The U.K. Labour Strikes- Which Side Are You On?

Maggie Seed and co-workers @ Gloucester Royal Hospital @Maggie Seed 2011

By: Grainne Rhuad

There is power in a factory; power in the land
Power in the hands of a worker
But it all amounts to nothing if together we don’t stand
There is power in a Union

-Billy Bragg There is Power In A Union

The workers of the UK are staging a strike which is to my way of thinking much more effective than just camping out.  They are bringing the national service sector to a screeching halt and better yet over 30 or their labor unions are behind them.

Wednesday saw the almost complete shutdown leading to the closure of most state schools; cancellation of refuse collections; rail service and tunnel closures; the postponement of thousands of non-emergency hospital operations; and possible delays at airports and ferry terminals. But reporting as usual has been minimalizing the reasons for the strike.

To hear it told in periodicals like the Guardian and The Times, the workers are striking over cuts to public sector pensions. “The strikes have been called over government plans to overhaul pensions for all public sector workers, by cutting employer contributions, increasing personal contributions and, it emerged on Tuesday, increasing the state retirement age to 67 in 2026, eight years earlier than originally planned.”

That would be a big enough thing, people who worked their entire life left with not enough to live on.  But this strike is about something bigger.  It’s a fight over public and private services.  At issue also is a report commissioned by Parliament by Will Hutton in which he outlines a merit based pay and retirement plan.

The backlash is big enough to worry Michael Gove and David Cameron who days before the scheduled strike reached for the spirit of the 1980s, the education secretary damning strike leaders as “hardliners itching for a fight”, and the prime minister condemning the walkouts as the “height of irresponsibility”, while also insisting on the day they had been a “damp squib”. The elitist of the journalistic community also chimed in (NHS is) “A monster that we can barely afford” is what Jeremy Clarkson of the Times UK had to say.

It isn’t shaping up to be that way.  In fact the issue has brought out a goodly number of strike rookies, most of them in their middle and elder years.  Some of them nervous and feeling bad about even being on strike but there just the same because it is so important to them.  Galvanizing is the support of the older already retired strikers coming out to support them in their demands.  They know how hard the jobs are for those in the public sector.  There is a decrease ability to perform some of these tasks after 67.  Slinging garbage and lifting patients is hard work.  Also more people in the jobs leaves no jobs for the young ones coming up.

No this is not just about pensions to quote Craig Murray:” In the mind of the ordinary people, this is action against the sickening levels of inequality in society.  This is also about resisting a drive to make public service workers pay for a crisis they have no responsibility for – while the bloated incomes of those in the financial and corporate sector who actually caused the havoc scandalously continue to swell.

What is different about the strikes in the U.K. and the Occupy movement in the States and other countries is the British people are not just sitting in.  They have decided to take awareness to a whole new level by showing Parliament and voters just what life could be like without them.  With emergency services like Ambulance and hospital care scaled way back to absolute life saving and many schools closing down completely.  As of writing some primary schools are still in session half day which has caused mixed reaction from parents.  Some in support and others feeling a bit angry at having to arrange childcare.  Interesting as schooling was never intended to be childcare in any case.

It will be interesting to see how this progresses as the people in need of childcare may be better off taking their own day off and joining the strikers in support.  It may in fact lead to an earlier resolution. It may be that enough of the U.K’s workers are fed up.  .”  In a study posted by the BBC prior to the strikes 67% of respondents were in support of the strikers.  In one video of the strikes, strikers sing made up jigs against the Tory party:

“We hate Tories, and we hate Tories, we are the Tory…Haters!”

But don’t hold your breath also on the scene were the obligatory disgusted bankers saying they “Can’t afford to support the county.”  Somehow forgetting that everyone, public workers and all pay taxes and not small ones either.  British taxes are notoriously higher than what we in the states complain about, it is for this reason we see so many rock stars and actors setting up citizenship in the U.S.

Talking to Media @Gloucester Royal Hospital @Maggie Seed 2011

In other areas of the U.K., outside of London the strike does seem to be garnering some serious thought and response. At Holyrood, Scottish government ministers and MSPs in the ruling SNP, the Liberal Democrats and Tories are expected to cross picket lines to stage a debate on public pensions; Labour and Scottish Green party MSPs will join the protesters.

What is most important here though is the well thought out and well planned difference between a protest and a strike.  Getting the unions behind a strike is brilliant and Americans would do well to think about this as most U.S. unions offer strike pay.  In addition the planned action that sweeps a nation and shuts it down causing not just a disturbance in a park but one in daily lives is something that has to be dealt with and not just with riot police. You can pepper spray a striking nurse but they still won’t be able to work.  It doesn’t solve the problem.

Many bloggers organizers and union reps in the U.S. are looking at this closely a quick search of “Why is  the U.K. labour strike important to the Occupy movement?” yields over 64,800,000 results a good deal of them discussing taking our disbanded Occupiers and moving them to the next level.

Strikes beyond local teacher salaries and trucker/teamster’s unions really haven’t occurred in the U.S. in several decades and none at a national sweeping level.  Once again, as with the riots in Tottenham, the U.K. may be leading this game of dissatisfaction in the western world.

21 Comments on “The U.K. Labour Strikes- Which Side Are You On?”

  1. I’m glad you are writing about this. It points out an issue I’ve had difficulty with around this occupy movement in the US. It just isn’t organized and focused effectively. A great example is the University students in my town are protesting increases in tuition by occupying the University’s Administration building. The increases in tuition are coming from our State’s Govenor and the State Legislature. Not our local University officials. The protesters need to be picketing Sacramento. And I bet you all of those protesters are paying thier tuition and will conitinue the eduction as they have been. How about not paying tuition? If people are sick and tired of corporations taking what they want and making us pay for it then stop giving them money. That means turn off your cell phone and quit buying your iPads. Hit them where it will make the most difference. In the companies bottom line.

  2. I remember similar strikes being staged in Greece earlier this year – it was the truckers’ union as I recall. When a deal couldn’t be reached between the truckers’ union and the companies they worked for, the state threatened to confiscate the trucks and keep the wheels of commerce moving themselves: that ended the strike.

    No matter how you look at it, this is not a fair fight – if the ruling classes can call in the stormtroops whenever they want to force the common man back into the workplace, such actions as strikes lose all meaning…

  3. Boycotting tuition payments? A somewhat bold move that would probably result in legal junctions and the closing down of various Universities. Once you’ve signed that contract, you accept a financial responsibility for your education. Better to simply drop out of formal University studies if you can’t obtain grants or scholarships. Those who really desire an education but do not wish to pay the high entrance fees, can find one online, through libraries, tutors and community colleges. This sounds harsh, but is a degree really worth putting the rest of your life into debt? Boycotting the University system that has obligated us to have a degree even if all we end up doing is cultivating vegetables is the best way to bring back an employer based relationship that hires for ability and potential, not just who spent the most time in college.

    Boycotting is an avenue we should seriously explore if we want to affect change. The organized boycotting of major banks and mastercharge witnessed a phenomenal transference of funds in just one day. It is suggested that all those who are behind the Occupy movement, transfer their funds, if they haven’t already, from major incorporated institutions to small banks and credit unions. Boycott all major credit card companies.

    Unfortunately, most US Unions have a back door open with government officials and do many of the same back flipping contortions as a legislator who promised everything and delivered the shaft. Many of these Unions have a committee board that will pull every argument in the book to keep the workers from striking. Many of these Unions collect dues from their Union members who joined because that was the only way they could get their jobs. They are not interested in the meetings and only attend when they are mandatory. They do not see the Unions as being of any direct benefit for them. The Union, for them, is not a choice, but an obligation. How do you get these Unions to go on strike? You must occupy from within and convince the workers that regardless of what the committee decides, striking is the only way to gain fair representation.

    In order to win against the giant corporations and controlled media, we may be asked to do many things in the future as a unified voice; more protests and demonstrations, strikes and boycotts, deliberate dwindling down of our energy use, greater community involvement, but unified resistance is what will make it happen, not just the selective sponsorship of your particular pet peeve. Whatever is done, there is sure to be a counter-action; the creation of a new law or policy, black listing, violent recourse, biased media coverage. This has been the norm and will continue to be the pattern. We must be prepared for this. We must accept this. We must grow a spine or get squashed under the wheel.

  4. @ Karlsie,

    I can relate to this right here…

    “This sounds harsh, but is a degree really worth putting the rest of your life into debt?”

    I got my degree, jumped through all the hoops and made what my councilors told me were all the right moves for my educational and professional future – only to find myself in the middle of a job market where no one was hiring and I had to work in a fucking warehouse to make ends meet! I followed the rules and got fucked for it!

    Looking back, I could have educated myself just as well (if not to an even better degree in certain cases) if I just made daily trips to the public library – I wouldn’t have gotten a degree (not that my degree is anything more than an expensive piece of paper, mind you…), but I certainly wouldn’t have been in a postion of owing the educational institution over $25,000 either.

    I’d say that only thing I really learned from this experience that I couldn’t have taught myself is this – that “law” is a prison and freedom comes from breaking out of it (not cooperating with it).

  5. great picture of Maggie .. she is a special woman for sure .. the 99 % has the power but not the commitment .. or the focus .. or the desire to see change happen … those in political power are no different that the robber barons of the early 20th century who killed and manipulated the system to prevent workers from organizing and being able to collectively bargain for a fair distribution of the profits and benefits, in Wisconsin state workers are the reason for the recession and for the failure of health care and a retirement system that was mishandled and underfunded to build pet projects for whatever party was power for over a century …. look at the railroads and the total lack of reinvestment beyond building mansions in Newport RI … in order for change to happen .. you have to know who the liars and bad guys are, and you have to attack them where it will hurt the bottom line .. the distraction of OVER PAID government workers has made any real change a mute point .. we can’t seem to agree with any approach and that is because when the opposition is fragmented and made to think that illegal aliens are the cause of all our problems .. the power brokers and politicians, and those who lobby for the bankers and corporations will win every time …. civil disobedience is not the only answer .. using what money we all have can work by stopping all shopping at Walmart and withdrawing all accounts from the Bank of America (a name that should be illegal) this might make the perverted and twisted manipulators who see everything as a game .. stop and think that maybe the game needs some new and fair and transparent rules …. a topic that is not talked about enough … thanks !!

  6. @AZ- I can completely relate you your student loan experince. In fact some of the people I know are taking flac for not finishing school and working. The thing is the jobs they have are better than a lot of people have who did finish school. I don’t know why they aren’t supported in this choice more. With so many people out of work who have degrees, having a good paying job without slavery seems like a good choice to me.

    @Rich, I read an op-ed article recently in which someone mulled over changing banks. Their local bank had been bought out by a big box bank from overseas. They were grappling with the fact that the same people that worked there were the ones who had always been there, they needed jobs too. Also the bank had been picked for “green” types of reasons, close-by walking distance low overhead, none of that had changed. The thing that changed is now the profit went to Britain.

    I can understand that conundrum too. I have never in my life been a client of B of A. Since coming into adulthood they have had a bad rep. But I have been at other big banks. Right now I’m mulling over the idea of going to a local credit union but I too would have to go farther from home and waste more, when now I can get there in 3 min by bike and 15 walking leisurely. It’s kinda a trade off isn’t it? To keep as much money from oil as I can or to give money to increasingly ridiculous banks. Some communities have no choice unless the eschew banks entirely, which has some merrit to it.

    I think where we are at is good. We need to be thinking harder about who and what we support. But the time to indecisive is past.

  7. @ Grainne,

    Well, let’s just say that my solution to the financial conundrum didn’t come from a “job” per se – I’m not saying anything else about it because it wasn’t exactly “legal.” But I will say this: when following the rules gets you fucked, breaking them is a logical way out out.

    And regarding your finance management statement (banks v. credit unions) – I don’t put much faith in these things. I prefer to keep my own assets either in cash or in physical form (real gold and silver [not that paper shit], non-perishable foods, ammunition, etc…): keeping only a fraction of my money in an institution prevents them from ever becoming frozen should the police state decide to put economic pressure on me or should civilization as we know it colapse (cash is no good when the government backing it goes under, you know…).

  8. Thanks for writing this Grainne. This is a very significant issue and may be a predecessor of what to expect in the US very soon. It’s not just an issue of protesting. Eventually it’s going to devolve into an issue of labor wars.

  9. @TLMW- Thanks. I believe that will come into play too, however like in times of olde, it will most likely be co-opted. Just as the teamsters and by association the Mafia took over; My prediction is the damn Wallstreet folks will insinuate themselves into the situation. It’s probably our job to do the Paul Revere thing on this one.

    @AZ-say no more on the loan payoff’s- I gotcha.
    I also agree money should be put into hard goods. As you point out,when this whole thing goes to shit, our money will be just like Confederacy money. For those daunted by buying gold, I would remind them there are other hard goods that are useful both for you and for trade. Food stuffs, munitions, medication, water-water is going to be big I think, but learn how to store it. Also skills. If you know how to do stitches or can spin, weave and sew, work a field, survivalist skills, you are going to be valuable.

  10. @ Grainne,

    Actually, buying physical gold and silver isn’t that hard at all – if there’s a pawn shop in your area, you can convert a portion of your assets to precious metals (just be sure to buy based on gold/silver content of the item in question). Of course, I don’t recommend puting more than 15-20% of your total assets into this: focus more on things that have actual utility and use the physical gold and silver as a sort of “back-up” cash reserve in the event that your bank account is frozen for some reason (i.e. an action of the police state to pressure you into cooperation) or you find yourself without a steady income (losing a job, for example).

  11. I am sh – I think that when peak oil hits civilization as we know it will grind to a screeching halt. Me and mine are prepared to survive such an event, are you?

  12. Look it up – the Wikipedia page does a decent job of covering the bases (see here ). However, I see more far-reaching implications of such an event than what Wikipedia would suggest: the disintigration of the military-industrial complex (as it is *highly* oil-dependent), massive food shortages (due to lack of fertilizer for agriculture) and, ultimately, a large population die-off resulting from lack of food and medicines that the Industrial Age made possible – in short the utter collapse as society as we know it today.

  13. Let’s see if I understand what you’re getting at.

    As our industries grow so does our oil consumption/production.

    Petroleum is finite. Hence at some point the rate of production will start to decline.

    At this point our industries will either have to adapt or die. You believe they will die, right?

    The analogy that comes to my mind is heroin. The addict doesn’t see how he could survive a day without it, but if it is taken away he will be forced to adapt.

    Sure the withdrawals are a bitch, but they will pass.


  14. @ sh – I am thinking the changes are inevidible. But apocolyptic? I think no. Was there an apocolypse ( a christian idea) when Rome fell due to overreaching and abuses? No. Major changes occured making the regions that Rome had co-opted uncomfortable but mankind did not fizz out.

    What I think will come is a large change, which very well may be to the good as change is important to growth and adaptation, it’s a universal law.

  15. @ sh,

    Yes, people will eventually adapt (I intend to be one of them) – but civilization as it exists now is totally fucked. Besides, I look at the oncoming disaster as a sort of “reset button” that people like me can use: the modern world has become grossly overcomplicated and the end of the Industrial Age opens up the possibility for simplification – a chance to get rid of centralized power structures and return to locally ownedand managed means of production.

    @ Grainne,

    I think that too many people think in apocalyptic terms – a coming battle that will finally roll up the pages of history once and for all (I dismiss this notion as ridiculous). If anything, my vision of the future has more in common with the Norse myth of Ragnarok than the tired, old rag attributed to John: what I see is the potential for the destruction of the present order so that a new one – one without states, corporate executives and religious ideologies from the Dark Ages – might come about.

    Where the Christian sees the end of time I see a new break in the calander where the count just starts over again…

  16. @Az:

    I was referring to our industries, not people.

    I think it’s reasonable to assume that the wealthy and powerful elite of our day could come up with a new source of energy to replace oil practically overnight. That is, if they want to hold on to their power and wealth.

    Also consider that they have ~7 billion mindless slaves at their disposal who will also do anything to continue their own way of life. (ie. being good slaves)

    I don’t think there is much debate about whether we are close to the breaking point. — we’re pretty much there already. — but rather it is a question of what exactly our fate will be?

    I’m sure you know that on earth there is a cycle which involves Oxygen, Hydrogen and Carbon. We call this cycle life.

    I believe that up until the beginning of the industrial age the total amounts and ratios of C, H and O utilized by the cycle were relatively constant for a very long time.

    I don’t know exactly how much C, H and O we’ve added to the cycle by burning petroleum and natural gas — which are basically like reserves that weren’t included in the cycle — but a critical mass may be reached soon, at which point the cycle will be disrupted on a very grand scale I believe.

    And another thing. I feel like by extracting oil and gas at such an absurdly rapid pace we are in effect creating “weak spots” in the earth’s crust. This could possibly lead to massive earthquakes and volcanism.

    But this ain’t all..

    I feel like we are very close to the Singularity. Technology is evolving daily at an exponential rate and it isn’t farfetched at all to assume that soon machines will be designing and building other machines.

    There’s possibly half a dozen more probable scenarios that could lead to global disaster in our life-time. Most notably another Great War, this time with absurd weapons of mass destruction available to all sides.

    Makes WWII look like a joke.. with their medieval weapons and stupid slow cars.

    I don’t really know what I’m trying to get at except to say that if all this shit were to go down at the same time, we’d literally be facing the Apocalypse. No?

    Let’s hope it’s just an industrial breakdown that leads us back to the stone age lifestyle..

    @Grainne: Very sorry for hijacking your thread, sir.


  17. @sh- no need for apology. The discussion is excellent. I too think singularity is definitely on the table here which really would complicate things.

    Even still I think it would not be Apocolyptic, except in the popular modern use of the term- maybe but rather evolution. Please do continue to pop in. Also any submissions you may have I would be glad to look at. We recieve them at our proboard, link button is in black to your right.

  18. Sorry for any confusion with my usage of the term Apocalypse.

    To me it means the arrival of a time of chaos as opposed to the age of order which we are currently living in. No religious connotations implied.

    And thank you for the encouragement. 🙂


  19. @ sh,

    I know where you’re coming from and a number of my old college mates had similar views regarding a technological singularity – I don’t share such an outlook, however. I suppose that it might be possible to come up with an alternative fuel source, but in order for it to be utilized on a large-scale enormous changes to the energy infrastructure of civilization will have to take place (which is presently geared towards fossil fuels): not to mention that suitable replacements will have to be found for the petrochemicals agriculture is so heavily dependent on (fertilizers, pesticides, etc…) to keep levels of food production up – otherwise the result will be mass starvation.

    I’m the kind of man who wishes that he could believe that technology could provide all the solutions to the problems we face today, but I know better than to naively follow such whims…

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