N30 must be just the beginning

by - 28th November 2011, 7.37 GMT

N30 has the potential to be the biggest strike since the general strike in 1926; with 29 different trade unions and close to 3 million public sector workers taking action and marching in protest on Wednesday.

If we achieve this it will send a clear message to government that we are determined to fight for dignity and respect in retirement.

The day of action is clearly about this Con-Dem Coalition making workers in the public sector pay more, work longer and receive less in retirement; but the austerity attacks on hard working ordinary people, making them pay for a recession they did not create; handing over those public services to the private sector at the expense not only of our members who work in those services but those people who rely on those services for a basic quality of life and the recently announced plans to make it even easier to sack workers, all amount to a widespread and ideological attack on our class and we must all unite now to fight back.

So given that we all understand that just one day of strike action alone is not going to bring about a government climb down (even if it is as big as we hope), then what happens next?

On November 19th I attended the ‘Unite the Resistance’  Convention staged at the impressive Royal Horticulture Halls in London, bringing together 1,200 trade unionists and community activists to discuss N30. More than 200 union branches and organisations sponsored the event and speeches from the platform and some 60 contributions made from the conference floor conveyed the groundswell of anger against the Tories.

In a stirring speech, John McDonnell MP argued it was important to link the enthusiasm and energy of the protests by the Occupy movement and UK Uncut with the real strength of the unions, while there were also contributions from Unison NEC member Paul Holmes, Birmingham Unison assistant branch secretary Caroline Johnson and Zita Holbourne of Black Activists Rising Against Cuts, among many others.

There were standing ovations for the inspiring speech by Occupy Wall Street activist Leia Petty and a representative of the Greek power workers’ union who explained how members had refused to cut off the electricity of people who couldn’t afford to pay their bills.

Aside from one of the main sessions being chaired by fellow Unite EC member Sara Bennett (GPM Sector), there were many Unite members in attendance and a number of valuable contributions made by Unite activists, including a member from BA cabin crew who described the bullying, suspensions and sackings they had faced during their 18 month struggle.

Ian Bradley, a Unite electrician, talked about the eight contractors who are trying to tear up the 40-year-old JIB agreement, meaning a 35% pay cut. Electricians have been holding demonstrations. And there have been occupations of sites since then, as well as walkouts (17 this week). The November 9th demo had about 2,000 electricians and they had support from the Occupy movement, students, and public sector workers. Ian’s message was: fight together, win together!

Ron Singer, a doctor and Unite member, pointed out the NHS budget is being cut, and provision will shrink. The Tories are turning the NHS into no more than a safety net which those who can afford to top up with private medicine. The NHS cuts are planned over several years and he urged anti-cuts groups to take this up.

As a UNITE Convener from Southampton Council, I attempted at least to describe our six month dispute and how we have used a three-pronged strategy of selective strike action and council wide industrial action short of strike, political campaigning and legal challenge. We have jointly with UNISON lodged a claim for failure to consult, and backed 1,000 unfair dismissal claims. The Tory council sacked our members in July, so we aim to ensure the councillors are sacked in the May elections. We struck on June 30th alongside PCS and education unions as part of the prolonged weeks of targeted action. Where we give our members confidence, they are ready and willing to fight!

Our collective task is to build the biggest strike possible on 30th November and the broadest coalition of resistance against austerity, involving activists from every sector of our economy, for we truly are all in this together!

* Mark Wood is a member of the Unite executive committee from Southampton