Archive for the ‘Strikes’ Category

Oxford Road

Oxford Road

I had thought at first I was going to be late to meet Anne and her daughter Sarah, but the traffic and buses were in my favour for once. I’d agreed to meet them both at the Oxford Road end of Brunswick Street at 11:30, and arrived at quarter past 11 to find them both waiting for me. Prior to that, I’d walked past two empty police horse boxes on Brunswick Street (closed, much to the bemusement of residents) and seen the swathes of coaches transporting march attendees play merry hell with the traffic trying to run the rat run behind Oxford Road, which was also closed.

There were a lot of people already on Oxford Road as we walked down, and we found the Unison section assembling, as planned, by the Aquatics Centre. The atmosphere was rather reminiscent of an assembling carnival, and we even had a PA system and DJ (we think it was Clint Boon), not to mention John Robb as emcee and Billy Bragg playing live. This at once felt much more high powered and glitzy than the previous two TUC marches I’ve been on, but also much more carnival. Not that previous marches haven’t been entertaining and fun, but they haven’t had entertainment laid on. It was the difference between the Arena and the Academy: Sophisticated and innovative use of big screens and PA systems all along the line. There were also speeches from the head of the TUC, head of Unite, and head of the Students Union. Later, we also had the head of Unison, but his speech was timed to coincide with a point when the march on the move and the Unison contingent were going past him and the stage by All Saints Park. As we were trying to simultaneously navigate the narrowing road and the media block, this meant I was paying less attention to him than to previous speakers.

In the early stages, before we moved off, we all got a chance to admire each others banners. Given recent allegations about David Cameron’s antics as a young man, there were lots of pig related banners, inflatable pigs and so on. I overheard one man trying to explain the banners all around them to the young child accompanying him:

“Well, when David Cameron was a young man, he… was very… unkind to a pig.”

David Cameron pig banner

David Cameron pig banner

We had to wait an awfully long time on Oxford Road before setting off. The start time was 12, but it was nearly 2 by the time we set off. Anne’s knees are bad so we watched part of Billy Bragg’s set and the speeches from the vantage point of the window sills outside Geoffrey Manton building. While we were seated we had the unwelcome chance to observe innumerable people, including many small children, stumbling about as they tried to navigate the hostile architecture between the pavement and the windowsills, which takes the form of hedgehog spikes of upturned bricks.

When we did set off, the Mancunian Way flyover slowed down the huge balloons that at least two unions were making use off, which gave us time to take in the homeless protest under the flyover. A smaller spin off of the one in St Peter’s Square perhaps?

Homeless protest, Manchester Oxford Road/Mancunian Way Flyover

Homeless protest, Manchester Oxford Road/Mancunian Way Flyover

We turned off down Portland Street, then went left, down a series of side roads and side streets towards Albert Square and the town hall. It was at this point that I heard one woman say to a friend that their friends were in a bit of the march that was still on Oxford Road. There was some intermittent chanting, and I was pleased to hear ‘WHOSE STREETS? OUR STREETS!’ again. ‘Build a bonfire’ has been adapted, with the bankers now taking the place of the Lib Dems in the middle. Along the route we passed various people declaiming political polemics on various corners with an inspiring amount of conviction and passion, and as we headed towards Deansgate and Castlefield we passed a fantastic drum orchestra. We didn’t get anywhere near as close to GMEX, or even the Midland Hotel, as last time, or the time before, but we did get to make a lot of noise and sing along rousingly to Pulp’s ‘Common People’ as we drew towards the nearest possible point to the conference hall.

It was as Pulp segued into Oasis’ ‘Don’t Look Back In Anger’ that I realised how reliant the playlist had been on ’90s Britpop. Earlier on Oxford Road, there’d been some punk (Clash ‘Rock The Casbah’, Jam ‘Eton Rifles’), the Smiths, some standard rebel rousing anthems (‘Get Up, Stand Up’, ‘My Generation’, ‘Walls Come Tumbling Down’) and Billy Bragg was playing union friendly anthems like ‘Power of the union’ and ‘World turned upside down’, plus Woody Guthrie’s ‘You Fascists Are Bound To Lose’. It’s a shame there weren’t any more modern records though (surely the students could have provided some suggestions?) and it makes me wonder if modern pop is considered lacking in stridency, or made by posh people. Some of it is, certainly, but surely not all of it? Poppy and the Jezebel’s 2012 hymn to youth unemployment ‘Sign In, Dream On, Drop Out’ would have been a good start. And if they’d wanted a good, but less used, ’80s one they could have had Sade ‘When Am I Gonna Make A Living?’ I suspect Doyle and the Fourfathers ‘Welcome To Austerity’ would have been construed too downbeat though.

On the move

On the move

Overall, the atmosphere on the march was very carnival and jubilant. There was even a report being filmed in the midst of it all, near Deansgate. Possibly Granada Tonight. Some of the students ambushed it, natch. All along the route people have been handing out leaflets and newspapers, so I’ve returned home with a whole bag full of stuff, mainly socialist, some anti-racist, one for Animal Aid, one to do with NHS reforms in Manchester and Greater Manchester, plus Left Unity, The Morning Star, and the People’s Assembly newsletter.

The People’s Assembly were doing the rally at the end of the march, but we were a bit knackered by then, so headed home from Castlefield to Piccadilly via the bewilderingly genteel and gentrified King Street and St Ann’s Square, and the usual chaos of Market Street. We had thought that our bus stops had been moved for the day but the two day rave in Piccadilly had been shut down we saw, according to a screen with a rolling news feed on it on Market Street. What with the rave and the Britpop soundtrack, the day had a vaguely ’90s feel to it. This echoed the feeling of deja vu I had last week when I heard about government plans to restrict the length of cordoned off road allowed for ongoing roadworks to 1 mile at a time. I haven’t heard any more about this since, but my first thought on hearing the story was that it was John Major and the cones hotline all over again.

As we headed down Market Street we could see the progress of the rest of the march whenever we looked left down a side street, and we finally began to feel that we’d lost the police helicopter that seemed to have been following us since Oxford Road. The union bosses estimated that 80,000 people marched today but the 6pm bulletin on Radio 4 reported the police figure as being 60,000, which is still 10,000 more than the  police figure for the 2013 TUC march.

The view from Market Street

The view from Market Street

The People’s Assembly are running events all week during the Tory Party conference, and are putting attendees up in Sugden Sports Hall. You can find out about their events in Manchester this week by visiting their website. Their next event is The People’s Assembly Morning Briefing at 10:30am in Central Hall on Oldham Street, which features a speech from Natalie Bennett, and there are number of additional protests and marches planned tomorrow, and throughout the week.

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I went to see Pride at the Cornerhouse last night, which was amazing. Also, the only film I ever seen at the cinema where people in the audience have applauded at the end.

It’s based on a true story, that of the London campaign group Lesbians and Gays Support The Miners, who raised money for the miners during the 1984 miners strike. When the mining unions don’t want to know, the group end up approaching a mining community in Powys directly, which doesn’t go smoothly but which does lead to friendships and respect on both side, as well as hostility and suspicion.

I love this film because it’s social history at its best, even though it’s a feature film and not a documentary, and also British film making at it’s best. It manages to be heart warming and touching without being unconvincing or mawkish. It’s also very, very funny, incredibly well written and researched, beautifully soundtracked and perfectly cast.

In this 30 year anniversary of the start of the miners strike, another film is due for release, a documentary Still the enemy within. The Cornerhouse will be showing the documentary on 6th October at 6pm and the film will be followed by a Q&A with Producer Mark Lacey and Cath Booth, who was involved with Lesbians and Gays Support The Miners.

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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…

Oxford Road train station and the Cornerhouse

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.

Liverpool Road

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.

RBS under guard

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.

John Rylands Library, Deansgate

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.

Albert Square

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.

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This is an edited version of an email I sent to my local M.P about two days ago, regarding changes to public sector pensions. I did use the template on the UNISON site, but I took quite a bit out and put a lot more of my own experience in as I felt my MP would possibly take more interest if I did that, as it would show I’d made an effort and believed what I was saying. Haven’t had a reply yet, but I suppose I may well do eventually.


What do you mean it's the f***in' workhouse for me?



I work as a Library Assistant at………………….. and I am a member of (pension scheme). I am writing to you at this time because of the proposed public sector strike on Wednesday 30th November.

I would like to tell you some of the reasons why I voted yes in the……… ballot on strike action.

Aside from the information provided to me by my union and by my pension scheme about the proposed changes to my pension, I am also someone who reads a lot of different newspapers and current affairs magazines,listens to a lot of radio news, and generally takes a great deal of interest in politics and current affairs. Voting ‘Yes’ to strike was not therefore a decision that I took lightly.

I would also add that, although a library does not compare to a busy hospital or airport, the run up to Christmas is one of our busiest times at work, it’s also the time of year when a lot of people are off sick. Whilst no one will have their life or their security endangered as a result of my strike action, a lot of people will be very inconvenianced and no doubt extremely annoyed.

I am opting to strike because I really don’t feel as though I have any other choice. I feel as though I am being constantly attacked by the coalition government in every aspect of my life: my working life, my home life, my social life, my family life… I feel as though they have declared open season on everything I hold dear. Not just my pension, but libraries, universities, disability support, and my ability to financially support myself and live an independent life.

I am not wealthy, I have just under £900 a month to live on after tax, pension, national insurance and union membership deductions. I use a laborious budget system as this is the only way I can be sure of not running out of money each month.My rent is £299 a month, Council Tax is £78 a month because I live on my own in a studio flat, Gas and Electric are £50 a month, with an extra £10 a month allocated for the inevitable winter fuel bills, I allocate £20 a month to the quarterly water bill, laundry is £32 a month because I don’t own my own washing machine and instead use a launderette. The phone and internet is £35 a month as well. My contents insurance is £33.57 a month, I put £20 a month into an ISA because, frankly, I am expecting the state pension to be long gone by the time I retire, I spend £150 a month on food, my monthly bus pass is £62.70. The rest of the money goes on: stationary, stamps, subscriptions, magazines and newspapers (£14), Emergancies, repairs and replacements (£15), Prescription and non prescription medicine (£19) Household Essentials (£19), Fun (£19), Birthdays & Chrismas (£14).

I appreciate that that was probably very boring to read, but I have included it to demonstrate that I am not someone who ran around with a credit card when times were good who is now whinging. Despite having acted financially responsibly in the past, and continuing to do so, I feel as though I am being punished every day: when fuel prices go up, again, when phone and internet prices go up, when food prices go up, when the bus pass inevitably goes up (I was priced off the trains years ago), when the launderette puts its prices up, when the contents insurance goes up….

Now the government plans to tax my already extremely stretched income further by expecting me to pay double the pension contributions I already make. This is simply completely unnaffordable for me.

My parents both worked in the public sector and are now retired. My father has an NHS pension, but my mother succumbed to the propaganda from the Thatcher government of the 1980’s and opted out of the council pension package. She was missold a private pension which, over the years, has earned her consistently less than she would have received had she stayed with the council pension scheme. She only realised this about a year before she was due to retire, by which time it was far too late. I am detirmined not to repeat her mistake.

I would also add that I have experience of the private sector as an employee and would like to point out that, as a woman, I do feel more protected in the public sector, by and large, as opposed to the private sector.

I had 3 private sector jobs prior to my entry into the public sector, and one employer (the Co-Operative) were fantastic so far as working conditions and supporting their staff were concerned, but the other two employers I worked for were appalling.

One of them was a publishing company which had an endemic culture of bullying and sexual harrassment. The average time most people lasted working there was 6 weeks, I did 6 months. As the workers at the company were not unionised and the HR department was weak, the only recurse those being bullied and sexually harrassed had was the industrial tribunal process. At the time I left, three tribunals were in process against the company. The company folded about six months after that.

In the second case, I worked for a market research company, which operated zero hours contracts and didn’t pay sick pay for this reason. It also meant that you were never actually guaranteed any work despite being employed by them. On the plus side, if you got given a survey you didn’t like you could take a few weeks off unpaid, or longer, until you felt like working for them again – which was a common scenario. You, of course, were not paid for those weeks off and it was common for people to be working two or more jobs simultaneously. I also found out after I left that the smoking of cannabis on smoking breaks was pretty common there, and I was not surprised.

But how was I supposed to know they were the new Equitable Life?

I have included these examples as a way of explaining that my loyalty to the public sector is far from sheltered or sentimental, rather it is based on my own experiences throughout my working life.

I have been informed by my union, and have read elsewhere, that the ‘savings’ being proposed by the government in changing public sector pensions, including extra contributions and reduced entitlements, will, either directly or indirectly, go to the government, rather than be used to safeguard the pension scheme. It is, in effect, a direct extra tax being imposed on me, to which I strongly object.

In the run up to the strikes both the goverment and the media have churned out myth after myth, scare story after scare story about public sector pensions and public sector workers. We are lazy they tell us, we are greedy, we have ‘gold plated’ pension schemes and ‘gold plated’ wages. I hope the information I have provided above will demonstrate to you that they are wrong on all counts. I regularly read Private Eye, so I know all about Rotton Boroughs and council corruption, but nepotism, obscene pay packets and unfair working practices are, I would venture, probably more common in the media and in politics than they are at, say, Stockport Council. It would be nice if those slinging the mud would remember the adage that people in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones, but I shan’t expect that anytime soon.

Also, I  will have to work until I am at least 68 anyway, regardless of whether I work in the private or public sector.

I am aware that this is not the 1970’s, that the unions were smashed repeatedly in the 1980’s, and that the past cannot be recreated. I am not expecting to hold the country ransom. What I hoping for is an opportunity for the forgotten to be heard.

Rosie the riveter would have quite liked to have had a pension when she was too weary to rivet anymore

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Taken from SchNEWS, Issue 798, 25th November 2011


As UK Prepares for Biggest Strike in Generations….

Well, it’s been a long time coming… Wednesday 30th November will see the first mass strike in the UK for four decades. 17 unions, including the biggest ones Unite, UCU, Unison, various teaching unions and PCS, have balloted to strike on pension reform which will see an estimated 3 million off work and, hopefully, cause massive disruption. Demonstrations and pickets are planned across the country – see http://www.n30strike.org for a complete list. Amongst the strikers are some unlikely suspects: 18,000 Border Agency workers are expected to strike leaving the government having to employ sinister private security firm Serco to take over for a day. Even the National Union of Probation Officers voted to join the strike four-to-one.

The government wants public sector workers to forgo 3% of their salary as pension contributions, which equates to a pay cut. So far workers have had to accept a two year pay freeze during a time of high inflation (in other words a pay cut), if they haven’t already been thrown out on their arse during the waves of mass redundancies (a total pay cut). The government’s arguments are designed to play on long term disgruntlement among the private sector that they have to deal with, on the whole, a shockingly shit pensions scenario and the public sector have had it a bit better off. Rather than aiming to sort out the private pensions mess which leaves millions in poverty on retirement, the PM wants the country to believe the public sector pensions are ‘gold plated’, unfair and unsustainable. Actually, most public workers end up with less than £5000 a year pension. They’ve also been reformed already: through a mix of negotiated and underhand changes, public sector pensions have bee!
n reduced to the tune of 25p in each pound over the last few years.

While the ‘official’ pensions reason is a biggie,  the day will be one of anti-austerity action on the whole. It was obvious a year and a half ago that austerity measures were going to cripple the public sector, but it’s only over the issue of pensions that unions have been able to come together in co- ordinated action. The government’s various cuts bills have been sector specific until now, and Tory anti-strike legislation forbids solidarity action – effectively making mass, cross-sector strikes illegal. This, combined with the timidity of the unions and their own stifling legal processes have delayed action until the shared pension cuts could become the focal point for general civil unrest.

Which is rich, considering unemployment is at a 17-year high thanks to government policy. They’re also attempting to rebrand it as a “take your child to work day” in an effort to avoid parents taking the day off to look after children turned away from closed schools. It’s not only the government who want to break the strike: One particularly bizarre measure is being taken by an academy school headteacher in London, who is bringing in ex-Army personnel, police dog handlers and CSI teams to teach classes next Wednesday.

The tactics for the day are to keep demonstrations and marches focused in local communities and for many dispersed actions as opposed to a mass gathering, but if you fancy hitting the road to get in on the action, the most fun place to be looks set to be London. Occupy have issued a call-out to congregate in the capital and ‘Shut down the city’ – the plans for which are to be confirmed…

In other union news, shining like a beacon of wildcat hope in the darkness, the Sparks electricians union showed how its done again this week by an unannounced occupation of the head office of construction firm Grattes Brothers on Wednesday (23rd). Continuing their protests against industry-wide collusion to cut pay and de-skill work, which has involved direct actions, walkouts and demonstrations, 150 Sparks have locked themselves in the Kings Cross premises.

Whether the country comes grinding to a halt or not, we’ll have to wait and see, but N30 has the potential to reinvigorate the anti-cuts movement and take it outside the Occupy camps. See ya on streets!


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