Today was strike day.
As those of us picketing were expected to do so between 8:00 and 10:30am I got up at 5:30 and wearily got through the daily palavar of my physio exercises before having a slight crisis over what to wear for the day. Not in the sartorial sense, purely in the ‘should I wear a jumper?’ sense. After breakfast (always start a long day with porridge) I headed out to the bus stop and immediately cursed myself for not going for a jumper in the end and put my long sleeved fingerless gloves on to make up for it…
It was still dark when I arrived in Manchester so I walked fairly quickly down Portland Street and Oxford Road, taking in the mise-en-scene. The first picket I saw was a PCS picket nearish Portland Tower, followed by a UCU Salford one just down the road. On Oxford Road there was an MMU picket for either UCU, Unison, or both outside John Dalton building. A bus driver honked as he went past, and it was presumably a positive honk as one of the pickets raised his placard in salute.
It was gradually getting light as I moved down Oxford Road, and by the time I’d passed the picket outside the Tin Can it was pretty much daylight.
I arrived at my own building not long after eight, where I was greeted by three of my colleagues who had beaten me to the union office (for flyers etc) by mere minutes. There were no union reps about so one of my colleagues had stepped into the breach and was organising things herself, despite having only ever been involved in one other strike action before. We appeared to have been left to get on with it, so we got on with it and were pleased to be joined later by a further four colleagues.
So far as successful picketing went, we weren’t that successful as the only two people we persuaded not to cross the picket line were two people who’d already decided not to. We got a lot of indifference from people, including colleagues, and were blanked by a lot of people as well (again, including colleagues) but we did also get some supportive noises and good luck messages from people, even if they did cross our picket line. We were also given homemade chocolate chip cookies by a young UCU picket, coffee (unofficially) from staff, and tea from an ex colleague who is now a student.
We left for the union meeting/breakfast at Kro safe in the knowledge that we’d done the best we could with what resources we had, and that at least we’d now be fed and be able to get warm. Alas such was the turnout that Kro were completely overwhelmed, and the service was so slow that we had to leave for the march before most of us had had our drinks and food. We were in a minority of people leaving, as I don’t think everyone intended to march, or at least, not until they’d had their breakfast.
We had missed the student feeder march which left from All Saints park, so we hopped a bus and tried to get as far down Oxford Road as possible before hopping off and walking as fast as we possibly could in the direction of Liverpool Road.
As we got closer, we could hear the noise: a sonic sea of whistles and instuments that may or may not have belonged to the vuvuzela family. The sea of people was pretty damn admirable too, and it was headed up by a row of mounted police in high visibility gear. They weren’t allowed to strike themselves, so were on official business, but they looked magnificent. On studying the horses later in Whitworth Park, I noticed that they had the equine body armour equivalent of shin pads on, which suggested – along with the usual helmets – that caution was being employed. Either that or the police were worried that the horses knees might get cold.
The march literally set off from Liverpool Road as we arrived, so we carefully inserted ourselves in amongst a group of ambulance staff. I can’t remember the exact route of the march, but we did Deansgate and the area between Deansgate and Albert Square. The reception from people on the streets was pretty good, and there were quite a few points on the march where people had lined the streets and were applauding as we marched past. Albert Square was one point where this happened, but there were points prior to that, and after that too.
One low point was going past the banks/commerce area on Deansgate, where someone had hung a banner from an upper storey office block which read “Why should we pay for public sector greed?” This caused a lot of booing and hissing, plus one Unison bloke was so irate that he shouted “WANKERS!” persistently and loudly until we had passed. RBS’ offices, which had their own police guard on the doors, got even more boos.
There was a nice part of the march immediately after these incidents when we came to pause for a few minutes by the John Rylands Library. Given that we weren’t going anywhere, we took it in turns to pose for pictures with our placards outside it’s magnificent Victorian facade.
Albert Square, what with the Christmas markets and decorations around the town hall, was very picturesque. We were applauded by crowds on the pavements here, which was a very touching and moving experience after the indifference encountered on our picket earlier.
Portland Street also went well, and soon we were on Oxford Road again. We had heard via a friend whilst going through Albert Square that our own building was possibly in lockdown, and we speculated as we marched as to whether it might have something, or nothing, to do with the frankly adorable bunch of students we’d left looking after the site of our picket at half ten.
That aside, the overall student response on Oxford Road was pretty disappointing, but we’d already concluded that those most likely to be engaged with the days events were probably on the march anyway. The response we got at the hospital end of Oxford Road as we headed for Whitworth Park was much better, as you would expect: lots of staff watching and applauding.
It took a long time to get everyone from the march into Whitworth Park for the speeches, which were polemical and rabble rousing in character, as was befitting the situation. I liked the UCU woman and the NHS Salford woman best. The UCU woman had great charisma and rhetoric, and the NHS Salford lady was wonderfully articulate and to the point. And very brave as well given she apparently hadn’t spoken to a crowd that big before.
After that, it was all over. Most of our colleagues had parted company with us pre Whitworth Park, so that just left three of us. We walked wearily back down Oxford Road and took refuge in a café where we had a long overdue cup of tea and compared digital camera pictures whilst discussing what we felt we could have done better so far as our picket was concerned. Since we’d been pretty much left to our own devices with it, and none of us had organised a picket before, we thought we’d done really well. But now we know we will have to organise it all ourselves then we’ll prepare accordingly next time.
The unions reckon 30,000 people marched today in Manchester, and I’ll be interested to see if this figure matches or differs from figures in the media and, if so, by how much and in which respect.