Last Thursday, 26th June, around 40 trade unionists and activists from across the city came together to discuss the upcoming public sector strikes under the banner “Britain Needs a Pay Rise”. Representatives from PCS, NUT and Unison led contributions from the platform with solidarity expressed by the RMT from the floor.
The meeting kicked off with contributions from two Lambeth College strikers who are now approaching their 20th day of continuous strike action. The strikers set a powerful tone for the meeting discussing how despite now entering it’s fourth week, the strike remains strong with more workers now out on strike than when it first started. The meeting collected £195.00 for the Lambeth College strike fund, which was received with great thanks from the representatives who expressed their solidarity and support with the public sector action on the 10th July.
Amanda Martin, from the NUT NEC, raised that job security, good pensions and decent pay are no longer realities for most workers and that pay is an issue that the NUT can stand together with their sister unions to demand an alternative to the race to the bottom agenda. Alan Denis, representing the PCS NEC, referenced the People’s Assembly Demonstration on 21st June and how this mass march and rally alongside the successful strike ballots demonstrates that there is a resonance amongst ordinary people who are looking for an alternative and for hope. Chris Picket, Portsmouth City Unison branch secretary, discussed how Portsmouth City Council workers are the lowest paid of local government workers in the south coast and many are relying on benefit top ups to make ends meet. But he also established the potential this strike action has in starting a mass movement into the Autumn and the general election next year. He raised that there has been a change in mood amongst the workers during the balloting process and since the results were announced. Despite the attempt to demonise teachers for their previous strike actions, Amanda from NUT reminded the meeting of the concessions the previous strike actions have had and that support for teachers among parents remains high.
All of the main speakers raised that this is not only about pay, that winning on ‘more pay’ alone will not get rid of austerity or the vicious agenda of the right right government. Chris reminded us that by April 2015 Portsmouth City Council will have made cuts equating to £95 million from the budget; Portsmouth’s contribution an austerity programme that sees the most vulnerable and oppressed groups paying whilst the bosses and the bankers are cashing in. Alan detailed the reality of what “austerity Britain” looks like, a Britain where the five richest families in UK have more wealth than the bottom 20% of people put together or where the average CEO earns in three days what the average worker earns in a year.
Clearly, there is still a long way for the trade union movement to go in bringing about a co-ordinated fight back that not only wins on the issue of pay but also wider campaigns within society against austerity and against those responsible for it. It would be dishonest to claim that just because the union leadership have finally come together (both locally and nationally), that this is synonymous with a confidence to fight in the class, and amongst the union membership. But we can acknowledge this whilst still looking to see where we can genuinely stand alongside and bring confidence to all those who are fighting back in Pompey. Everyone acknowledged that this is just the start and there are many opportunities for us to move forward from here not only over pay but also in providing a challenge to UKIP and their racist agenda.
After the meeting several people gathered in the pub and formulated plans for the strike day itself. A strike committee has been set up in conjunction with Portsmouth trades council and it is hoped that this body can co-ordinate actions locally not only for July 10th but onwards ahead of future autumn strikes and the anticipated TUC demonstration in London on October 18th.
If you are striking on July 10th or are interested in showing solidarity and support to those who are out on strike there will be many picket lines across the city from 7.30am and a rally in Guildhall Square with speeches from starting 10.30am on and a march through the town from 12pm.
-If you want to donate to the Lambeth College strike fund go to http://lambethcollegestrike.wordpress.com/support-us/donations/