June 30th - a second step, but many more will be required!

4 July 2011

The public sector strike on June 30th was undoubtedly a success, at least within the limits that the union leaderships had set.

Out of the 750,000 or so public sector workers who were called out, those who took an active part in the strike were probably not in a majority, but this active minority was large and determined enough to give the strike a very high profile. There were lively picket lines and in most big towns, successful rallies and marches, with an estimated 30,000 protesters in London alone.

Central government offices and agencies were closed down, together with thousands of schools. Managers had to be brought in to man border controls and uniformed police to answer 999 calls. Even the House of Commons had its picket line of striking civil servants!

Most important of all, this was the first national strike since the capitalist class launched its drive to make us pay for their crisis. In and of itself, this means that June 30th could be a landmark and a new step, after the 26th March mobilisation in London, towards a real counter-offensive of the entire working class.

The politicians' fears

In fact, this was precisely what the unanimous condemnation of the strikers by politicians of all stripe showed. It was not just because they all supported the pension cuts - which they did - but primarily because they feared the sense of strength that the strike might give to the strikers and, possibly, to other sections of workers. Once the ball of industrial action starts rolling, the capitalists and their politicians know all too well that it can be hard to know where it will stop - if it does!

Hence Francis Maude's attempt at whipping up hostility against the strikers by shedding derisory tears on the fate of parents whose life stood to be disrupted by the strike, due to school closures. Hence too, Michael Gove's call on parents "to keep schools open".

Ed Miliband probably deserves a special mention regarding this strike. If only because he could hardly oppose pension cuts which were conceived in the brain of former Labour pension minister, John Hutton. His repeated attacks on the strikers, under the pretext that negotiations should have been completed before taking industrial action, were particularly hypocritical since the ConDems made no secret of the fact that they planned to impose their cuts, anyway.

But then, an upstart like Miliband, who is still green behind the ears in political terms, has to win his credentials as a trusted politician of the capitalist class, hasn't he? And no doubt he has now earned a few brownie points among the City sharks, for being such a "responsible" politician!

Keeping the ball rolling

So, yes, now that the ball of industrial action has begun to roll, it should be kept rolling.

The fight against pension cuts has been put on the agenda and it should remain there, but for all workers, in the public and private sectors. It is intolerable that after a lifetime at work, any one of us should have to live in poverty due to an inadequate pension!

But there are other issues which are just as urgent. More jobs are being cut. In June alone: 15,000 at Lloyds, 20,000 at Royal Mail, 25,000 in local government and the NHS, and this is before cuts really begin to be felt in the private sector.

Meanwhile, with real inflation hovering around 5% and most wages frozen, standards of living are sliding. Employers are beginning to cut wages again, just as in the first year of the crisis, only this time, the public sector is affected as well. This is why, on June 30th, council workers went on strike in Birmingham and Southampton - against wage cuts and attacks on their working conditions.

But how much more effective would these strikes have been had all the workers concerned by the same attacks been able to rally behind the same objectives, both locally and on a national level?

Ultimately, what will be decisive for us workers, if we are to stop the current attacks and to start reversing the balance of forces in our favour, will be our determination to break the sectional divisions which the bosses maintain within our ranks. We will have to use every opportunity available to take action, but at the same time we will need to look consciously for ways of involving other sections which still lack confidence and are still unsure as to what they can do.

Because only the threat of a rising tide of militancy, involving a constantly growing number of workers from more and more industries, public and private sector, is likely to force the capitalist class into retreat.