Feb. 1 was the biggest day of coordinated strike action in Britain in over a decade, with half a million out on strike. Our comrades of Socialist Appeal spoke to workers at picket lines and demos up and down the country about their fight against the bosses’ attacks and the Tories’ anti-union bill. We publish their reports below.
On Wednesday 1 February, half-a-million workers across Britain were out on strike. This huge day of coordinated action – the biggest for over a decade – saw thousands fighting not only for better pay and conditions, but against the Tories’ anti-union bill.
From teachers and train drivers to civil servants and university staff, workers withdrew their labour and formed picket lines, many for the first time.
Later in the day, rallies and marches were also held in towns and cities everywhere, bringing workers in all the unions together.
This is the first big day of coordinated strike action since the strike wave began in earnest last year. But it will not, and should not, be the last.
The trade union leaders must use this momentum to lead a mass movement not only against this anti-union bill, but against the Tory government and capitalist system itself.
Socialist Appeal activists attended picket lines and demos to show solidarity with these striking workers.
From Edinburgh to Falmouth, Manchester to Sheffield, Norwich to Cardiff, and many more areas, comrades were at picket lines and rallies discussing with workers the way forward for the movement. Featured below are some reports from across the country.
Comrades from branches across London attended nearby pickets and local rallies in the morning. Later they headed to Portland Place where an NEU-organised march drew in workers from all striking unions, ready to head to Westminster.
Reports from the morning indicated healthy attendance at the pickets and rallies before the demo, and large public support for the strikes. Strikers were in high spirits, and there were many speeches expressing opposition to below-inflation pay deals and attacks on workers by the government. Our comrades reported many valuable conversations and links being forged with teachers on strike in their areas.
The London demonstration was truly huge, with strikers and supporters filling Portland Place from one end to the other. The mood was electric, with workers organised in the NEU, PCS, RMT, ASLEF, and UCU cheering and breaking out into chants.
We had dozens of comrades talking to people about the strikes, including for: the need for coordination on all levels including cross-union strike committees; and the demand for above-inflation pay rises and investment in services funded through expropriation of the billionaires.
Striking workers agreed, with many saying they were on board with such a programme. There was a clear desire to unite and escalate the strikes and a willingness to see the struggle through to the end.
On the march, our bloc chanted energetically, using slogans emphasising the need for unity and militancy, with many demonstrators and bystanders joining in.
After the march ended at Whitehall, we continued to discuss with workers the importance of the event, the general political situation, and the way forward for the working class.
On 1 February you could feel the atmosphere change as you slowly reached St Peter’s Square. The pure energy from the crowd was palpable as thousands of workers stood in unison for the TUC march, with a strong mood of optimism apparent from all attendees.
There were huge cheers to chants of “support the right to protest, support your union, solidarity,” with applause, banging and whistles. Older members within the crowd noted how the scale of the demo and strikes wasn’t too dissimilar from the 80s.
As we began to march throughout the Northern Quarter, onlookers recorded the march and smiled, while people working in offices above waved in support.
The wider public is clearly on our side, despite how the media try to portray strikers – calling teachers selfish, for instance. The ruling class will always try to divide us in a race to the bottom, but the real opinion of ordinary people is apparent.
Further chants also called for the Tories to get “Out! Out! Out!” and for there to be a general election.
As we flooded the streets with our banners and signs, there was an emphasis on the need for even greater action, with chants for a general strike becoming louder as we circled back to St Peter’s Square.
On Wednesday morning, Birmingham, the city of a thousand trades, felt as if it had a thousand picket lines. Across the city over 40 schools, a dozen train stations, the universities and even the international airport had striking workers stationed outside their gates. For many, it was their first time entering the industrial struggle.
On one picket line, a Socialist Appeal activist took to the megaphone to argue this wasn’t just an accidental struggle over pay, but instead a reflection of a system in crisis, and called for profiteers in schools and workplaces to be kicked out.
At midday, Socialist Appeal activists joined around 500 striking workers outside the central library for a rally and march. The Marxist Society was proud to bring the largest contingent of students. This was achieved with the help of an event the evening before on the crisis of British capitalism, where an NEU rep spoke briefly at the start and enthused students to join the struggle.
Throughout the rally the call for a general strike was on everyone’s lips, while speakers passionately called for a one-day general strike, and this reverberated throughout the crowd in chants and placards.
The day culminated in a small indoor rally on how to protect the right to strike. The platform included various union speakers, as well as an activist from Socialist Appeal.
Our comrade argued for the need to politicise these industrial struggles – to fight not only for improved conditions and better wages but to seek to mobilise around socialist ideas. Strong nods of approval rippled through the crowd.
The crowd also clearly understood the need to learn the lessons from the history of our movement; be it the Pentonville Five or the miners’ strike, we cannot limit ourselves to just fighting on the parliamentary plane.
Comrades in Norwich joined the picket lines at UEA. Here the discussions were less focused on the national dispute and more on the local situation, where hundreds of staff are at risk of compulsory redundancy over the next few months.
The anger and outrage at this move from the university bosses was made clear in the size of the pickets. These were much larger than during previous strikes, as well as having increased support from students.
The staff were very happy to see our comrades joining them, and our signs with the slogans “Smash Anti-Union Laws” and “No Cuts, Not One Redundancy” were well received.
We spoke to staff about the need for coordinated action. There was clear support for this across the pickets, with the UCU branch chair saying: “This is not just one employer, this is not just one union, it is a labour movement.”
After this, we headed into the city for the NEU/Protect the Right to Strike demo. This was vibrant and optimistic, reflected in an attendance of over 2000, making it by far one of the largest demos in Norwich in recent history.
In the weeks leading up to 1 February, Cambridge Marxist Society invited Unite and UCU members to speak at our Marxist Society meetings to help educate and engage students on what’s happening in the labour movement, which generated a lot of interest and discussion.
We were then invited by a group of trade unionists and other students to help mobilise student support for the march and rally. We organised a placard-making session that was highly successful.
On 1 February, our comrades attended UCU, ASLEF and NEU pickets. Turnout and spirits were very high, reflecting the determination to fight for real-terms wage rises and against the government’s attacks on the right to strike.
There was also a ‘roaming picket’, which some of our comrades joined in with, passing further RMT and NEU pickets and gathering steam as it did so. The mood got increasingly electric as we approached the main march and numbers grew.
We then participated in what many described as “the largest demo they’d seen in Cambridge”, with around 1,500 people marching and successfully shutting down King’s Parade.
The workers and students attending the march expressed how inspired they were to see many different unions fight together, but they also understood that more action like this would be necessary.
Some attendees even said that we need a general strike! One Unite member attending in solidarity said that “workers have tolerated too much” and they’re finally fighting back.
Many of the people we spoke to agreed with our ideas and slogans and were eager to hear more about getting involved with the fight for socialism.
Comrades in Sheffield built for the 1 February ‘day of action’ by hosting a joint meeting between the Marxist Societies from the University of Sheffield and Sheffield Hallam University the night before.
We drew up five different routes to ensure we visited as many picket lines across the city as possible ahead of the afternoon rally.
When dawn came, we fanned out across the city of Sheffield to visit NEU, UCU, PCS and ASLEF pickets. In twos and threes we talked to workers about their situation and put forward our ideas. We then converged in the city centre at noon, joining over 1,000 workers for a march and rally.
Overall, there was an invigorating atmosphere. Although many of the workers we spoke to were on strike for the first time, their attitude was militant and enthusiastic. It was clear to comrades that, across the board, workers are fed up with the broken system.
Many said that the anti-strike bill will not stop them from taking further action but instead motivate them to fight harder. The prospect of a coordinated public sector strike, or even a general strike, was welcomed.
The question that hung in the air was what should be the next step for the working class.
Socialist Appeal activists headed to a number of different pickets on 1 February and were welcomed at all of them.
What struck comrades at the NEU picket line was the solidarity being shown to teachers, with local parents bringing striking staff tea and biscuits. Students came up to join their teachers and ask how they could help.
At midday, comrades made a strong showing at the TUC rally in the city centre. Around 500 rank-and-file trade unionists gathered and listened to inspiring speeches from their fellow comrades. There was a tangible and optimistic energy to the crowd, who cheered and chanted throughout the whole rally.
We had many interesting conversations with workers, many of whom said they had been itching to strike for a long time.
There was also lots of interest, especially from younger workers, in the array of Marxist literature that we had on offer. The appetite for Marxist ideas has clearly grown as their class struggle continues to reach new heights.
Following the rally, we embarked on a march throughout the city of York, giving the tourists visiting something to write home about! Spirits in York are now high among the organised working class, and this is only just the beginning.
Cardiff comrades mobilised for the big ‘day of action’ yesterday, intervening at the UCU picket lines on Cardiff University campus and later at the Right to Strike rally in the city centre.
The mood at the picket lines was optimistic and defiant, calling for continued action if their demands were not met. Around 150 picketers joined the march from the university towards the city centre for the rally.
One UCU rep from Cardiff Met, who was visiting the Cardiff University picket lines, spoke to us about the need for more coordinated strike action as a means to force through their demands.
Our comrades also raised how coordinated action could challenge the Tory government and their anti-union legislation. The need for a political struggle saw agreement from those we spoke to.
At the rally, our comrades spread out throughout the crowd to speak to as many people as possible. We met many workers and students who were interested in what we had to say.
To cap it off, that evening we held a Cardiff Marxist Society meeting, with two speakers from the UCU to discuss the strike wave and our perspectives on the industrial disputes.
Comrades in Ipswich intervened at a big demo organised by the NEU and Ipswich District Trades Council. Beginning at the UCU picket line from 12pm, the number of attendees swelled to around 400 strikers and supporters. From speaking to several NEU members it became clear workers had come from across Suffolk to attend this strike.
There were several short speeches from the NEU and UCU stewards, before the mass of strikers and supporters marched into the Ipswich town centre for a rally.
The rally included speakers from the UCU, NEU, Unite, and Unite Community.
Our comrade gave a speech on behalf of Socialist Appeal, during which we raised the importance of connecting strike action across sectors, as had been accomplished today.
The call to fight the anti-strike legislation and push for a general strike to topple the Tories was met with cheers from the crowd!