During the winter of discontent of 1978 and 1979, more than 2000 strikes took place. Collective union actions won wage settlements, but lost popular support for working-class politics. Similarly in 1990, the poll tax riots and demonstrations led to the demise of the unpopular tax and its replacement with the current council tax system.
These two people-driven events both led to political change, and also coincided with the arrival and then departure of Conservative Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. Thatcher’s tenure was also associated with numerous public protests and industrial disputes including the Clause 28 protests, the miners strike, student loan protests, the Greenham Common protest as well as many other battles to preserve the welfare state and workers’ rights that were perceived to be under threat from the neoliberal ideals which had been adopted by Thatcher’s government.
Even today people look back upon Thatcher’s legacy with a visceral loathing of what she stood for and what she did to this country. Nowhere more was this evidenced than in the demonstrations that took place upon her death in 2013.
Whatever your political beliefs, it is clear that these protests had an impact. And they all had something in common. They all involved in-person activism. Whether it was in the form of rallies, marches, strikes, picket lines or political speeches, they all required the workforce, the public and the unions to turn out in numbers to show their dissatisfaction.
Saturday’s rally saw hundreds gather to listen to the grievances of strikers and supporters of current disputes, followed by a march through the city, ending at Piccadilly Gardens. Warnings were given from speakers about the increasing privatisation and running down of the NHS, the ongoing degradation of the railways, and the attack on workers’ rights and their ability to even take strike action.
John Waddington, GMB rep for the private sector company Polyflor, urged those in the public sector not to give up with their wage demands following the Polyflor workers’ successful outcome with their wage dispute.
“Our industrial action has come to an end. We got virtually what we set out for. I listen to these derisory offers that are being offered to the private sector workers – 3, 4, and 5%. We settled for 9% and a big nice lump sum to go with it.
“It took all-out industrial action. If we can do it, the public service workers can do it. The one thing I would say is you need to dig in. These one-day actions? Don’t do it! Arrange a national day for a strike. Get all the unions together, that will put the wind up them.”
Karen Buckley, People’s Assembly Manchester convenor, called for more in-person involvement to preserve workers’ rights, conditions and freedoms from the neoliberal agenda of the current government.
“The government are only interested in profiteering. There is a lot they could do to help the economy so there would be enough money. Taxing the rich and redistributing the wealth through public spending and social ownership, increasing capital gains [tax] and outlawing tax avoidance are just a few things they could do if there was a political will.”
Buckley, however, stressed this government had no such will. She insisted that, even with the Tories increasing authoritarian neoliberal stance, the power still rested in the collective hands of the majority.
She highlighted the need for people to become actively involved in person with demonstrations, unions and picket lines.
“People are talking about coordinated strikes. The danger is that the workers compromise too much. We have a government that wants a deregulated economy and we are facing the potential of new laws which will undermine the ability to take strike action and bankrupt unions that break the new restrictive laws.
“This is not just for decent jobs but for decent public services. This is an ideological struggle as well as an economic struggle.”
Buckley had a message for those who agree with the sentiments but have yet to be actively involved.
“I would urge everybody to join a union and be active in their union and community. Social media has its uses but it’s limited. We don’t want people to just sit at home. If we don’t get organised and get out on the streets and be visible, the government will think we are just passive and don’t care and bring in more and more oppressive laws. We need action.”
The end of the day saw the crowd reconvene for a solidarity fundraiser at the Peer Hat where musicians and a meal supplied by the Gaskell Garden Project helped raise money for the ongoing strike support funds for the local RMT, CWU and RCN.
As we reported previously, the January strike dates timetable is already established, and further ballots for industrial action are taking place by junior doctors, school staff and firefighters later this month. For those that want to win the fight for decent pay, public services and workers’ rights, the call for individual and collective action has been made.
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All images: Gary Roberts