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Star Comment: Ready to pick up the gauntlet

Trade unions must follow Unison into battle on September 30

Two million public-sector workers went on strike a fortnight ago, protesting against poverty pay that has seen the value of their pay packets trimmed by 20 per cent in five years.

Firefighters’ leader Matt Wrack told the central London rally in support of the strike: “You know that we should do this again.

“And you know that we should do this again soon.”

There have been outbursts of mass opposition to the politics of austerity implemented so ruthlessly by the conservative coalition, but the level of militant unity so far has not been sufficient to stop the government in its tracks.

Many people were genuinely surprised at the scale of response to the July 10 strike call, since siren voices of doom within the movement had suggested that there wasn’t the stomach for a fight.

July 10 dispersed such negative assessments of workers’ readiness to stand up for justice.

As Unison head of local government Heather Wakefield says, it “sent a strong message to the employers that local government and school support workers are fed up and angry with being exploited.”

Their willingness to pick up the gauntlet was enhanced by knowing that they were not alone.


Civil servants, firefighters, teachers, caretakers, teaching assistants, nurses, NHS ancillary staff and transport workers all said that enough was enough. 

They were not prepared to take government mistreatment lying down.

The decision by public service union Unison to call another day of strike action for September 30 is a bold initiative to be built upon by other trade unions.

As much as the capitalist press and electronic media try to ignore working people standing up for themselves, it becomes more difficult when several unions and hundreds of thousands or millions of workers walk out.

September 30 is just over two months away, but that should give enough time to make the day a genuine people’s protest against the Tory and Liberal Democrat pursuit of death by a thousand cuts.

Trade unions should prepare leaflets explaining their case and making the point that attacks on public-sector workers’ pay mirror the cuts that other people are seeing in their vital services and benefits.

Leaflets should be provided for the labour movement’s unsung heroes, the selfless activists of the trades councils who can be guaranteed to make the case for trade union struggles.

Everywhere that unions are on strike should have a rally, march, family day out or similar so that wider communities understand exactly what is at stake.

The case must be made for a change of government, without which the battle against austerity will be lost.

But there should be clarity too over the need for both new faces and a new political-economic approach. 

To simply shuffle the ministerial face cards while holding firm to the bankers’ austerity programme would leave the working class in exactly the same rotten situation while a wealthy elite continues to enrich itself.

London Mayor Boris Johnson is already positioning himself as the darling of the Tory right by floating more hardline measures such as docking firefighters’ pay or locking them out.

The class issues are clearly defined. Workers will make a stand if they are convinced that they can win and that there is a prize worth winning.

September 30 can be the next step in a process of derailing the austerity express and putting working people’s living standards first.


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