“Keep mobilising. We’re winning – and we’re winning because of the solidarity and determination shown today.”John McDonnell MP
Sam Browse reports on the Building the FIghtback rally
After an inspiring day of action that saw half a million workers from the PCS, NEU, Unite, UCU, and ASLEF unions out on strike, fighting for decent pay and conditions, over one thousand people joined the online Arise rally, Building the Fightback 2023.
As she began the meeting, the Chair, Nabeela Mowlana, chair of Young Labour, highlighted the importance of bringing together voices at the frontline of Tory attacks.
Ricardo La Torre of the Fire Brigade’s Union was the first to speak, the union having just smashed through the threshold required to take industrial action. Addressing the anti-trade union legislation going through parliament now, he said ‘they are lying awake at night worrying what we’re going to do next, and that is why this Bill exists’
‘When you demonstrate the kind of power that we have today, you cannot legislate against that solidarity’.
The next speaker, Helen O’Connor, a GMB organiser in the NHS, spoke about the importance of defending the health service: ‘the two great pillars of the welfare state were the NHS and the social security system.
‘The ruling class was forced to concede them from pressure from the working class and organised labour.
‘Plans to break up and sell off the NHS have been afoot for decades. In spite of what the spin says, a cut can never deliver better care.’
Condemning years of underfunding and privatisation, she said, ‘NHS staff deliver for patients despite government policy, not because of it’
Strikemap’s Robert Poole was next to speak. He said ‘this is a fight for our lives – for fair wages and safe working conditions, and it’s a struggle that’s been going on for generations’
‘The rights of trade union members are under attack once again. This is an attempt to silence the voices of the working class. But we’ll not be silenced, we’ll not be intimidated. We’ll stand up for all workers, whatever their race or gender or anything else.’
Matthew Willgress spoke on behalf of Labour Outlook and told the audience, ‘now is the time to take sides – take the side of the one percent, their Tory Government and the whole rotten system. Or take the side of all those people fighting back’.
He urged the left to come together reminding the audience that ‘when Extinction Rebellion and Don’t Pay both gave support to – and added supplementary actions to – a recent day of action called around the cost-of-living crisis, it helped amplify the core messages and bring together different activists that have a common enemy not only in this Tory Government, but the whole rotten system.’
Angie Rojas from ACORN’s Haringey branch followed, emphasising the importance of bringing new people into the movement.
‘We can’t just reorganise the left and make another left group. We need to reach to people to really build the fightback. We need to find ways to reach people that politics isn’t reaching’.
‘We need to organise about what we have in common, not what divides us.’
She gave the example of an ACORN action in Bristol, which resulted in recruiting one hundred members to the union to fight for better fire safety in a block of flats. After a campaign of direct action, their demands were met with the council spending £100m to keep people in the towers safe.
‘If we can organise pensioners students and single mums to march into council buildings, then we can win’.
Logan James, a striking teacher, was the next to speak. He said, ‘it’s vital that members across the NEU receive strong solidarity from both the political and industrial wings of the labour movement – but we need to keep up the pressure on Westminster to get that above inflation pay rise.’
‘We know there is money out there to ensure our education system is fully funded.’
‘I ask you to support our pickets over these next days of action and, if you’re a parent, offer your support to NEU members on the picket.’
‘Let’s ensure we’re standing shoulder-to-shoulder to demand a new deal for working people.’
Highlighting the importance of organising, James Braithwaite of the RMT Young Members advisory committee said ‘we can’t rely on the courts; we won our rights on the picket line. So, we need to get organised and do what we’re doing today to ensure workers are joining together and striking together.’
‘Go down to your union branches, demand your unions cooperate like they have done today, make sure we’re fighting together.’
John McDonnell spoke next: ‘The Tories are in absolute panic about what’s going on. They’ve never met this scale of resistance over the last decade and beyond. What they’re realising is that the working class is back on the streets again. This is class struggle – there’s no other way of describing it. That’s why they’re introducing this anti-strikes Bill.’
‘Yes, we’ll fight it in parliament, but this legislation will be defeated on the picket line.’
Speaking from NHS Workers Say No, Holly Turner told the audience that ‘rather than engage with us and negotiate, this government choose to demonise us and tell lies about who is to blame for excess deaths, and the life and limb cover which is in place on strike days. It is over a decade of this Governments disastrous handling of health and social care which have led us to this point’.
‘The failure to properly tax the rich has left working people paying for essential services whilst the wealthiest continue to make money from our suffering. We refuse to accept this abuse. The fightback has begun.’
Echoing Turner, Diane Abbott said ‘When the government talks about teachers and what’s happening to children, or the NHS and safety, it’s actually the people on strike who are fighting for better services’.
‘It’s a titanic struggle – probably the biggest struggle of our lifetimes in terms of the government versus workers.’
The final speaker, Richard Burgon, put this latest attack on strikes in the context of the attack on the right to protest and the new voter ID laws, saying it’s ‘straight out of the Republican playbook in the USA – it targets working class communities and ethnic minority communities.’
‘Instead of addressing the underlying issues on low pay and the race to the bottom on conditions. The government are doubling down.’
‘The reality is the UK already has the most draconian restrictions on the right to strike in Europe. Every time we get a Conservative government they introduce more restrictions on trade union rights. It’s about preventing workers from getting their fair share of the wealth they create.
‘These strikes are about reversing that. And that’s why they’re decisive not just for the workers involved but for the whole class.’
That’s why, as John McDonnell said, we need to ‘keep mobilising. We’re winning, and we’re winning because of the solidarity and determination shown today.’
- “Building the Fightback in 2023″ took place on February 1st, 2023 and was hosted by Arise: A Festival of Left Ideas. You can watch the rally in full here.
- You can follow Arise Festival on Facebook and twitter, and see what events they have coming up here; as well as listen to the Arise Festival podcast on Spotify.