Britain: More than 2 million join public sector strike

July 13, 2014
Hundreds of thousands of public servants marched in London on July 10, as millions took strike action around Britain.

Workers in more than 50 cities across England, Wales and Scotland joined Britain's largest trade union mobilisation since the mass strike over pensions in 2011.

More than 2 million public sector workers took part in marches in their local cities, while others maintained pickets of public sector buildings and local authorities.

The main issue driving the mass strike was the meagre 1% pay rise offered by the Conservative-Liberal-Democrat coalition government. This amount to a wage cut the soaring living costs workers have been experiencing in the past several years are factored in.

Several hundred thousand people joined the march on Trafalgar Square in London. It was called by the country’s major trade unions, covering various sectors of the public service, including Unite the Union, UNISON, GMB, the Fire Brigades Union (FBU), the Public and Commercial Services Union, and the National Union of Teachers.

Fiona Farmer, from Unite, told the rally: “While thousands and thousands have turned up for march in London and other cities across the UK, thousands more have also picketed local government authorities.”

“No one should be on poverty pay and experience pay cuts. We have a government that does not recognize public sector workers, doesn’t value them and doesn’t reward them.

“If the economy is in a recovery, then our members deserve some of that”

Farmer emphasised the vital role the public sector and local government play in providing social services. She said 1 million such workers earn less the average British wage and 500,000 earned less than the living wage. At the same time, more than 1 million people in Britain are now using food banks.

FBU general secretary Matt Brack said: “There are people here today in all range of disputes. What unites is the government that’s destroying our public services and wrecking the lives of millions.”

He said there was “no mood to surrender” among the fire-fighters in their fight against the Troy government, adding: “We have to remember that it wasn’t the people who maintain our hospitals or clean our streets that caused the crisis, but the banksters!”

PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka commened striking workers gathered at Trafalgar Square and those who have picketed the public sector workplaces around the country.

However, he also emphasised the need for an ongoing industrial campaign to force the Con-Dem government to the negotiating table. A key trade union demand was raising the salaries of all public sector workers by one pound an hour.

He urged an urgent meeting of all trade unions in order to organise an on-going industrial campaign.

“We cannot allow this movement to be fizzled out the way the same way that the pension dispute in 2011.”

At the same time as the trade union demonstrations were taking place, the Coalition Troy government has been considering the implementation of new laws that would restrict the ability of the trade unions to successfully call strikes and implement industrial action on sites.

As part of his “Conservative Manifesto” in the lead up to next year's general election, Prime Minister David Cameron has vowed to crack down on ttrade union activity in the country by “setting a threshold”.

By that, he means implementing laws to require trade unions to achieve balloted results of 50% or more to be able to call a major industrial action. This act of hypocrisy stands in contrast with the fact that his party only received 36.1% of the direct vote in the 2010 poll, and is unlikely to regain a majority in the upcoming elections.

Trade union leaders and the speakers at the rally also noted the lack of support form the leadership of the Labour Party.

Labour leader Ed Milliband refused to support the public sector rallies on July 10, while criticising the Coalition government for “ramping up the rhetoric against the public sector workers”.

The left-wing Labour MP for Islington North, Jeremy Corbyn, addressed the rally in London, thanking the public and social sector workers for providing the services used by all in the British society, and emphasised the need to “construct a society based on the need for all, rather than the benefits for the few”.

Corbyn mentioned Vodafone and Starbacks as some of the “free-loaders” and “tax-dodgers” that should be charged higher levels of tax.

The trade union movement in Britain now faces the challenge of maintaining an ongoing campaign for a higher wage. The Trade Union Congress has called a mass demonstration for October, but so far no plans have yet been set for the more strike action by the unions.

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