J30: York and beyond

Today, 30th June, sees an estimated eight hundred thousand public sector workers go out on a one-day strike over pensions. In York, around two thousand people will be striking, from unions including the PCS, UCU and others.

The 30th is also, by happy chance, the evening of the new City of York Council’s first meeting.

A number of events have been scheduled for the day (list here), including:

  • 8:15am: Cycle tour of picket lines – meet at Library Square. Plan is to visit strikers, bring messages of solidarity, food/drink, etc.
  • Marches from workplaces into town (10:30am York College, 11:00am DEFRA)
  • 11:30am-2:00pm: picnic and rally in Parliament Square
  • 4:30pm – 7:00pm: rally in St. Helen’s Square for the first meeting of City of York Council.

The reasons for the strikes are varied; for some, they are purely about the public sector pensions issue, for others, they are an attempt to instigate more widespread industrial action (with discussions of more strikes in October, during the Conservative Party Conference, already taking place). For still others, they are part of a broader, more general campaign against the austerity measures being brought in, of which the pensions issue is one issue of many. UK Uncut, for example, have called for solidarity actions with the strikers, while school students in a number of areas – motivated in part by the student movement over the winter – are planning mass walkouts. Meetings have been happening across the country to plan for broader action on the day and, more importantly, how to keep things going.

Reactions to the strikes from across the party political spectrum have been fairly predictable. David Cameron has made it clear that “there was no question of climbing down” on the pensions issue, sentiments echoed by Treasury Secretary Danny Alexander in a speech that even ex-Tory Cabinet minister Michael Portillo was a bit much. The mind boggles; being lectured by a Tory for being too harsh to the unions is on about the same level as getting told off by the ICP for overdoing it on the makeup.

The Insane Clown Posse – like Michael Portillo, only not

The poor wretch.

If the parties have been – albeit with differing excuses – united in condemning the strikes, the public has been far less uniform. While under-reported, opinion polls have indicated a mix of feelings, with a ComRes poll showing 48% support for the strikes (versus 36% against and 16% unsure), among other findings.

Polls such as this should be taken with a pinch of salt for a number of reasons. Opinion polls themselves have multiple flaws, not least of which the fact that the opinions you’re getting are solely those of the kind of people who answer opinion polls (whoever they may be. freaks.) Combine that with the tendency of some respondents to mask or otherwise misrepresent their views, plus potentially unclear wording of questions, selective reporting of the results, etc., and their value is very much debateable. However, these polls do suggest that, at the very least, the media consensus that the public “don’t support” the strikes is a little shallow.

The bigger concern, however, is that public opinion and support does not in itself guarantee success. Evidence for this can be summed up in a single word: Iraq.

The anti-war movement in the early 2000s was possibly the most enormous, and most genuinely diverse and publicly supported, campaign in this country in decades. It featured the largest demonstration in British history, 15th February, and public support for the war – at least in the way it was carried out – was always shaky. Yet it happened anyway.

Issues such as “public support” and having the “right” arguments are important, but can only get us so far. As an article by the Solidarity Federation puts it:

The reason that reason gets us nowhere is that politics is not based on good arguments but on power relations. Democracies institutionalise power struggles to a certain extent, since it’s rather disruptive to have periodic coups and civil wars every time there needs to be a change of government. But only certain interests are institutionalised. Here’s a clue: they’re not ours. Thus none of the parties anywhere near power oppose the cuts (Labour included). The Lib Dems are a textbook example of what happens when previously minor parties get near power – they become all-but indistinguishable from the rest. Since our interests do not figure in this system, reasoned argument gets us nowhere. We win the argument, the cuts go ahead anyway and at best we can feel a sense of righteous indignation.

Public support, while important and necessary – both as a means of solidarity for one strike and a means of spreading the strikes wider – is not, in itself, enough. Nor can we rely on Miliband and the “Labour” Party, a party that has, with slightly different language, willingly jumped on board with press demonisation of unions, welfare claimants, the disabled and others. And the unions themselves – the ostensible focus of the day’s actions – remain limited both by a lack of political willpower and by the torrents of legal issues involved in anything other than the most tightly organised industrial activity.

To mangle a cliche, if we want a job doing well, we’ll have to do it ourselves. However flawed, the anti-cuts movement has seen a series of escalations, be it through UK Uncut occupying businesses, students trashing Millbank, some of the biggest demonstrations since Iraq, or – today – the biggest single day of co-ordinated strike action in decades. Already plans are in place for action over the coming months, on healthcare, jobs, benefits and more. For now, we have a day of action to be getting on with. See you there.

Love & rage,

A York Anarchist

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About York Anarchists

A group of anarchist radicals living and working in the city of York.
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