By an AF member, published in Freedom, vol. 72 no. 16.
With the up and coming Nov 30th general public sector workers strike and ‘day of action’, and the Nov 9th national demonstration for education we re-visit an article written by an anarchist teacher after the recent June 30th one day strike as a useful guide to possible strategies and how we can best utilise our resources and organise as a movement against the cuts.
As an anarchist, I was not initially impressed by the idea of a one day strike. It didn’t sound very militant- going out on strike at the end of term after the exams were over when the students were about to finish in any case; there wasn’t going to be much impact. However, having now experienced the build-up to the day, the day itself and the aftermath, I now think that the were many positive benefits in helping to build more long-term resistance to both the issue of pensions and the cuts in general.
Before the strike
- There was much discussion amongst staff about the issues of pensions and what is happening to education in general.
- People began to think outside their own immediate situation and were more aware of how government policies are affecting their lives.
- There was debate about the whole idea of going on strike with people expressing a desire to ‘do something’. The act of going on strike made people feel that at long last there were able to express their anger at what is happening.
- The problem of divisions between different unions was made apparent. Many people wanted to support the strike but could not because ‘their union had not called them out’. The principal reinforced these divisions by sending out a strongly worded letter about people being in ‘breach of contract’ if they went on strike, especially if they were not in a union that was striking. There was much discussion of the issues we all have in common with support staff, who are in Unison and therefore were not officially on strike.
- The strike provided the opportunity to discuss general educational issues with students and of furthering links between staff and students. There was much sympathy for the strikes.
- In general, the strike provided the opportunity to discuss politics at work.
- The strike also provided the anarchist movement with the opportunity of developing its role as a source of solidarity as well as a sound analysis of the situation. The anarchist role was to stress the background to the attack on pensions (banking crisis and bail-out, ideological attack etc) as well as arguing for the unity all education workers, including the ‘users’ of education, in a common campaign.
- The Solidarity Federation produced useful leaflets that other anarchists could use. The focus was on unity of all staff, students and parents. In addition, the leaflet raised general issues affecting education such as EMA, rather than focusing solely on pensions. My comrades in the Anarchist Federation leafleted outside my college and I helped leaflet outside another comrade’s college.
The Day of the Strike
- The strike was almost 100% supported by union members. Very few students came in. However, other staff crossed the picket line, despite many expressing sympathy. The college was described as a ‘ghost town’ on that day.
- Many people went on the demonstration who wouldn’t normally go. There is more interaction between NUT members on a borough-wide level.
- There is a general feeling of anticipation- that there is more to come. However, this feeling could easily dissipate over the summer holidays.
What to do now
My role as an anarchist in my college is to make sure that the momentum to build a movement of resistance is kept up. There are a number of things to be done.
- Regular meetings that involve as many people as possible; joint meetings of teaching staff AND support staff should become the norm. Support staff may be on strike in the autumn; we need to develop solidarity between all staff and get student support.
- People need to rely less on union reps and borough officials. At the moment, people still seem to look to them for ‘leadership’ rather than taking control themselves. The whole idea of the union ‘calling out its members’ as if we are obedient sheep needs to be transformed into a situation in which workers on the ground are making these decisions for themselves.
- Education workers need to be more pro-active in gaining support within the community. The movement needs to be generalised.
Role of the anarchist movement
Though there are some anarchists in the workplaces themselves, most anarchists are supporting the struggle from ‘outside’. However, the key point we need to be making is we are not ‘outside’ but people who are very much affected by these issues and therefore the struggle of the public sector workers is everyone’s fight. The unions are highly unlikely to build a genuine mass movement against the cuts. They have their own narrow interests and in the long run their leaderships will sabotage any struggle. Anarchists have a clear role to play both within and outside of unions to help build a strong, effective movement of resistance. We need to start doing this now. Ideas include:
- Arguing for links to be made between community anti-cuts groups and the public sector workers. There shouldn’t be a separation between the workers and the ‘users’; they should come together in the same campaign.
- A campaign of propaganda must be launched that keeps the momentum going and begins to build support now for the actions that will most likely be coming in the future. Anarchists have the ideas and analysis to help the struggle succeed and we must share these ideas with others through leaflets, posters and stickers, stalls and rallies.
- Given the strength of the anarchist movement amongst students and young people, anarchists can contribute to the building of links between students and the staff at schools, colleges and universities.
There are so many things anarchists can be doing.
1.We need to embed ourselves where possible in workplace organisation working along the guidelines suggested above.
2. We need to work against the cuts in the neighbourhoods and boroughs, where possible within existing anti-cuts groups. Too often, these groups are extremely small or behave in a tokenistic way. Anarchists should, where possible, attempt to open these groups up and to move them beyond narrow groupings of union militants to groups encompassing pensioners, students (whether in school, FE colleges or universities) tenants groups and others in the neighbourhoods. They need to be enlarged and to take part in actions that lead to small local victories, for example forcing the local council to retreat on the closure of a library, youth centre or community centre.
A lot of this work could be seen as boring in comparison to the “spectacular” actions of, say, March 26th. But it needs to be done and anarchists have to seriously involve themselves in every day work in the workplace and neighbourhood. In some areas this is taking place already, but much more needs to be done.
3. Some very good anarchist propaganda has been produced and distributed on a fairly large scale in the recent few months. However this needs to be intensified in the coming period, in order to counter the extensive lies and misinformation coming from the mainstream media, lies and misinformation intended to divide and demoralise the working class.
Anarchist Federation teacher
- Anarchist Federation/Solidarity Federation Anti-cuts forum Tues 27th Sept, Freedom bookshop
- Anarchist Federation (London) weekly meetings: thursdays, Freedom bookshop
A massive November walkout of up to 2 million public sector workers is now on the cards as the UK's largest unions announce their intention to ballot for strike action over pension reform.
Unison, Unite and the GMB, the UK's largest biggest unions, have announced their intention to ballot for coordinated strike action against cuts to public sector workers pensions.
Other unions which have not taken action over pensions so far also indicated their intention to ballot, including the NASUWT (a teachers' union), NAHT (headteachers), FBU (firefighters), Prospect (civil servants).
Unions which took strike action over the same issue on June 30 will almost certainly join this action as well, including PCS (civil servants), NUT (teachers), ATL (teachers) and UCU (university and college workers).
Importantly, the three big unions have members in the NHS and its contractors, and have stated their intention to ballot them for industrial action as well. Unison has stated it will ballot 1.1 million members at 9000 different employers.
Despite agreeing to enter scheme-specific talks with the government without having achieved any concessions on the main planks of the overall changes, the union leaderships are now talking tough, calling this "the fight of our lives".
The three big unions have stated they will support a big one-day strike, followed by selective "smart" stoppages rolling on until next summer.
The first increase in workers' pension contribution payments, where workers will see their pay cheques shrink, is due to come in in April 2012.
Behind the scenes, it is rumoured that Dave Prentis, Unison's general secretary, may be prepared to make a deal if local government workers are exempted from our proposed 50% increase in pension contributions. We cannot accept this - we need to all stick together. Because if we let other groups of workers have their contributions be increased, then a couple of years down the line they will be back for ours, and those workers will think "why should we support them, when they didn't support us?".
The unions have a patchy record of defending public sector workers' pensions. In 2006 when a big wave of pension cuts were proposed, following a one-day strike, further strike action called off, and eventually a deal agreeing to significant cuts in pensions was recommended to now-demobilised union members.
If we want to have a serious chance at fighting these cuts, then we have to make this action as effective as possible, broaden it out as much as possible and take the struggle into our own control as much as possible. If we let ourselves be passively led by the unions then we will be defeated again.
Originally posted here: http://libcom.org/blog/huge-strike-against-pension-cuts-way-14092011
Libcom.org has collected some great articles written by anarchists/libetarians about the riots in England over the past few days:
In addition, Ian Bone's blog provides links to various sources of commentary including radio show and interviews: http://ianbone.wordpress.com/2011/08/11/the-white-terror-is-upon-us/
Community orientated 'unity' activity is being organised though neighbourhood assemblies, co-organised and supported by anarchists such as 'Give Our Kids a Future! A North London Unity Demonstration': http://www.facebook.com/event.php?eid=260822497262285 called for Saturday 13th August.
An account and info about other 'unity' action elsewhere in London can be found via this source: http://thethirdestate.net/2011/08/south-london-united-or-divided/
which includes a report on the South London Solfed organised event in Deptford on Wednesday and refers to one announced in Lewisham on Saturday and also the one by North Londoners linked to above.
Over the last few years I have penned a number of biographies and obituaries of anarchist militants. One of the most poignant of these was a piece I had to write on the Spanish militant Luis Andres Edo whom I had known personally whilst living in Paris in the early 1970s. But nothing compares to the painful task of writing this remembrance of a comrade I have known for forty years.
I first met Bob Miller in 1973 or 1974. He participated in a libertarian communist group within the Socialist Party of Great Britain. This group contacted the London group of the Organisation of Revolutionary Anarchists of which I was a member and we began to have discussions. They had wanted to orient the Party more to the workers’ and social struggles that were in full swing at this time. Just after the 1972 SPGB conference they began publishing a magazine called Libertarian Communism and ORA comrades gave some support in terms of resources, I seem to remember. People outside the Party contributed to the magazine. They and other SPGB members were expelled or left in support not long after. I remember Bob coming round to the North London flat I shared with 2 other ORA members for discussions, always lively and sometimes heated , and in retrospect I have to admit Bob was more accurate on some of the finer points of analysis than we were!
The expelled group linked up with other SPGB dissidents who had been expelled at the same time and eventually a group emerged called Social Revolution. We organised joint day schools with them and with Solidarity at the Centro Iberico in North London, and there were high expectations of a merger between ORA and Social Revolution. However this was not to be and Social Revolution then completed a merger with the libertarian socialist organisation Solidarity. I lost track of Bob and his comrades after that. He and they passed through Solidarity and then were involved in the founding of the Wildcat group and then of the Subversion group which produced a journal of the same name.
In February 1988 I was handing out a leaflet produced by the Anarchist Communist Federation aimed at the large demonstration in Manchester called to combat Section 28 ( a significant attack by the Thatcher government on gay people). Bob was at the demo with the Subversion comrades and they liked our leaflet. Contact was established and we got around to organising a series of joint day schools around the country. With the demise of Subversion Bob joined the ACF in 1998 with a couple of other ex-members of Subversion and we began to work closely over the next decade.
Bob was an enthusiast of cheap pamphlets and he was instrumental in developing a whole range of Anarchist Federation pamphlets . In addition he was a dynamic activist within the Manchester AF group and was involved in many local activities. The testimony of many who were influenced by Bob over the years can be found on internet boards like Urban 75 and libcom and they stand as a fine tribute to both his influence and importance.
Bob had many fine qualities, chief of which were his generosity and hospitality and his desire to make libertarian communist ideas accessible; he was always welcoming to new comrades, he was almost always reasonable and always attempted to act in a non-sectarian way to other libertarians, and he rarely lost his temper during political encounters. He and I sometimes had disagreements, but they were like the quarrels of brothers, and I always had great respect and admiration for his political longevity and his continuing optimism about social change.
He is a great loss to the Anarchist Federation and to the movement in general. I miss him very much.
Bob passed away shortly before midnight the night of 17th June 2011.
http://libcom.org/history/miller-bob-1953-2011 contains a link to recollections of Bob's life and a nice photo.
The previous issue of Freedom also contained letters submitted and collected following Bob's death: http://www.freedompress.org.uk/news/2011/07/02/bob-miller-rip/
Watch this video of Bob speaking at a Mayday event (2008) in Manchester "No Borders, No Nations, Free Communism!": http://www.afed.org.uk/images/Anarchist_Federation_ Speech_by_Bob_Miller_at_Manchester_Mayday_2008.mp4
The photograph accompanying this article was taken at the The Communards' Wall (Mur des Fédérés) at the Père Lachaise cemetery in Paris and left there with a red rose (see shadow on poster) and a red & black flag. 2011 was the 140th anniversary of the Paris Commune.
- Barbed Wire Lies - The truth about the class war against Murdoch's empire - Wapping 1986-7
- Thousands take to the streets in Greece
- ANARCHIST FEDERATION STATEMENT ON THE JUNE 30TH STRIKES
- Statement in solidarity with the social movement in Greece : International of Anarchist Federations (IAF-IFA)
- UK Unmasked and the New Kids on the Bloc - preview article from Organise! 76 (Summer 2011)
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