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Year 2010 No. 48, September 30, 2010 ARCHIVE HOME JBBOOKS SUBSCRIBE

Tens of Thousands March over Austerity Measures

Workers' Daily Internet Edition: Article Index :

Tens of Thousands March over Austerity Measures

Actions of the Northern PSA

Rally against the cuts, Newport, Isle of Wight:
A Brilliant Start!

Leeds Against the Cuts Campaign

Southampton Library Workers Strike

March Commemorates Centenary of Tonypandy Riots

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Tens of Thousands March over Austerity Measures

Wave of strikes sweeps Europe as workers take action against budget cuts

A series of co-ordinated protests hits 13 capital cities yesterday from Madrid to Brussels. Tens of thousands of people marched through Brussels on a day of protests across Europe against government austerity measures.

Rallies were held in capitals from Lisbon to Helsinki, while Spanish unions held a general strike to oppose measures such as spending cuts and attacks on pensions. EU unemployment is running at 9.6 percent of the workforce, and at around twice that rate in Spain, Latvia and Estonia.

Spanish unions said that 10 million people, or around 70 percent of the workforce, participated in the mass strike action. Many small businesses shut their doors in solidarity, flights were grounded, television stations cancelled programmes and strikers scuffled with police. Even the film director Pedro Almodovar suspended production on his latest project. During the morning rush hour, the streets of the Spanish capital were as empty as on a national holiday. The Spanish Prime Minister, a card-carrying union member, had previously portrayed himself as a champion of workers' rights.

Yesterday's general strike, the first since 2002 and the seventh in the history of post-Franco Spain, was widely considered a test of the Prime Minister's resolve to push ahead with the planned reforms. The strike was mostly peaceful, but some bands of picketers threw eggs at buses, burned containers and blocked trucks from delivering produce to wholesale markets. At least 11 strikers were reported injured in scuffles with police and more than 65 people were arrested. In central Barcelona, as part of the strike, a massive building has been occupied since last Sunday to provide a space for co-ordination and mobilisation. The occupation of this building was seen as the starting point for a co-ordinated series of mobilisations to resist the salvage cuts the Spanish government and capital are imposing on society in general.

Some 100,000 workers in Brussels, heading for the EU's headquarters, brought Brussels to a standstill, waving trade union flags and carrying banners saying "No to austerity" and "Priority to jobs and growth". The 50 unions represented included German coal miners, Romanian gas workers and Polish shipbuilders. Workers made the point that they are taking a stand against being punished as victims of an economic crisis that is not of their making, and are protesting against savage spending cuts.

The protest was led by a group dressed in black suits with black face masks, carrying umbrellas and briefcases, acting as the head of a funeral cortege mourning the death of Europe.

The protest came as the European Commission said it would introduce measures to force EU governments to rein in their finances and reduce deficits, or face financial penalties.

Protests have taken place in many countries in the last few months. Protests on yesterday took place in Brussels, Dublin, Lisbon, Rome, Paris, Riga, Warsaw, Nicosia, Bucharest, Prague, Vilnius, Belgrade and Athens.

Greece's main unions, representing about 2.5 million workers, did not strike on Wednesday but marched to parliament in the evening to protest against measures prescribed by the EU and the IMF in return for bailing the country out. Hospital doctors stopped work for 24 hours and public transport was disrupted.

In Slovenia, about half of public sector workers remained on strike for the third day against a planned wage freeze, causing jams at border crossings with non-EU Croatia.

In Ireland, one protester blocked the entrance to the Dail, the Irish parliament, with a cement truck bearing the slogan “Anglo-Toxic Bank” in a protest against the country's enormous bank bailouts. Written across the back of the lorry was: "All politicians should be sacked." Its number plate read “bankrupt”.

"The main feeling of the people is that for the banking system there are millions and billions of euros, but the social payments are being cut. That's not right," said Ralf Kutkowski, a German coal miner protesting in the Belgian capital. "We don't want to take it on our backs," said Philipp Jacks, a German trade unionist marching in Brussels.

Graham Smith, a public sector youth worker from Edinburgh, said: "The message is we need our public services because the people who need them most are the people being hit most by the crisis."

"We understand there is a crisis, but it is being used as a very good excuse for all kinds of pressure on the people who are employees, workers and not in big business," said Alexander Nikolov, who drove from Bulgaria to protest in Brussels.

Dennis Radtue, a coal mining union representative from Germany, said the gap between rich and poor was growing. "Rich people have a lot of opportunity to save their money and pay no taxes, while a normal worker has to pay taxes whether he wants to or not," he said.

"If the government doesn't want to commit suicide, it must rectify its policy," said Ignacio Fernandez Toxo, secretary general of the national Spanish trade union CCOO.

In Poland, trade unionists threw petards and blew whistles as they marched through Warsaw demanding an end to “abuse by economic elites”.

In Britain, actions were taken against the threat to public services.

In Scotland, Unison is launching a “Tell a Pal” campaign, urging members to discuss the alternative strategy to cuts in public services, with members gathering in Edinburgh city centre to urge “fat cat” bankers to tighten their belts, rather than the public.

"The bankers caused this problem and now they're at it again with their big bonuses, while the public are left to pay the price by losing the services they rely on," says Scottish organiser Dave Watson.

"It's our communities who will suffer the most from these cuts, yet it's the public who are being told they should tighten their belts – not the bankers. We want to spread the word that there's a real alternative to the cuts and we don’t have to lose the services that we all rely on.

"It's time the fat cat bankers were made to tighten their belts, not the public."

In the north of Ireland, members across the community took part in rallies in both Belfast and Derry, having kicked off the day of action by lobbying politicians at Stormont.

In Wales, public-service unions met in Cardiff to develop a joint strategy to tackle the looming public funding cuts, at a conference organised by Unison and the PCS.

Unison Wales/Cymru secretary Paul O'Shea said: "The ConDem government in Westminster is scaremongering the public into believing that there are no alternatives, but to savagely cut public finances in order to get UK economy back on track. This approach is going to do more damage than good – it is nonsense to argue that cutting public spending is the only way to grow the economy. The ConDem coalition knows that this plan is illogical, but keep touting these arguments to enable them to attack the welfare state. The millionaires in Cameron's cabinet are not going to suffer if our public services shrink, nor are the bankers who are earning fat bonuses. But the most vulnerable in our society, who rely upon public services as a lifeline, will be at the brunt of these savage cuts unless we do all we can to stop them."

Workers around London organised lunch-time events to take the message that “there is an alternative” out onto the streets to the public and service users.

As Denis Jeffery of North Yorkshire Unison branch explained as he organised a release of balloons in Northallterton: "As we can't all go to Brussels, the balloons represent those of us who would have liked to have attended. In light of the global way that finance, commerce and services were being run, it is essential that trade unionists collaborate across national boundaries to highlight the consequences of slash and burn economies being perpetrated by some European governments."

And the international flavour of that collaboration was summed up in a message from South Africa's education and health union Nehawu's national congress pledging "our solidarity with the European workers".

Over the next month, the work on mobilising around an alternative to cuts and austerity will continue to build to the TUC lobby of Parliament on 19 October, the eve of Chancellor George Osborne's comprehensive spending review announcement.

(Reuters, Unison, Indymedia, news agencies)

Article Index

Actions of the Northern PSA

Report from South Tyneside Correspondent

On September 25, the Northern Public Service Alliance launched a South Tyneside campaign in King Street in South Shields. As an opposition that embodies many union activists in the area, the NPSA reflects the desire for the workers to build the opposition and advance the alternative, calling on working people to get involved in defending and safeguarding the future of their public services. It is very positive to be participating in actions which demonstrate that the working class movement is again asserting itself in the fight for its values and agenda.

Hundreds of people signed the petitions of the NPSA to oppose the closure of three residential care homes in the borough and also the petition opposing the NHS White Paper and billions of pounds of cuts and the privatisation agenda that entails. The NPSA activists called on people to support the European TUC day of action on Wednesday, September 29.

As part of this European Day of Protest, hundreds of people took part in the Northern Public Services Alliance rally in Newcastle city centre at lunchtime. Community voluntary groups, students, and the public joined trade union members from both public and private sector workplaces to show their determination to campaign against the savage austerity measures being pursued by the ConDem Coalition. This was part of a number of activities across the North East and Cumbria with local events in Durham, Carlisle, Sunderland, and a rally in Middlesbrough.

There is a great responsibility on the workers to build their opposition and not give up their initiative to any other force while seeking to unite everyone under their leadership. The workers must become that fighting independent force and give rise to their own worker politicians.

The issue is not to set up special campaigns and tactics as the aim of the movement. Rather it is to build the workers’ opposition and take advantage of the fact that there is a new initiative afoot in the working class movement to fight back against the impending cuts. This initiative is characterised by the workers uniting around their alternative programme and taking a lead in society on the issues of the day.

The actions of the Northern PSA have marked a positive start of its work.

Article Index

Rally against the cuts, Newport, Isle of Wight:

A Brilliant Start!

Report by Ryde Trades Council, September 29, 2010

Over a hundred demonstrators attended the rally organised by the Trades Councils in Newport, Isle of Wight today. In front of the banners of Unison and the Trades Councils, trades unionists from many unions including public sector workers, fire-fighters, prison officers, teachers, job centre workers and others took part. There were retired people, unemployed and teaching assistants who had lost their jobs in the crowd. Workers from the council and other establishments gave up time from their lunch breaks to attend the important and significant rally. A contingent of ex-Vestas workers also took part in the rally.

The people walking past stopped and listened and took leaflets about the cuts and the growing opposition and in particular responded very well to the speeches about how the National Health Service is in danger of being diminished and the NHS becoming just a brand name for privatised sections of it. This made people very angry as it strikes home to the very core of working class values. There were union secretaries and even the national officer from the prison officers union took part in the rally.

Community organisers such as from the Westminster House campaign gave speeches and took part. Much was said from the microphone and participants shouted slogans about fighting back against the cuts and that there is a genuine alternative. From the platform much was said about it not being a people’s crisis and that they should not be made to pay for it. There was much criticism of the bankers who precipitated the latest economic crisis. It was pointed out that the rich should bear the brunt of the crisis and not the workers and the poor. The burden of taxation should be firmly placed upon the rich and this is the message to go out to the Con/Dems and their local lapdogs on the council.

Examples of how the economy could be put right without cuts were given and elaborated and it was not accepted that there should be some sharing of the burden between the rich and the poor. There is a different view of “reality” and “being realistic”, and it is not the case that those who advocate that you have to accept some cuts are the only ones who can be credible. If people stand up and say “no to cuts” then this will become the reality and the powers that be will have to make new plans and arrangements.

It was pointed out by Mark Chiverton of Unison that this was a great start but only the beginning to the opposition to the cuts on the Isle of Wight and further activity would become commonplace. All in all an inspirational and successful rally.

The rally followed on from a meeting of Newport Trades Council on August 25. Delegates from Unite, Unison, GMB and other unions had taken part as well as a contingent from the Ryde and East Wight Trades Council. Also present was a Unison representative from the NHS. The meeting had a wide and varied agenda but the crucial issue of the cuts was tabled and discussed in depth. The meeting discussed that it is important at this stage that the progressive forces develop their preparations to raise people’s consciousness about the cuts and create conditions for further organisation as they unfold and people’s actions are stepped up. It is also important that the unions and shop stewards and representatives step up to the mark so that the full weight of workers’ organisations can be put behind the people’s resistance and growing consciousness.

Article Index

Leeds Against the Cuts Campaign

Trade unionists from across Leeds came together on September 2 to form a campaign against the impending public sector spending cuts and their implications for the citizens of Leeds.

The Leeds Against the Cuts campaign committee was formed with representatives of workers from Leeds City Council, Royal Mail, local schools, the Court Service, UK Border Agency, Department of Work and Pensions, factory workers and many more. It was facilitated by Leeds Trades Union Council with the aim to begin a broad community campaign against the public sector cuts, which will certainly see a raft of jobs lost at all levels of government and in privatisation of key public services.

As these cuts will affect everyone in some way, either as public servants or family members of public servants, as users of public services or benefits, or as workers in the private sector, it was agreed that the campaign should be as broad as possible and that it should involve community groups and service user organisations from across the city.

The initial steps in the campaign were to organise a demonstration in Leeds against the cuts and a public meeting to launch the campaign.

Leeds TUC Secretary Joel Heyes, on behalf of the campaign, said: “This is a very important first step in what promises to be a long campaign against the impact of the Con-Dem cuts agenda, which has no electoral mandate or economic justification.

“What is being proposed is essentially economic vandalism, and an attack upon both the public sector trade unions, the labour movement and the vast majority of the people of Britain who rely upon public services.

“The people of Leeds will be facing rising unemployment, cuts in education, health and benefits, closure of local facilities and a devastation of local services, and this campaign is the community starting to organise itself against them.”

Any voluntary or community organisations wishing to be involved, please contact Leeds TUC Secretary Joel Heyes on 0782 4474908 or via email at joelheyes@worker.com .

(North of England correspondent)

Article Index

Southampton Library Workers Strike

Southampton library workers went on strike again on September 15 over plans to close two facilities and replace workers with volunteers. They walked out at noon to lobby the full council meeting at the Civic Centre and present them with a petition of 4,000 signatures, opposing the closure of the two libraries. It is the fourth time since June that staff have walked out in this bitter dispute.

For many it was the first time they had been to a council meeting. People were shocked at the low standard of the debate, with council members being ill-informed about the dispute. Library boss Councillor John Hannides, whose plan it is to use volunteers, ranted at some length in support of his plan, but he looked and sounded really quite rattled. Workers have been leafleting his ward and encouraging residents to write to him and this is sure to have an effect.

After the meeting, the council finally responded to ACAS, who had offered to mediate about a month ago.

Unison branch secretary Mike Tucker said it was crucial libraries remained open and that trained professionals staffed them. “Local communities in Southampton need libraries. While spending millions on a Titanic museum, the city council is closing libraries in some of the most deprived areas of the city. Conservative councillors should rethink their priorities.”

Unison members, who make up nine out of ten library staff, are boycotting any work connected with the introduction of new volunteers. None has started work yet.

Support for industrial action is holding up well.

(South of England correspondent)

Article Index

March Commemorates Centenary of Tonypandy Riots

More than 400 Rhondda schoolchildren marched on September 22 to commemorate the centenary of one of the most significant events in Wales' working class history. Pupils marched down Dunraven Street in Tonypandy, focus of the attacks on the Welsh miners 100 years ago.

The “Tonypandy Riots” of 1910 involved striking miners, who were fighting for a living wage against the deliberate attempts by the coal owners to drive down wages. More than 500 people were injured and one miner was killed after being hit on the head by a police truncheon.

The children’s march was filmed for a BBC One Wales documentary to be shown in November. Film-maker John Geraint, from Rhondda, is making an hour-long documentary about the riots. The documentary examines the role of Winston Churchill, then Home Secretary, in the dispute and looks at the impact of the riots on relations between police, state and workers since.

John Geraint said that events such as this were important for local history. "My grandfather would have been involved in the Tonypandy Riots. The present generation don't have any direct experience of mining, not even from their parents' generation. I think it is important that people in the area are aware of their history. If we don't understand our history we cannot understand who we are and where we come from."

The children taking part in the march come from Tonypandy Community College and have worked on a year-long series of events to mark a hundred years since the Cambrian Colliery Combine strike.

On August 1, 1910, 800 miners were locked out of Ely Pit in the town of Penygraig as the Cambrian Combine of mining companies united to drive down wages to starvation levels. Managers at the pit protected the colliery and powerhouse with around 100 police as power was maintained by 60 strike-breaking "blackleg" stokers and colliery officials. The lockout prompted miners at other Cambrian collieries to strike in solidarity with their fellow workers. Within the month, a total of 12,000 miners went on strike. The strikers successfully acted to shut down all the local pits except one. As thousands of miners took action to close the colliery at Llwynypia, the police attacked them with repeated baton charges. Home Secretary Winston Churchill authorised troops and Metropolitan police, including about 70 mounted police, to be deployed alongside the Welsh police against the striking workers, for which he received the undying hatred of the Welsh miners and their communities. Tonypandy and the surrounding area was turned into a virtual military camp, and picketing miners were confronted by soldiers with bayonets.

A local newspaper of the time commented on the actions of the women involved: “Women joined with the men in the unequal combat, and displayed a total disregard of personal danger which was as admirable as it was foolhardy. But these Amazons of the coalfield resorted to other and more effective methods. From the bedroom windows came showers of boiling water, which fell unerringly on the heads of police, while in one case a piece of bedroom ware found its billet on the skull of a Metropolitan policeman."

The miners were eventually forced to end their heroic strike a year after it began when they returned to work after accepting a small pay increase. But history records that they never gave up their struggle for their rights and their dignity.

A video of the Tonypandy children’s demonstration can be found at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-wales-north-west-wales-11396077

(sources: BBC, libcom.org)

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