Over half a million workers were out on strike across Britain yesterday (Wednesday 15 March). Coinciding with the Tories’ latest Budget statement, workers in the NEU, UCU, BMA, and PCS unions all walked out. They were joined by Tube drivers on the London Underground and regional BBC workers organised in the NUJ.
Building on the success of 1 February, which was the biggest day of coordinated strike action since 2011, yesterday’s walkouts were no doubt even bigger, especially given that tens of thousands of junior doctors are now joining the fray.
Such unity across the unions is welcome, and much needed. Workers are waging similar disputes against the same enemy: the Tory government and the bosses they represent.
What is needed next is to strengthen this unity and to broaden the movement. Absent still are some of the big union battalions, like Unison, who have not yet brought their members out en masse.
Whatsmore, attempts to split or sell-out the movement must be resisted. Unity is key.
Action also needs to be escalated even further, if the movement is to succeed. This means building a mass campaign, up to and including a one-day general strike.
With the Tories refusing to provide any real pay rises for public sector workers in their Budget, this struggle is set to continue.
But the militancy, solidarity, and energy on display yesterday shows that workers everywhere are more determined than ever to fight – and to win.
The trade union leaders must rise to the occasion and use all means at their disposal to deliver victory.
Socialist Appeal activists across the country were out on the picket lines and protests yesterday. See below for a selection of reports showing the mood on the ground.
Today saw hundreds of thousands of workers out on strike. Unions across the public sector, including the BMA, the NEU, and the PCS, all walked out together to defend their pay and conditions.
The message from the trade unions is clear: workers want real pay rises, not cuts! pic.twitter.com/TDhegFZXRB
— Socialist Appeal (@socialist_app) March 15, 2023
The NEU had also organised a national demo in London, which marched from Hyde Park to Trafalgar Square. Hundreds of thousands were present, as teachers from across the country travelled to the capital in droves.
The march itself stretched as far as the eye could see. It met up with PCS members in Trafalgar Square, who had been demonstrating down in Whitehall. The mood was electric, with buses and taxis blaring their horns, and constant chants, whistles, and cheers.
Socialist Appeal comrades spoke to many on the day. One teacher told us about how, at his school, the students had designed placards for striking staff, with encouragement from parents; and how they had received supportive donations from the local community.
We joined thousands of striking workers on the streets of London today in the fight against the bosses. The trade unions must remain united, and escalate the action in order to win. Victory to the workers!https://t.co/4jcsa33ang pic.twitter.com/rnMhXrfAKn
— Imperial College Marxists (@icmarxists) March 15, 2023
Another teacher, down for the demo from Derbyshire, mentioned how sixth form students at his school had stood with them on their picket line.
All of this shows the brilliant sense of solidarity developing between the teachers, students, and their parents as this dispute continues.
Many of our supporters also visited local picket lines across London in the morning, joining local rallies in a number of boroughs.
Several Socialist Appeal supporters joined picket lines across Cardiff on 15 March. One comrade attended the DEFRA & APHA picket line in Cardiff North. This workplace used to have no real union presence, but has had numerous new members and reps since the strike wave started.
The picket line was energetic, and the strike action was clearly even more successful than 1 Feb – a testament to the determination of the workers. There was a lot of support from workers driving past, especially Openreach workers who were themselves on strike not long ago.
Other comrades attended the HMRC picket line in Cardiff. “Considering HMRC failed to pass the ballot threshold the first time around,” one PCS comrade remarked, “attendance and motivation appeared to be high today.”
The picket line later developed into a rally, organised by Wales TUC. We spoke to members of other unions, and to PCS members from other workplaces in the city. Many were on strike for the first time.
Yesterday we were out in central Cardiff supporting striking workers defending their pay and conditions.
The message from the TUs is clear: Workers want real pay rises, not cuts!@pcs_union @CardiffUCU #SupportTheStrikes #PCSonStrike pic.twitter.com/EkON9Xk4Fn
— Cardiff Marxists (@CardiffMarxists) March 16, 2023
Although the teachers were noticeably missing from the rally (they were not on strike in Wales yesterday), the mood was one of determination. The fight is still in its very early stages, and union members and their pickets are heavily constrained by Tory anti-union laws.
If the Tories think this is all they have to deal with, however, then they have another thing coming. There are a lot of angry people out there who are prepared to fight until the end. We have no other choice.
Comrades in York attended the NEU picket line outside of Fulford High to show our solidarity with the teachers’ strike in defence of education. We received a warm welcome, with many of the teachers recognising us from the last time we were down there.
Some didn’t recognise us, however, since the last picket line had doubled in size! In fact, according to one member of staff, since the start of the strike, there has been a massive growth in membership locally.
We spoke with workers about the working conditions in education, and the nefarious role that academisation has played in schools.
There was also an outpouring of support from the local community, with cars honking their horns and parents showing their solidarity.
Whatsmore, students showed their solidarity with staff, by helping to make placards and asking for NEU stickers to wear in school to show their support. Perhaps these students are part of the 1-in-3 young people that consider themselves communist!
Comrades had prepared for the picket by printing out leaflets calling for student-staff solidarity. We found that students were coming back to ask for more materials, showing a real interest in our ideas.
Overall, a militant spirit was alive and well at the picket. And the youth we spoke to are clearly looking for an alternative to capitalism, which has nothing to offer them but a life of uncertainty and crisis.
We were also down at the BMA picket line outside York hospital, which was jubilant. With so many workers in attendance, the picket line had to be extended across both sides of the entrance to the hospital.
It was certainly one of the livelier pickets that comrades have been to in recent times. There was a live band playing, with a singer serenading the picket who was a BMA member themselves.
The pickets here mainly spoke of the dire state the NHS finds itself, and the perils of privatisation. Conversation turned to the fact that Rishi Sunak can seemingly summon a magic money tree to enter into a £500 million deal with France to prevent refugees seeking safety. Yet at the same time, the Tory health secretary has the cheek to say that the BMA’s demand of a 35% pay increase is ‘unaffordable’!
It is clear to workers that this is a conscious political strategy being pursued by the Tories. Comrades made the point, however, that this, in turn, reflects the crisis that capitalism finds itself in. The ruling class is looking to split, divide, and distract the working class, by attempting to whip up a frenzy over migrants and other vulnerable layers of society.
There was no shortage of support from the local community, as cars honked their horns in solidarity for the duration of the picket. Members from the UCU, Unison, and the NEU also turned up to show their solidarity, receiving an enthusiastic welcome upon their arrival.
Clearly, workers are seeing that their struggles are linked – and the pickets are only more militant for it.
Comrades in Leicester managed to visit UCU, PCS, BMA, and NUJ picket lines yesterday. (NEU members locally had been mobilised to head to the national demo in London.)
The picket line at the University of Leicester was already strong at 8:30am. Usually only two or three people are present to start the line.
At about 11am, the line marched through campus, and chants of “What do we want? Fair pay! When do we want it? Now!” and “Tories Tories Tories! Out Out Out!” were shouted through a megaphone.
The march continued down New Walk, joining with striking UCU workers of De Montfort University, where we marched to Jubilee Square for a rally.
At the Leicester Royal Infirmary, junior doctors in the BMA were out in force. There was a lively mood amongst the gathered crowd, spurred on with chants and songs, as well as thumbs up and waves from passers-by and bus passengers, and car after car honking their support.
The strikers are confident in their success, saying that this success is “what’s needed to keep enough doctors in the NHS to give the patients the quality of care that they deserve”.
“We’re not doing 26% less work, we’re not seeing 26% fewer patients,” explained the local BMA rep. “What is happening is that so many doctors are leaving the NHS, due to pay, that we’re often having to cover for two, even three doctors.”
The local Jobcentre on Wellington Street was closed by PCS members, with good numbers reported as being out. Similarly, at the local Land Registry office, only 15 had gone into work out of 300.
We also stopped off at an NUJ picket line from Radio Leicester. BBC local region workers, also organised with the NUJ, were on strike for 24 hours over planned cuts to these services, which will see many radio stations relocated and merged.
They also joined the rally at Jubilee Square, which in the end saw workers from all striking unions coming together in solidarity.
In Newcastle, we visited a number of picket lines on Wednesday. The BMA picket in particular was very militant.
Although it was smaller than the previous day, this was due to the fact many workers were looking after children due to the NEU strike shutting down schools. This led to a good discussion about the strike movement, and how and why we need to unite the struggles.
Some more senior members of staff went in, came out, and handed them cash to go and buy coffees.
We were also at a UCU picket, which we’ve stood on a lot this past year. And on a PCS picket line that we attended, one striker remarked that ultimately “the problem is capitalism”.
They were fully accepting of a Marxist perspective on the current strike wave, echoeing the need for a united workers struggle.
Newcastle rally. Unions together. Rank and file organisation. @ucu @pcs_union @TheBMA pic.twitter.com/ERn1mFxe0Q
— Graham Smith (@GrahamSmith4) March 15, 2023
Finally, there was a march from the hospital to the centre of Newcastle. The UCU pickets had marched to the hospital first, joining what was now a huge number of BMA members outside.
The length of the march itself was apparently 12 minutes long, forming a mighty line across the city. When it had fully assembled at Newcastle Monument – joined also by NEU and PCS members – the whole area was filled and there was a very good energy.
Comrades were at the NEU picket line at Notre Dame school on 15 March, bright and early. We had good chats with the pickets, including an NEU national representative and picket supervisor.
They appreciated the extra support on the picket line, as a lot of their members had opted to head to London for the national demo. We spoke about the need for more days of action like this, and the need to also get support staff out on strike too.
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We had also produced a leaflet with an article on the back about school protests to hand to students going in. When taking one of these, a student said: “I’m a communist!”
Afterwards, we headed to join the UCU for a rally on Parkison steps at the University of Leeds, where they were joined by PCS, BMA, and NEU members. We then marched down to Leeds General Infirmary, linking up with more BMA strikers there.
While the UCU pickets were (understandably) a bit demoralised, that was certainly not the case with the other unions, in particular BMA.
Comrades in Norwich attended the UCU picket line at UEA this morning, where the union’s general secretary Jo Grady also made an appearance.
Cold morning with a big turnout at the @UEA_UCU pickets – and a speech by Joe Grady! pic.twitter.com/ULmNrvntKn
— UEA Marxist Society (@UEAMarxists) March 15, 2023
We gave out leaflets from the Marxist Society featuring analysis of the present crisis at UEA, in particular, where mass redundancies are on the cards due to financial mismanagement, and where the vice-chancellor has consequently resigned.
We then walked to the nearby hospital for the BMA picket lines, where our support was well received.