‘Time to start fighting back’ say trade union leaders, MPs & activists at 1000s-strong rally


“Let’s have a summer of solidarity – let’s educate, agitate and organise”

Alison Egan, Unison President

Sam Browse, writes on the closing rally of Arise Festival 2022: ‘Building the resistance – Unity through struggle’ held online on July 27th, 2022. Read the report-back or watch it in full below:

WATCH: Building the resistance: unity through struggle – hosted by Arise Festival on July 27th, 2022. Unfortunately the first few minutes were cut from the stream – you can watch them on Facebook here.

On Wednesday, thousands joined Arise Festival’s final rally, ‘Building the resistance – unity through struggle’, concluding the end of a wide-ranging and ambitious month-long festival programme. As the summer looks set for a wave of industrial action to take the fight to the Tories, the rally brought together trade union leaders and youth activists, alongside the Socialist Campaign Group of MPs’, John McDonnell.

The Chair of the meeting, the Labour NEC’s Gemma Bolton (who is re-standing on the #Grassroot5 slate in this summer’s NEC elections), introduced the meeting by saying that whilst the party is nearly over for Boris Johnson, we must take the fight to the entire rotten Tory government.

That means, rather than Keir Starmer’s disgraceful sacking of the Shadow Transport Minister, Sam Tarry, for joining RMT pickets, the left should act in solidarity with everyone organising against the Government’s cost of living crisis – including workers taking industrial action to defend their pay and conditions.

After the Chair’s opening remarks, the NEU’s Louise Regan outlined the part teachers played during the pandemic. Unlike some senior Government Ministers and officials, ‘we weren’t in staffrooms drinking champagne’.

Despite the critical role of teachers, she noted they were facing a 20% pay cut, and argued that “this government has absolute disregard for education workers. Now it’s time to start fighting back”.

The next speaker, Ben Selby, President of the FBU, emphasised that the Government were actively attacking trade unions’ right to resist, and that in his own sector Ministers were attempting to abolish collective bargaining structures. He pledged that “the Fire Brigades Union will fight tooth and nail against this draconian action” and also warned against legislation such as the “sinister” Policing Bill.

Highlighting that the pandemic amplified the existing inequalities in our society, he said we couldn’t go back to how things were. “Now, more than ever”, he said, “workers need union representation”.

Sarah Wooley, General Secretary of the BFAWU, was next to speak, offering a message of unity. Addressing the RMT, she said “millions of working people will be empowered by the action you are taking”.

Raising the issue of increasing foodbank use amongst her members, she highlighted these same issues cut across sectors: “it’s very rare that an issue a worker is facing affects just them… we’ve got to understand that the only way working people can enact change is to organise their community, stand in solidarity with each other, and pull each other up”.  

The rally then heard from Nabeela Mowlana, the current Young Labour Student Representative who is standing to be Chair of the party’s youth wing. She highlighted the parallels between her own experience of organising in the student movement alongside the renters union, Acorn, and the values of collectivism at the heart of the labour movement.

Emphasising the importance of industrial action and arguing that “bosses are reminded it’s workers that keep things ticking along, not them”, she put the Government on notice: “whoever the next prime Minister is, I think they should be worried because I know of so many young people who have already joined the fight”.

The penultimate speaker, Unison President, Alison Egan, noted that 75% of the union’s 1.3 million members are women – many of whom are low paid – and stressed the impact of the cost of living crisis especially on black and disabled women.

Arguing for the need to “unite the working class through the trade union movement”, she set out the importance of linking up with Black Lives Matter, climate crisis activists, and the wave of young people fighting the cost of living crisis, saying ‘let the trade union movement be their home.’

“Unions need to work together – we need to see ourselves as a movement fighting together against this government… Let’s have a summer of solidarity – let’s educate, agitate and organise”.

The final speaker, John McDonnell, began by expressing solidarity with Sam Tarry and exclaimed that it was unprecedented that a Labour frontbencher had been sacked for joining a picket line.

Turning to the rising levels of industrial action, he said ‘this movement is rediscovering it’s soul and is coming together on a scale we’ve not seen before. This is a historic moment – it’s living history’.

The former Shadow Chancellor argued that the current crisis is “not about wages pushing up inflation – it’s about profiteering within our own economy” but “instead of the government intervening to protect people’s incomes and prevent a recession – they’re letting inflation rip, forcing down wages”.

He emphasised the need for an alternative economic strategy: inflation-proofing wages, benefits and pensions; rent controls and controls on energy and food prices; public ownership for profiteering companies; a tax on excess profits; and a restoration of trade union rights. That should also mean “mobilising the whole economy to tackle climate change”.

As Arise Festival concludes for another year and the wave of resistance gathers momentum over the summer, it’s clear the left should be at the centre of efforts to organise and offer solidarity. As Sarah Wooley said: “see you on a picket line this year”.

Featured image: People’s Assembly demonstration in London June 26th, 2021. Credit: Labour Outlook archive.

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