Workers divided as teachers and lecturers strike alone in London

Striking teachers on November 30

As groups of education workers have been left to strike alone in London on March 28, the Anarchist Federation (London) argue that we cannot rely on the union leaderships, and we need to find a way of organising collectively ourselves.

The strike actions called by the trade unions on March 28th in a supposed response to the attacks on pensions have moved from a “day of action” to a complete farce. The leaderships of UNISON and the GMB (local government and health) had already decided on 12th January to start negotiating with the government over pensions and soon other smaller unions like Prospect (civil service), ATL and NAHT (education) swung in behind them. The union leaders are trying to make us believe that this is somehow different to the deal that the government was already pushing, when it was exactly the same thing.

Days of action in the last few months involved hundreds of thousands striking and marching. The proposed action on March 28th is now involving fewer and fewer unions and in the case of the National Union of Teachers will only be on a London rather than a national level. Likewise the University and College Union will not only be striking at a London level rather than the national level as previously decided but will only involve post-1992 universities (former polytechnics etc) and further education colleges. The Public and Commercial Services Union will not be striking at all, as its executive called off strike action despite 90.5% voting to reject the government’s offer and 72.1% voting to support a programme of further action with other unions – the highest vote for action the union has ever had. Similarly the Scottish teachers union EIS also called off strike action despite a 73.5 yes vote for action.

The action by the unions in Britain is echoed in the worthless days of actions called by union centrals throughout Europe which in fact demobilise and defuse the anger of workers against the bosses’ austerity programmes.

Increasingly we as workers have to look to our own grass roots organisation, controlled by ourselves and not involving those who would sabotage our struggles. The grassroots self-organisation of electricians, organising in spite of the UNITE leadership, delivered a victory. We have to find new ways of organising against the increasingly savage attacks by the boss class. We have to do that as a priority and as a matter of urgency. We cannot rely on the union leaderships to do this, we have to rely on ourselves.

Anarchist Federation (London)
london@afed.org.uk

If you are on strike today please post your accounts in the comments below.

Posted By

Battlescarred
Mar 27 2012 21:12

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  • Increasingly we as workers have to look to our own grass roots organisation, controlled by ourselves and not involving those who would sabotage our struggles. We have to find new ways of organising against the increasingly savage attacks by the boss class.

    Anarchist Federation

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Comments

miles
Mar 28 2012 02:57

Good statement. The NUT action really is a farce, already beforehand most of the discussion at my workplace was along the lines of 'what is this going to achieve?', which seems to imply a general demoralisation.

Steven.
Mar 28 2012 10:06

Yeah, this is good so I have made the front page article.

Unison in health is about to ballot its members on acceptance of the new deal, which is entirely unchanged since before the November 30 strike. They are saying that it is the best which can be achieved by negotiation, and looks like they are pushing for an acceptance. Most perniciously, perhaps, the ballot is going to be up before the end of April - and it is in the April paycheques where the pay cuts will actually start having an effect.

There is no justification for having a ballot this quickly, they seem to just want to rush it through, get a yes vote and then use that as a way of pressuring local government workers into accepting our certainly crappy deal as well.

Steven.
Mar 29 2012 22:47

Comments from a duplicate posting of this:

Spikymike wrote:
''The action by the unions in Britain is echoed in the worthless days of actions called by union centrals throughout Europe which in fact demobilise and defuse the anger of workers against bosses' austerity programmes.''

We have a problem with many workers demoralised by past defeats and faced with the enormity and comprehensiveness of austerity measures being imposed accross Europe such that these union 'days of action' and 'one day strikes' (accompanied as they are by failed reformist political propaganda) are often all that can be mobilised for even by the militant minority of workers and are at the same time insufficient to defend our interests thus further reinforcing demoralisation.

So the above statement is essentially correct if an inevitable oversimplification of reality.

But compare and contrast this statement with the apparently reformist joint statement from the CGT/CNT/SO in Spain on the same front page here. Whilst the more advanced stage of the economic crisis in southern Europe and the culturally more radical history of class struggle there might engender more support for such actions is the AF statement any less correct in this case??

Joseph Kay wrote:
I think there's some pretty important differences. First of all, the Spanish one isn't a one-off to let off steam, but part of months of agitation and escalation, actively trying to widen the movement. Related to that, i hear there's been real attempts to link with the indignados/unemployed movement which according to mainstream sources have been pretty successful, thus outflanking the attempt to divide and rule older employed workers from the young unemployed. For J30/N30, it was only small revolutionary groups trying to broaden the struggle, whereas it seems like that's at the heart of what's happening in Spain. I doubt the AF see what's going on today as demobilisation (motorways blocked, burning barricades, mass pickets, generalised strikes, roaming unemployed marches shutting stores...).
Spikymike
Mar 30 2012 12:48

JK,

Maybe... but (looking at some of the discussion on the General Strikes thread in relation to Spain) is it the unions generally (and not just the CNT) 'trying to widen the movement and make real links' etc or are they still approaching the current crisis in essentially the same way as unions here in the UK, but in response to a deeper crisis and increased level of popular anger, with rather the other 'movements' simply taking advantage of the one day actions to create a more radical response to austerity? After all union plans don't always go according to their own plans.

And the anger and militancy of Spanish workers whilst far exceeding anything here so far! is still obviously insufficient to drive back the even more draconian government measures there.

Genuine question.

Joseph Kay
Mar 30 2012 13:12

I don't know how much that's happening beyond the CNT. Tbf the CGT and SO also seem to have tried to broaden things. I mean I'm going off second hand information, but I know when 15-M kicked off many in the CNT felt they'd been caught flat footed, but subsequently made efforts to work with it, and started agitating towards general strikes. I think we've seen some of the culmination of that, but I'd be interested to hear from people on the ground more about the dynamics between the social movements, radical unions and mainstream unions.

Joseph Kay
Mar 30 2012 23:46
Joseph Kay wrote:
I doubt the AF see what's going on today as demobilisation (motorways blocked, burning barricades, mass pickets, generalised strikes, roaming unemployed marches shutting stores...).

Just to elaborate on this, it seems to me what happened in Spain yesterday is basically what the AF were calling for a year ago:

AF wrote:
We are already seeing an increase in civil unrest and a shift from reformism to radicalisation in Britain. This will only increase as people’s material circumstances decline. We have to turn despair and isolation into power and collective action, to create a mass movement of resistance together.

We should be:

o Forming General Assemblies on the basis of neighbourhoods, communities, universities, industries and so on. The point is that they cut across divisions like worker/non-worker, student/administrative staff/lecturer. They need to elect instantly recallable delegates to co-ordinate with other assemblies, so that vested interests can’t take hold and power can’t corrupt, and no one can get lazy or sell out. This is the best way to co-ordinate between university and factory occupations, town hall invasions, community-run support groups and so on.

o Using such assemblies to organise for a General Social Strike. The TUC isn’t even able to organise a symbolic one-day general workers’ strike, and with weak ineffectual unions and poor job security, workers can’t risk going it alone. So let’s have massive civil disorder on the part of people who can take action: walk-outs of schools and colleges and massive occupations of our city centres; creative use of facilities like libraries, parks, leisure centres to show workers there that we are behind them; economic blockades e.g. of fuel depos where the workers can’t get away with picketing, and so on.

Joseph Kay
Mar 31 2012 16:05

At the risk of talking to myself (last post in a row, I promise!), another important difference occurred to me earlier. In the UK, the disputes have been organised around pensions. Now 'everybody knows' it's about more than that, but pensions was the issue that allowed for the widest lawful co-ordinated action (although in theory unions could all strike over different issues on the same day too).

However, this also all-but guaranteed a divide and rule. Having balloted over pensions, it was almost inevitable the government would seek to open negotiations with some unions not others (whether via differential concessions, or no concessions at all). Hence the division prompting the above statement.

But in Spain, the strike was openly political:

CGT, CNT & SO wrote:
The aim of the CGT, CNT and SO in calling this general strike is not to renegotiate the Labour Reform law, but to repeal it together with all the other anti-social economic measures that are a direct attack on the working class.

That seems quite different. Now, of course it could be all talk. We'll see. But that's where the structures of these unions come in. Certainly in the CNT (with which i'm most familiar), and perhaps with the CGT and SO too, there isn't much of an apparatus capable of demobilising the rank and file, as the members meetings are sovereign.

Now the CGT does receive a lot of money from the state, and its independence may be compromised that way. But as I understand it, the CNT (or another union) could 'legalise' action by CGT workers even if their own union didn't (i'm basing this on some of OliverTwister's recent posts... so i may be mistaken). Coupled with the social movement element (15-M people shutting down shops etc), there seems to be a dynamic there which will be much harder to demobilise.

I'd be interested what AFers think about this, and to what extent they think the statement applies to both cases.

fingers malone
Mar 31 2012 21:54

Really interesting posts, wish I could answer them better. I'll have a go anyway.

From just a very partial experience, there is crossover and joint action between the radical unions and the squatters movement, housing struggle movements, 15M, and all sorts of things you could call social movements. It's patchy, and often tense, and people rub each other up the wrong way, but there definitely is collective action. Probably got a lot better since I've left Spain, as there has been a year and a half of intense grassroots mobilisation going on.

Regarding comisiones and UGT, I've just got no idea. Recently I spoke to someone from the anti-evictions movement and he said there were some older people getting involved who had been in the comisiones obreras in the seventies (when it was illegal and dangerous) who had dropped out of politics years ago, and were now in the barrio assemblies and really enthusiastic. But people who are currently involved in the mainstream unions now involved in 15M and so on... could be. I don't know.

I don't know if "legalising" strikes is as much of a big issue in Spain as it is here, repression after strikes or any kind of organised resistance is pretty bad, but I don't know if it makes a big difference if it's wildcat or official. (I don't mean that as a polite way to say "it isn't", I mean I really don't know.)

Regarding the structure of the radical unions, I think that Soli is also a very "workers assembly controlled" union.

As well as workers in the radical unions, who have been very involved in the general strike, you've got some other groups of workers who tend to be pretty militant. There are workers who are in mainstream unions, but because of their particular jobs tend to be full on: in shipyards, miners, transport workers. They work in industries at risk of being closed down, they have a strong collective tradition, they have relatively secure contracts but this could change with the labour reform, and so on. These workers have a lot to lose both from the crisis and the labour reform. Another potentially militant group of workers is the young casualised worker doing a succession of temp jobs. Now this worker potentially can resent the more secure older manual worker, and the older worker can see the younger one as a competitor and a threat, but I asked someone about this once, do young precarious workers resent the older guys with steady jobs in car factories? And he said, not really, because he’s your dad, isn’t he, and always lending you money to help you get by. So, I suppose, they potentially do feel themselves to be part of the same working class, and connected through family ties. Both these types of workers are threatened by the labour reform, and both have been protagonists in the general strike. How much they link up really though…. don’t know.

I’d say one problem is, non-unionised and non-organised workers have been out and active in the strike, and in barrio assemblies and so on, but this could fizzle out. Depends how strong the links are that they have made with organised workers and whether they feel that their struggles are really connected, if they feel that the organised workers will fight for them, and what happens next as well. If the government makes concessions people will feel that fighting gets results. But the government is under orders from the ECB to make these reforms, so pressure not to make concessions is very strong. Which could be a factor in why the police repression was so bad.

fingers malone
Apr 1 2012 10:35

One more important point- UGT and Comisiones between them have more than two million members. A lot of those members were doing militant picketing during the strike- road blocks and so on- but they probably will only strike en masse if they are formally called out by their unions. Now I don't know if they could get "legalised" by a radical union, I've never heard of that but that doesn't mean they couldn't, but what is a bigger problem is that most of those two million plus won't come out on strike without the official general strike call.
Those groups of workers mentioned in the post above take a lot of militant actions when they are threatened with layoffs but it is noticeable that a lot of the militant actions stay separate, the workers block motorways and so on and they sometimes have support in the community but other groups of workers don't usually get involved. So the general strike is one way to generalise these struggles.....but it is too dependent on the leadership of Comisiones and UGT. And how you go beyond that so people will take action anyway... I don't know.

Choccy
Apr 2 2012 08:38

So some NUT/SWP ones in London were saying that there will be more NUT strikes over pensions in late April; one-day for 'outside London' (ie the rest of this regional strike) and another day for NUT nationally.
I've heard nothing from NUT regional or branch sec hough.

fingers malone
Apr 7 2012 16:02

Ok, I spoke to some people in Spain about this issue of radical unions legalising strikes, this is interesting as well for the huge differences in strike procedures compared to the UK.

A union can't call a strike if it doesn't have any workers in that workplace at all, however if some workers are angry with their mainstream union some of them might leave and approach a radical union, ask for support and join. The radical union can call a strike in that workplace if it has members there. It doesn't need to have a rep in the comite de empresa or have a majority of the union- affiliated workers. The strike then is legal and comes under the legal protection offered by Spanish law. Of course, the management can still sack and harass the workers legally or illegally, if the power balance is in their favour at the time.
If the majority of workers are in the mainstream union, whether they will respect the strike depends on their level of class conciousness, if they are affected by the same issues, and all the usual things that determine whether people are prepared to go on strike or not. So if the union can legally call the strike is one thing, deciding if you can win it is another.
It might be theoretically possible for the workers' assembly to constitute some kind of legal entity which can then call a strike but in practice what would happen is that they would go and approach a union.
The workers in the seccion sindical (union branch) can call a strike without needing to go to the union regional committee,have a postal ballot, give seven days notice and all the shit that you have to do here (this bit of the conversation took a while as it was hard for the Spaniards to understand how complicated it is to call a strike here) and they can call a strike even if they are the minority of workers in that workplace, however in that situation they would need to be sure that the other workers would be prepared to strike as well.