STRIKE TO WIN BULLETIN #3
Defend the right to education
Stop privatisation of Lewisham Prendergast Schools
Defend the NHS
ALL OUT to stop the privatisation of the Prendergast Schools and to support the national teachers strikes
ALL OUT to support teachers’ strikes 2,3,4,9,10 and 11 May and the railworkers strikes
Fight for a future of equality and integration
The long wave of strikes by workers in the public services began more than a year ago, and it is still developing. These are the biggest strikes for 40 years. There have been National Strikes of teachers at every level of education, NHS workers from the lowest paid workers to Junior Doctors, a host of different civil servants, rail workers, Royal Mail workers, and other workers. Local refuse workers, bus drivers, underground and other transport workers, and some private sector employees have also joined our long wave of struggle. By February, it was not only obvious that the wave of strikes had reached a high point of union solidarity -it was clear that the union struggle had broad community support throughout the UK.
By March, our strike movement was at a crossroads. Instead of building on the de facto labour solidarity that had developed already among different unions in this new labour movement, our union tops were calling on-again off-again, un‐ coordinated, single union, dispersed regional and/or local actions that were called off at the very moment they were needed the most when negotiations were actually starting up as managements were forced back to the bargaining table. Many of us were getting increasingly frustrated by the strike-to-lose policies of these union leaders, who seemed to be afraid of the possibility of victory and were not capable of fighting consistently and boldly for their members.
In the face of the weak policies of these union misleaders, there were two import‐ ant rank-and-file developments from mid-February that showed we still have the capacity to win: the Scottish RCN strike and the publication of Movement for Justice (MFJ) Bulletin #1 common sense and practical blueprint for victory titled “Strike to Win” which has influenced the conduct of our strikes which have reshaped rank and file discussion of the conduct of our struggle.
The struggle of the Scottish RCN provided an example of how to defeat the government and win some of our most important demands for NHS workers represented by different unions. The Scottish RCN strikers defied the government and ignored its empty threats that it would not return to the bargaining table and would dictatorially impose an insulting 4% wage increase on these workers. As the supposedly progressive Scottish National Party (SNP) government tried to do a bad imitation of right-wing Tories, the Scottish RCN response to these ridiculous, blustering tactics was to hold their ground, announce new strike dates, and force the government to offer a much better proposal that would give all Scottish NHS workers, including those in other unions, a significant wage increase. This victory of the RCN combined with the defeat of the order of longtime SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon for her party members to cross union picket lines. The Scottish RNS not only defeated the SNP-led government’s attempts to mimic the Tories union-busting policies, but it also contributed to Ms. Sturgeon having to step down as leader of the SNP.
Starting in February, Movement For Justice (MFJ) has given out our Strike to Win bulletin #1 everywhere we could. MFJ members have intervened in mass union meetings and conferences, in mass union and community demonstrations and on strike picket lines to put our concrete, easily realisable programme of action into practice. Because the Strike to Win bulletin put in writing what so many union rank-and-file militants had already concluded is needed to win, it gave the most politically conscious militant union members confirmation of the soundness of their criticism of the weak, sell-out union leadership, the confidence that our strikes could win, and the courage to act.
Two of the most important points in the Strike to Win bulletin are: 1) that for our strikes to win we need the support of in particular black, Asian, and immigrant communities; and 2) we need rank-and-file rebellions in the unions to get winning strike policies implemented.
The importance of joint union–community struggles to the prospects of victory for our strikes
For the last several months, the media have reported on the unprecedented level of support our strikes have received. Patients with cancelled NHS appointments, parents who have had to miss work to watch after their children during the school strikes, University students who may not have their grades recorded, and commuters who have to find other ways to travel to work, etc. – all overwhelmingly support us. In large part, that is because it is obvious that our strikes are not just about winning higher pay rates but are a direct response to government attacks on the NHS, education and other vital services that benefit the great majority of the British people. It is also clear that everyone’s standard of living is declining and that a wage increase that keeps up with inflation for any group of workers, opens the door for everyone else to win equivalent pay increases.
Flirting with fascist fantasies, the increasingly high-handed and autocratic Tory government entered into these negotiations assuming that they could get away with refusing to bargain with the trade unions altogether, simply imposing settlements as if the British labour movement did not exist and the Tories were the party of a new Mussolini. Its calculations were based on two wrong assumptions: first that our unions would just roll over and act grateful to receive any crumbs from this high handed, anti-democratic let-them-eat-cake government. Second, the Tories who are so out of touch with the people of Britain and so overconfident from their Brexit victory, actually believed that they could beat the unions today because they assumed there would be a middle-class anti-union backlash. The Tory government’s gross miscalculation has provided an opening for our unions to win the largest victories in two generations.
MFJ, unlike the self-deluded Tories, understands what most working class people, middle class and poor people living in the new multi-racial, integrated Britain take for granted; the new British middle class includes hundreds of thousands of black, Asian and other professionals, middle managers and ranking civil servants, including many who are members and leaders of striking unions or unions that support our strikes, shopkeepers, small business owners, including small manufacturers. The new changing middle class believe in the necessity of the social safety net and hate the Tories for only supporting the interests of the super rich and powerful. Apart from the rich and powerful every community in the UK recognises the heroic efforts of public workers to protect us all during the pandemic.
It is clear to better off black, Asian and immigrant communities that institutionalised racism, which the Tories are constantly trying to inflame, makes us much more vulnerable to attacks by the police, racist and fascist thugs, and casual bigotry and discrimination. Defeating this racist anti-immigrant government that is slashing all our living standards is a priority we all share.
It is worth noting that lots of small business owners who supported Brexit, and in the past might have been ambivalent about union strikes, are now suffering and in some cases being ruined by Brexit. Many of these small business owners, at least those who are not irrational racist fanatics, know they cannot blame refugees and minority communities for their woes. They are acutely aware of the fact that the trade barriers constructed by Brexit and not refugees, are the source of their own ruination and downward spiral.
While we do not need to overturn Brexit to win our strikes, the united movement we are building to win our strikes is going to have to commit itself to the reversal of Brexit in the near future. It is important that our unions understand that Brexit is responsible for Britain’s decline and must go. We can strengthen our strike movement by sealing the support of waivering middle class business owners. Our next set of battles must include the defeat of Brexit.
Building joint actions to defend the oppressed and win our strikes
MFJ has established through our work in Lewisham, Whitechapel, Greenwich and other London boroughs that it is easy and natural to successfully link together our strikes and community struggles against racism, sexism anti-LGBT+, anti-immigrant and anti-refugee bigotry and other attacks by the Tories. Our recent successes are described below.
Successful union membership rebellions are putting our strikes back on track to win
This last month and a half has created a host of membership actions that have saved our strike movement from defeat. The largest and most important victory is what has occurred in the NHS. This April RCN members voted down a wage cutting proposal recommended by RCN leader Pat Cullen. To get the decisive no vote, rank and file and several lower level union officials withstood every conceivable act by Pat Cullen, including a witch hunt against Vote Reject activists and a gag order on everyone who opposed her.
RCN, Unite, Unison, GMB members worked together to get every union to vote down the same insulting settlement offer. In the midst of the balloting on the losing proposal, junior NHS doctors conducted a four day strike of their own. The doctors’ strike was strong, spirited and popular. Four years of battling the COVID-19 pandemic which was worsened by the government’s obscene and treacherous put-profits-before-people COVID-19 policies, made the striking doctors defiant and unapologetic.
A showdown is now brewing between the government and the RCN. Following the ballot result, the RCN called a 48 hour strike over 30 April-2 May. However, the government manufactured a ridiculous dispute about timing and got the High Court to stop the RCN from striking on 2 May, and Pat Cullen has accepted that ruling.
The real reason for the government’s action is that the NEU (school-teachers’ union) – which led the huge national days of coordinated strike actions on 1 February and 15 March, and then voted down a terrible government offer that their union leaders refused to support – had announced two days of strikes, 27 April and 2 May. The government seized on a ridiculous dispute about timing and went to court and secured an order to stop the RCN from striking on 2 May. They were terrified by teachers and nurses on strike together on the same day.
In Ireland several education unions in Northern Ireland including the NEU, NASUWT, INTO, UTU and NAHT are scheduled for joint one-day strike action on 26 April. In Wales, the results of teachers’ actions are more mixed. Members of NEU Cymru in Wales voted to accept an inferior offer, however NAHT Cymru members voted to reject the government’s last offer. NAHT members are using continuous indefinite work-to-rule tactics and other tactics just short of a strike to win better offers.
There are other unions that have accepted offers, which were above the government’s initial offers but less than they would have been if the strikes continued. This is especially true in Scotland where the SNP government made improved offers to teachers’ unions which were approved by members in March, when it was unclear where our strike movement was going. Luckily many of the new agreements are for a short duration.
All out support for the Royal mail workers
The Royal Mail workers are in the fight of their lives. The future of our national postal system hangs in the balance. The Royal Mail service, which is responsible for running the UK’s regulated letter de‐ livery service is run by an incompetent money-haemorrhaging private company called the International Delivery Service (ISD), which is heading to bankruptcy. Even though the Royal Mail is a privately owned and run business, it has a legal mandate to deliver mail to everyone in the UK, no matter how remote a house might be.
The Royal mail must be restored to being a public, non-profit government entity. On 5 April, 2023 union/management talks were broken off. The Royal Mail Communication Workers Union (CWU) voted to authorise further strike actions in February, 2023, but instead of organ‐ ising strikes the CWU recently accepted an appalling ‘save the company’ deal: 10% rise over 3 years plus longer hours and harsher working conditions. CWU members should organise to reject this deal. Royal Mail workers are especially vulnerable because of their private/public character. We need the whole labour movement to rally behind them.
MFJ’s method to defeat the Tory government
MFJ has established through our work in Lewisham, Whitechapel, Greenwich and other London boroughs that it is easy and natural to successfully link together our strikes and community struggles against racism, sexism anti-LGBT+ anti-immigrant and anti-refugees bigotry and other attacks by the Tories. This government has staked its future on breaking the unions and vilifying and victimising refugees. Right now they are failing on both fronts. Every victory of the struggles of refugees and asylum seekers strengthens the fight of the unions and vice versa. Last month refugees adopted the strike tactic of occupations and proved that the power we have to win our struggles is based on maintaining unity and our popular support.
The government wants to disperse refugees who are accommodated in London hotels to other parts of the country, where they will be in danger of having less support and often be in more danger of fascist, racist attacks. However bad the conditions in the London hotels are, refugees in London can get on English courses, get much-needed medical attention, and feel relatively safe in the most integrated, multi-racial city in Europe. Refugees in the Ibis hotel in Greenwich, most of whom were students at Lewisham College and whole refugee families in the Ibis hotel in Whitechapel, refused to be evicted from the places they had come to call home. Working with the Movement for Justice, they demonstrated, lobbied the local councils, and got the support of teachers at Lewisham College and at other local primary and secondary schools. The refugees declared their support for the teachers strikes at a union rally in Lewisham.
When coaches arrived at the hotels day after day to move the refugees out, they stayed in their rooms, refused to move, and dared the government and the hotel management to drag them out of the hotels and shove them onto buses heading for Dunstable.
Movement for Justice encouraged the refugees in the hotels to keep their occu‐ pations going even as the government’s threats escalated. The refugees that re‐ fused to leave the hotels had risked their lives crossing the Channel to get to Bri‐ tain. They knew better than to take the advice of supposedly pro-refugee charities and local politicians who preached the importance of submitting to the will of the government. MFJ members joined together with other independent militant activists to form defence guards at the front doors of the hotel to protect the refugees’ occupations of the hotels.
The refugees won their fight. The Tories’ Home Office, with all its resources and power, was defeated. The refugees who fought are still living in London. Their teachers still have their backs. They are continuously raising funds and providing extra academic support so that the students can successfully finish out this school year.
The action of the pro-union refugees provides a model of how to fight and win.