There is now just one week left to go until the TUC’s demonstration in London and the STUC’s in Glasgow on Saturday 20 October.
Up and down Britain, activists are leafleting, holding mobilising rallies and organising transport.
As the Tories launch a new raft of attacks at their conference this week, the demonstration is a vital part of stepping up the resistance.
It can be a day to fight back on the scale of the mass demonstrations we have seen in Greece and Spain. It can give renewed confidence to everyone who comes on it that they are not fighting the cuts alone.
As the trade unionists interviewed on these pages argue, though, the key question is what happens after the demonstration.
The teachers’ NUT union is currently taking industrial action alongside the other main teaching union NASUWT. But unfortunately the union’s executive last week failed to back a national strike.
This is a setback—but it does not the end of the possibility of action. Other unions have live ballots, including the PCS and UCU.
And the bigger unions, including Unison and Unite, are talking about taking action against the pay freeze in the next six months. They should start sooner rather than later.
With this backdrop, it is more important than ever than 20 October is massive. Every worker who comes out on the streets that day will not just be piling the pressure on the Tory government, but also on their own union leaders.
It can be a day to reignite the struggle in Britain. If we get it right then it will not end there.
As the 20 October approaches and the Tories pile on more attacks, many are asking what should happen after the demonstration.
The Unite the Resistance national conference on 17 November will be crucial for bringing together all those who want the fightback pushed forwards and strikes escalated.
It’s a space where activists can conduct the urgent discussions on how to organise pressure from bottom up for more action.
Karen Reissmann of the Unison executive said in a personal capacity, “Time and time again, workers in Britain have shown that when the union leaders give them a lead, they are up for it. We need to fight to have the maximum number of union activists who are prepared to say we can fight this.”
Karen will be speaking at the conference, along with PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka, NUT deputy general secretary Kevin Courtney, Zita Holbourne of Black Activists Rising Against Cuts and PCS executive, an Egyptian trade unionist, a South African miner, author Owen Jones, and campaigning lawyer Mike Mansfield.
Already 24 trade union and community bodies have formally passed support for the conference. Matt Wells, branch organiser in the PCS Defra Southern branch, told Socialist Worker why.
“Our movement’s leadership wants us to blow off steam on 20 October so they can go back to the humdrum,” he said. “We mustn’t let them. We need to build up people’s combativity in the workplace. We are in a class war—rhetoric won’t win.”
Ceinwen Hilton, of the NUT Islington Association, which backs the conference said, “Our union leaders need to move now, the conference is a rallying point to say we’re not having any of this.”
Wullie Boyle, an activist in the Unite Scottish Housing branch echoed these sentiments. He said, “We sent delegates to the last conference and have kept the momentum going from then on. We need to back the call for the first general strike since 1926.”
Trade unionists marching against the Tories last Sunday told Socialist Worker what they think.
“It’s the working class, the people here, who are suffering. Sitting at home just isn’t viable now. The problem is, where it didn’t escalate last year, a lot of stuff’s already happening. They’re just ploughing on.
“They can always pull out a benefit cheat, but we know the majority of benefits are needed. They’re always trying to divide—it’s no different between the public and private sector. In any dispute the only thing that has a real effect is withdrawing your labour.”
“It’s great to have the unions here together. The council has this week said it’s going to change our contracts and make people work weekends. We’ve been on so many of the demonstrations. We’re going down to London.
“We will always come out and protest, whether it’s big or small. We went on strike last year on 30 November. If they don’t heed what we’re saying we may have to ballot again. If it comes to it, we’ll go out on strike.”
“Pensions are a big issue. I can’t see a teacher teaching until 68. It’s hard work running a class of 30 children, and it’s not recognised. There’s privatisation by the back door as well. I think today can make people think about going to the bigger protest in London on 20 October.
“A work to rule in teaching means lessons are still being delivered, teachers are still loaded down with work. The only way we can really do something that will have an impact is by striking.”
“All we’re getting is cutbacks—and all the cutbacks are at the bottom, not the top. We’re seeing the impact in mental health. People are suffering.
But a lot of leading officials are sitting back and not doing much.
“It’s great to see the turnout here today but they need to work much harder for 20 October, and so do we. We should be doing it every week. Brendan Barber and the rest of these bigwigs should be mobilising for a general strike.”
“I think the people at the top of society should pay. I’m hoping to become a midwife—we were promised more midwives and now we’ve got less. Today is good but 20 October can be even better.
“I’m not surprised by what the Tories are doing. At the next election we need to make sure it’s not them who have power. We need to make sure Labour are true to their left wing roots, and the unions have a huge role to play in that.”
“It’s baloney that the Tories aren’t making frontline cuts. Go and ask people who live in Halesowen—they’ve lost a fire station. We’ve lost almost 300 firefighters in the West Midlands alone.
“We feel we have to be there, adding our voice. We all need to be there on 20 October. Having some kind of coordinated action is the only way. People standing together is the best way of trying to bring some kind of change about.”