not be divided from the public sector – “we want quality pensions for all”, and called for everyone to “rise like Lions and win”, finishing by saying
We defend every single job and oppose every single cut
Caroline Johnson from Birmingham City Council UNISON talked of the devastating changes the council are trying to force onto council workers. She told us how people are facing huge pay cuts and also savage changes to conditions, which mean the council will be able to tell them to work any job on their pay grade, at any location in the city, at any times (including evening, weekend and unsociable hours).
Sheila, a care assistant currently earning £18,404 will lose £4,741. Aleena, a part-time cleaner earning just £3,087 will lose a whopping £847. Donna, a home care assitant on £14,829 will see her pay cut by £2,210 and Jeanette, who is part-time, earning £10,168 will lost £4,453. Meanwhile, those who are above a grade 4 will not see their pay cut at all – in fact the only thing they are going to lose is their car parking space.
These pay cuts will only save £10m from the council budget so it’s not about saving money – the council spent £60million last year on private sector consultants – so called “experts” who come in to advise on “savings” (otherwise known as advising the council on how to give more money to private sector companies like Capita). These pay cuts and condition changes are about setting the council’s services up for privatisation.
Calling for support for the council workers, Caroline said:
We are losing all this, and our pensions
She said she was very pleased to be striking alongside other unions on Thursday, that their members are concerned about going it alone, but they know that over the summer they will have to do that. She does not think the council will back down easily and anticipates further strikes over the summer and autumn to prevent the imposition of this disgusting contract in November.
Finally, Kevin Courtney from NUT spoke, he briefly mentioned pensions but decided not to cover the same grounds as Alan Whittaker UCU, and instead talked about how we are all in this together:
People were all in the same boat in the titanic, but if you were in first class you got on a lifeboat. If you were in steerage you drowned
Like other speakers, Kevin talked about tax avoidance, calling Philip Green (who in 2005 paid his wife £1.2billion, avoiding £285million in tax) “astonishingly avaricious”. He said that the pensions fight is a dispute that teachers can win, and that if we do score a victory it will change the dynamic of the anti-cuts movement.
He said that the government has completely lost the confidence of the teaching proffesion, pointing out that ATL have never balloted for strike action in 125 years, but they got an 83% vote for strike, and the fact that a heads union will ballot for strike shows how badly the government have misjudged the mood of the teachers. He also said that this could not just be about teachers for them, but about all public sector pensions.
Saying that “the cuts are completely without justification”, Kevin explained how in negotiations, the government would not justify their position. When asked why the pensions are changing from RPI to CPI, the government simply said “we think it is appropriate” without explaining why it is appropriate, or why they will use RPI for student loans. He said the government produce no arguments – that this is simply an attack on public sector workers.
Kevin finished by saying that this is a choice between whether you give in or whether you fight
On this Thursday we start the fight to defend our pensions and to strike for the alternitve to cuts and job losses
There was then time for discussion from the floor, and people were keen to link up the strikes to the wider fights against cuts, austerity and neo-liberalism. Various things were mentioned, including the decision by Connexions to join the strike on Thursday, and the demonstrations that will take place for the Liberal Democrat conference in Birmingham (18th Sept) and the Tory conference in Manchester (2nd Oct).
This Thursday, the fight back continues – what started with the Tory conference march in Birmingham in October last year, and was given a huge boost by the student demonstrations in November and December, and groups like UK Uncut, through the March for the Alternative, local council cut and mayday demonstrations and will not just continue but grow and spread tomorrow. J30 will be a date to remember.
All photos (c) Geoff Dexter Sherborne Publications. More photos from the Unite The Resistance meeting can be seen here