Save the NHS
Defend Public Education: end the hated SATS system
Fight for art, music, and drama and extra-curricular programs
End all racist police brutality and fascist attacks against our black, Asian, Muslim, and immigrant communities
All-out indefinite strike action
Strike to Win
On 1 February, 500,000 strikers led by the teachers’ unions and joined by tens of thousands of other striking workers, took to the streets of major cities and small towns. The teachers call for a national day of strike action to win a pay raise, to stop the government’s Strikes (Minimum Service Levels) Bill, and to save education was joined by students and community supporters eager to join what felt more like a celebration of the power of Britain’s working class and oppressed and less like another day of union strike actions. This was a rare day in the maelstrom of huge strikes that began in the late summer of 2022, because it was one of the tiny number of strikes in which strikers from a single sector of public workers were unified and fighting together. 300,000 teachers from every level of education starting with primary schools and continuing up to university teachers from 150 universities across Britain were acting on the founding principles of trade unions: unity, solidarity and power in numbers.
The wall-to-wall teachers’ strike was joined by 100,000 public sector workers, rail and transport workers, and other strikers. There were special rallies embedded in the day of strike action to protest the government’s union-busting Strike (Minimum Staffing) Bill written specifically to stop the strike wave that is electrifying the UK.
In London, a spirited and defiant demonstration of 40,000 people led by teachers started their rally at Portland Place and then marched to Downing Street. Throughout the day, professionally made union banners and flags including a lead banner saying “Save Our Schools, Children Deserve Better” could be seen flying high and proud. Students of all ages and community supporters carried tens of thousands of homemade placards in support of all the strikes. The overwhelming popular support for the strikes is based on the common understanding that the government is responsible for the hyperinflation that is instituting pay cuts, and its attacks on the NHS, Education, the Rails and all public sector jobs must stop now.
Less than a week after the February 1 Day of Action, nurses and other NHS workers in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland held the biggest days of strike action in the 75-year history of the NHS. These strikes were just as euphoric, exhilarating, powerful, and popular as the teachers’ national day of strike action. In the next few months there will be an array of new strike action. The six-month strike-wave that has been sweeping the country has the potential to unite and change Britain forever. We are speaking for the great majority of people who hate the Tories and want to see them defeated.
The government’s declaration of war against our strikes
Our strikes are not typical trade union struggles. Despite the claims of our top union leaders, the government, and the press that our strikes are only about winning a pay increase, our strikes are inherently a political challenge to the program of the government.
Every one of our strikes is objectively both an economic and political fight. Every victory for our side is a defeat of the government’s austerity and privatization policies. Every wage increase we win that keeps us ahead of inflation makes it possible for the 47,000 openings for NHS nurses and the tens of thousands teacher vacancies to be filled. Winning pay increases and increased staffing levels for striking NHS workers, teachers, and other public sector workers will be a blow to the government’s austerity and privatization efforts. Winning safe working conditions and pay increases for rail workers, ambulance drivers, firefighters, bus drivers, refuse workers and all other striking workers whose lives are being placed in jeopardy every day, will make clear that government’s murderous COVID-19, immigration, and policing policies will no longer be tolerated and must end now.
Our strikes are strong, but to beat the government we need to create a broader movement that gets our passive supporters and other activists into the streets fighting with us.We have broad public support that can be mobilized and strengthen our strikes. We are fighting for our patients, students, passengers, and anyone who benefits from the public sector. Right now, as a matter of fact, our union struggles for health workers are struggles to save the NHS and the healthcare of the overwhelming majority of the people of the UK, which the current government is attacking. Right now, as a matter of fact, the struggle to win a better contract for fire brigades is a struggle to prevent entire blocks of houses from burning down. However, those broader political and social demands are being left implicit. In a situation in which the stakes are so high, these demands must be made explicit.
This means that under these conditions, the current demands of our strikes are too narrow. We need to place demands on the government that go beyond contract demands and present our struggles explicitly for what they really are: struggles to save the NHS and the other essential public institutions we are defending. If we start fighting for the reforms we need to win to assure the survival of the NHS and to improve education, our strikes will be transformed into a bigger, stronger movement that can defeat the government’s plans to privatize the public sector or chop away services from the NHS and the other public institutions whose services are essential for the majority of the people of the UK to lead a decent human life.
We can draw students and youth into our movement if we include the demands to improve education that young people are passionate about. Ending SATS and creating more academic and extracurricular programs are two demands that students will fight for and can be won through our teachers’ strikes. Students organized their own strikes prior to the pandemic to fight for policies to stop global heating. A joint struggle of all the education unions and student unions would scare the pants off of many government MP’s. All of modern history has shown that a fundamental rule of thumb for any serious mass struggle is that the role of youth is essential to the possibility of victory.
We have already marched to defeat the government’s new Strike Bill. But that is not enough to kill the bill. All of the striking unions should make the government withdraw its new pending Strikes (Minimum Service Levels) Bill. In reality, it is part and parcel of a whole series of new laws designed to attack the whole range of the democratic rights of the whole working class. All of these reactionary, anti-democratic, proto-fascist laws that are now before Parliament or have already been passed by Parliament are being fought against by community members who support our strike. These attacks on basic human rights range from giving police unlimited powers to commit crimes, including murder, without suffering any consequences, to locking refugees in new detention centers/concentration camps.
If we stand together and fight jointly, our strike will be much more difficult to defeat, and we will be able to defeat some or all of the government’s repressive and dangerous laws. If we take up the demands of campaigns against police brutality and defending the rights of immigrant communities and asylum seekers and the whole Tory integrated and intertwined proposals to foster racism and anti immigrant bigotry we can build a united movement committed to winning equality, respect, dignity, and justice for the working class, the poor, and the oppressed.
Defeating one or more of the Tories’ policies will inspire more people to join our fight. We can defeat the ability of the government to institute any aspects of their plan to privatize the public sector. Every victory we score against the government will literally preserve human lives. We know how ruthless and indifferent to life this government is. We have witnessed and are still witnessing the needless deaths of thousands of people because of the government’s put-profits-before-people COVID-19 policy.
Our strikes and the movement we help build are the fight for a future that is far better than what exists today. Our union members and the students, patients, commuters and communities we serve are the lifeblood of this society. Our lives are intimately intertwined with the different communities we serve. We know we are fighting for so much more than pay raises. We just need to make that explicit by placing demands on the government that must be met for us to settle our strikes.
The sooner we take the steps we need to win, the better. Time is a friend of the government and an enemy of ours. The longer, more drawn out our strikes become, the greater the chance of demoralization and scabbing on our strike. If the support of the community is based on building a movement together, our support will stay strong for longer. If community support is based solely on supporting our contract fight, it will tend to wane more if it feels to some people it is taking too much time for us to make headway. We have taken on a big responsibility. We need a winning battle plan that ends in victory. We have the power to win. Our problem is we have too many leaders afraid of our power. Therefore, in order to win, we are going to need some new leaders to step forward who are not afraid of winning.
Strike to Win
In the coming weeks, there will be many national, regional and local strike days, and although these struggles are important to maintain our movement, in their current limited form, they will lose in immediate terms. The strikes are too short, sporadic, infrequent, drawn-out, fragmented and uncoordinated. The on-again-off-again strike dates, the local and regional schedule of partial one day actions of different teachers, NHS, rail, and other union strikes, make it impossible to follow which union is on strike on any given day and to know what services will be affected. The Guardian, The Scotsman and other media sources regularly publish strike calendar spreadsheets to explain who, where, and which workers are on strike. These strike calendars are constantly revised. The strikes that do take place are primarily used to get the government to return to the bargaining table. In most cases, as soon as bargaining begins again, strike action is indefinitely suspended. This means that the government, not the unions, is controlling who, when, and where strike actions will take place. The policy of one-day rolling strikes that divides strikers in the same union into small and weak brigades of an army that could win fighting as one is, to put it mildly, crazy and stupid.
We cannot continue to engage in these losing tactics. The basic premise of trade unions is that there is strength in numbers. The two principles that every union is built on are unity and solidarity. But now when we need to be acting on those founding principles, our union tops are rejecting them for no good reason.
We need to use our numeric strength to win. We need all-out indefinite strikes by each of the unions to win. We need to demand that every one of our union leaders call for all-out strikes of each of their unions. We need to remove the roadblocks that our union tops, who are managers of each of their respective union’s bureaucracies and privately empathize more with our bosses than they do with us, are putting in the way of our strikes. We need to demand that TUC leader Nowak, who is the dutiful lapdog of the Labour Party, which is opposed to our strikes, step down now. Anyone who supports Nowak’s anti-labour, pro-government strategy to our strike action is our enemy. The last thing we need is a traitor leading the TUC.
The strikes of education workers led by the teachers and teaching assistants provide an example of how to squander our power and passion to win. We know that the teachers’ strikes are popular and well-organized, but are achieving next to nothing because of their flawed tactics. Teachers in Scotland just finished sixteen days of continuous rolling strikes which ended without a better contract settlement. University teachers have already carried out strike actions. They want to wage a national all-out strike but are being prevented from doing so by General Secretary Jo Grady. The union is 70,000 strong and represents teachers at 150 universities throughout the UK. There are 2.6 million university students. In November, the National Union Of Students (NUS) endorsed the University teachers’ strike. The NUS is campaigning for free education, available to all, including every community member regardless of age, formal qualifications and availability to take classes in person. It is seeking larger student stipends so that working-class, poor, black, immigrant, and asylum seeker students can get a university education without the mental health problems these students face because of their economic status.
The university teachers’ strikes are planned for three days a week during the month of February. The university teachers’ strikes, which are the largest strikes in the history of higher education, provide students with the vehicle they need to win their demands. Both university teachers and students have the same goals and meet the economic demands needed for both teachers and students to flourish and improve and broaden access to higher education. If they unite and strike together in an all-out indefinite strike, everyone could win. Right now, the limited demands, intermittent character of and needlessly enforced isolation of the University teachers’ strike, are diminishing the power of the strike and setting it up to fail.
The strike strategy of our union leaders makes us look weak and scared. We can not win if we continue to follow the agreed-upon, losing tactics of leaders of each and every union. Obviously, if our aim is to win quickly, every union should be participating in coordinated strikes, so we shut down Britain and keep it shut down until every union wins.
We have been given two reasons for the intermittent, fractured tactics for conducting our strikes. The first is that we should believe in the infantile Christmas Eve strategy. If we are good, respectful workers, then we will wake up and see that the government has collapsed and granted our demands. This is about as likely to happen as Father Christmas shimmying down a chimney with a sack full of gifts. The second is that patients, parents, commuters will continue to support us if our strikes cause minimal disruptions. This makes no sense, first because anyone that relies on one of our striking institutions would prefer that we have settled on all-out strike dates, and that teachers, nurses or rail workers will take indefinite strike action together throughout the UK to win quickly. It is much easier to arrange collective babysitters and/or teacher-run strike schools in libraries or churches than it is to scramble for childcare on a strike day that may not occur.
The NHS is the beloved crown jewel of the British social welfare state.The aim of our strikes is to strengthen and preserve it. In the 1980’s when the government was carrying out a series of hospital closings and other attacks on the NHS, nurses led hospital occupations and, with the help of doctors and other staff, ran the facilities themselves. The workers escorted managers out the door, fortified the entrances to the hospitals so that the police could not break their occupation/ strike. Ambulance workers and other hospitals coordinated services with the occupied hospitals to assure that patients were kept safe and received the care they needed. The attacks we are facing now are much larger and more dangerous. We have an answer to the government’s anti-union Strike Bill: keep the hospitals open under worker control. Our strikes that are walkouts have a great deal of public support. If our strikes become occupations, they will galvanize and inspire the nation. The rank and file NHS workers who know how to run health care must take charge of our strikes so that we can implement a winning strategy for our strikes.
We must elect rank-and-file workers’ leaders to negotiate our contracts
Our current bargaining process is a charade. Our union bosses set new strike dates every month to initiate more bargaining sessions with the government. The government negotiators are intransigent. Our so-called leaders drop our demands the moment they sit at the bargaining table. They are always prepared to capitulate.
Days or weeks go by and nothing is accomplished. At some point, the government decides to shut down the free-lunch- joint-management-banter-sessions and demands that union members revote on a reshuffled version of the contract offer which they already rejected. This preposterous charade ends with the union managers stating that they are “disappointed” that the government is so insensitive and did not offer more and then they usually try to shove the contract down their members’ throats. Like every other boss, the union managers expect workers to never question management decisions and do what they are told. On occasion, the union managers do not make a recommendation on the settlement, especially when they know that they lose their authority and influence with their members if they try to orchestrate a yes vote that has no chance of winning. During the time period that union members are voting, a government minister/ blowhard bully lies, claiming he/she will not return to the bargaining table. This theatrical production, sponsored by the government, which we have seen too many times already, can be easily defeated.
The NHS struggle in Scotland shows how to beat the blustering government ministers. The last round of NHS negotiations in Scotland, which began last summer, and continued into late November and early December, involved a number of NHS unions bargaining together. However, these unions did not strike together. The unity they shared at the bargaining table was undercut by their leaderships’ obsequious posture before the government. Unison and Unite’s poorly paid unskilled NHS workers voted for the contract, which allegedly will give them a 7.5% raise.
Three unions, the RCN, the GMB and the RCM (midwives union) members overwhelmingly rejected the contract. SNP Cabinet Secretary for Health and Social Care, Humza Yousaf, responded to the no vote of nurses, ambulance drivers, and midwives by puffing out his chest and publicly declaring that he would impose the new contract on all the NHS workers. His dictatorial declaration was quickly defeated by the nurses and ambulance drivers and midwives, who refused to accept his sweeping anti-union pronouncement. The RNC and GMB simply set new dates for strike action in January. This was a victory for the unions.
Unfortunately, this victory was squandered when the RCN canceled the January strike dates because Yousaf backed off his threat and returned to bargaining.
The bus drivers showed how it was possible to resist the strong-arm tactics of their union managers and make sure their bargaining charade ended. After their union bosses tried every scurrilous trick they could think of to engineer a yes vote on a bad contract, the bus drivers turned down the contract twice.
There are only so many times that anyone can watch a bad play. We need the rank and file members of every union to take the bold step the Abellio bus drivers took. Our strikes are about winning wage increases, but they are about so much more. Every one of the ongoing strikes poses the same question: who will decide what the UK looks like a year from now. We can not let the Tories win. We need our strike movement to humiliate them and force them to back off their policies and resign in shame.
Save Britain from the rising tide of fascism
We are in a fight for our lives and for the promise of hope we owe to the next generation.
Our movement must use its power to shift the balance of power now and take control over determining and implementing the political policies we know will save Britain. If our strikes lose and our movement has no other plans to keep the struggle moving forward, then the Tories will move quickly to implement the laws they are passing to crush union rights, to eviscerate democracy and diversity, and to give the police unlimited powers needed to create an authoritarian one-party government in Britain. If the Tories succeed, war is on our national agenda.
The Tories’plan to exploit their control of Parliament now to do what Mussolini’s fascists did in Italy and the Nazis did in Germany and Italy, manipulate ostensibly democratic processes and institutions to create a fascist government. Mussolini and Hitler did not come to power through a coup. They assumed positions of power on the basis of the supposedly democratic constitutions of Italy and Germany, and then used those positions to create “legal” dictatorships. On the basis of these “constitutional” processes, they used their parties’ domination of Parliament to empower police, the military, the SS, border patrol, intelligence, and secret service agents etc. to crush all dissent and opposition. The fascists never could have won in Italy or Germany if the mass actions of workers and other oppressed people had crushed them when they were weak and unpopular. If months of mass actions fail to resolve the hyperinflation and economic crisis because they have lost because of bad leadership, the ideology of racism, immigrant-bashing, sexism, anti-LGBT+ and white nationalism can triumph. We are in a position to stop this from happening now while the Tories are divided amongst themselves and hated by the majority or people of the UK.
Our union misleaders have a different policy for defeating the government. Their aim is to replace the current government with a Labour government. This means in all likelihood waiting for the next elections in 2025. They assume that every victory for the current government increases the chances of a Labour parliamentary victory in the next election. But if we wait until 2025 to defeat this government, it will be too late. If the Tories have the next two years to establish a fascist regime, then it is highly unlikely that new elections will take place.
The other road to a new quick election would hypothetically be a general strike. The Labour Party opposes our strikes and our union managers are so scared of the power we possess that they are fighting to lose – not win. If we take control of our strikes, then we can force the Tories to accept a partial or total defeat, which could lead to the resignation of the government. Everything rests on what the movement can win. And that in turn means we need new leaders to take control of our strikes and to lead our movement to victory.
Join Movement for Justice
The aim of the Movement for Justice is to develop new leaders.
The working class and oppressed must win and win quickly. But that means we need new leaders to come forward. For most of us, becoming a leader is not a choice, it is a necessity. We lead because there is no other way to win. Being a leader is nothing more than the task someone assumes as a part of the division of labor that is required to make it possible for our organizations and movement to win.