“The breadth of those taking action demonstrates the anger felt across the working class in Britain.”Logan Williams
NEU activist & Arise Volunteer Logan Williams writes on why we must build on the wave of strikes since last summer.
From the summer of 2022, Britain has seen an unprecedented strike wave emerge across the Labour movement which has continued into 2023. This strike wave has seen a mass upsurge of militancy across the Labour movement which saw 1,634,000 days lost to strike action between June and November 2022 with 323 separate strikes taking place in November alone. This period has been a vital one for the British labour movement as it has galvanised members in unions across both the political and sectoral spectrum of the movement into taking action.
The 2022 Strike wave began on the 21st of June with around 40,000 RMT members on Network Rail and 13 train operators voting to undertake strike action in response to a measly 3% pay rise in the face of an inflation spiral. The RMT would soon be joined by other transport worker unions in UK; the TSSA and ASLEF respectively, in a largely coordinated period of strike action which would see unbelievable levels of support from the general public.
These levels of public support rose to the point that even 38% of Conservative voters considered the rail strikes to be justified. However, Labour’s leadership shamefully decided to use it as a way beat the left, including with the expulsion of Sam Tarry from the Shadow Cabinet for standing on a picket line.
The rail workers were soon joined by the CWU, in a dispute across both British Telecoms and Royal Mail. In their telecoms section the CWU would see votes for action recorded at an eye-watering 95.8% ‘yes’ vote for industrial action on a 74.8% turnout. In their royal mail section, CWU members turned out a 97.1% strike vote with 75.9% of members voting in favour in their ballot. The CWU successful ballot would see a series of strike days culminating in an extended period of strike action across December which would allegedly cost Royal Mail millions of pounds of profit.
This struggle continues at the moment.
Despite the mainstream media coverage being limited primarily to these two unions for most of 2022, also saw workers across Britain taking strike action. Workers ranging from Co-op Funeralcare coffin manufacturers in Glasgow, sewage plant attendants and flood forecasting officers at the Environment Agency, security and visitor services staff at numerous museums across Britain, criminal barristers to Jacobs cream cracker manufacturers and many others all took a variety of strike action.
In 2023, these demonstrations of workers saying enough is enough to the Tories’ cost of living crisis has continued, and is set to do so, despite some inevitable ebbs and flows in the struggle. The 2023 strike wave largely began with the action from the RCN with many of the biggest hospitals in England, all NHS employers in Northern Ireland and Scotland, and all bar one in Wales undertaking strike action. Other NHS workers from GMB, Unison and Unite also then entered strike action.
These public sector workers were soon joined by both the PCS and, my union the NEU in a series of coordinated strike days across both unions which culminated in a coordinated day of action on the 15th of March, Budget Day.
On the 15th of March, a co-ordinated united front of large sections of the labour movement made a very different kind of Budget Day statement to the one offered by Jeremy Hunt and the Tories, one on the streets. This inspiring day of action would see over half a million workers take to picket lines and the streets in a national march and rally in London to escalate the fight for fair pay. These striking workers ranged from NEU teaching staff members to PCS civil service members, UCU lecturers, Junior Doctors from the BMA, Prospect public sector members, local reporter members of the NUJ and, both ASLEF and RMT members on the London Underground.
The day of action on the 15th March; alongside the colossal number of striking workers across 2022 and 23, demonstrated the anger felt across the working class in Britain; much of it within former “key workers”, at bosses and a government who has sought to utilise both the covid-19 pandemic and the cost-of-living crisis to further entrench their neoliberal dogma within society.
This anger has politicised and motivated an entire generation of the labour movement to work towards building fighting unions from the bottom up alongside a disregard for the service model of trade unionism. These progressive steps can be seen from NEU members organising to reject their respective below-inflation pay offers from the Tory government and in the recent election of Daniel Kebede as General Secretary of the NEU; who is committed to building an organising union capable of fighting for a fairer future for all education workers and, against the Tories privatisation agenda.
And just this week, about 47,000 junior doctors are on a four-day strike as they continue to call for a pay rise to reverse the 26% real-terms salary cut they have faced over the past 15 years.
Therefore, it is vital that the Left – including the Labour Left – continues to build our support for this movement across the breadth of our supporters and across our organisations. We know that the fightback for the organised left starts on workers’ picket lines and as such we have an opportunity within this period to rebuild and restrengthen our movement.
It is therefore vital that we continue to escalate our solidarity actions with those on the frontline of the struggle against this Conservative government and the cost-of-living crisis. We must see the Labour Left build support for those workers undertaking strike action both in terms of members and representatives visiting picket lines, through our organisations seeking to organise in support of any workers taking industrial action in the months to come, and celebrating key union victories due to the use of industrial action such as the recent RMT Network Rail deal which has seen an uplift in pay at 14.4% for the lowest paid grades to 9.2% for the highest paid.
Alongside offering a political voice to the brave striking workers, the Left must continue to build politicising events to link the political and industrial fights against this conservative government, we must continue to campaign; both within and outside of our Party, around demands such as the Workers Can’t Wait campaign launched by the Labour Assembly Against Austerity and, we must strive to promote those voices across the Labour Left and beyond who seek to stand shoulder to shoulder with workers in struggle.
It is also imperative that we organise for the line that the role of Labour MPs is as the political expression of workers taking action that are fighting for a fairer future for all.
The class struggle Is back – let’s win the class war in the years ahead.
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