(You Gotta) Fight For Your Right (To Decent Pensions)

On November the 30th members of Nottingham Anarchist Federation were on the picket lines supporting the biggest UK strike in a generation. Three members (a university lecturer, university researcher and health support worker) manned picket lines at their own workplaces whilst students in further and higher education supported the pickets of their striking lecturers and teachers. Later, up to 10,000 people marched from the forest, again easily one the biggest marches Nottingham has seen in recent times.

Speaking as one of the strikers on the day, management in my workplace was keen in the build up to intimidate as many people into work as possible and to mitigate the effects of the strike. Messages were sent out informing people that they needed to report their absence in advance to line managers (something they certainly do not) and that sick notes would be required on the day when normally self certification will do (an arbitrary change to local union agreements). The union response in the lead up could have been better with these management provocations going either unchallenged or having lengthy delays before a response, meaning people were badly advised. I was out because my final pension amount is being cut by 25%, my contributions are going up nearly 50% a year and am retiring 3 years later. But this would be to assume that the pensions issue is the only thing people are angry and wanting to take action over. People here are sick of privatisation, real term pay cuts, increased workloads due to recruitment freezes and increasing use of temps and bank staff to create a more precarious workforce. However pension changes are one of the few issues that unions can legally ballot the majority of their workplaces over so this is what the focus has been on.

On the day picket lines were visited by non striking UK Uncut and local anti cuts activists and soup was distributed. A small but enthusiastic picket gathered outside my workplace from 7:30pm. Some non union members refused to come in, which was heartening and others refused to cross the line and went home. In the end the workplace was noticeably quieter than usual with the car park being over half empty compared with its normal bustling overflow. This is a workplace with low union density and probably the first picket line in its history. One frustrating aspect was people congratulating us on our strike but then still going into work. For me it drums home the importance of explaining that a strike is a democratic decision by their fellow workers in dispute with their bosses. It is designed to shutdown a workplace in dispute and solidarity is needed to make this happen. In return they should expect solidarity in their disputes, for we’re all the labour market together. This needs to be done by us, the rank file as it’s a message the unions are either unwilling or unable to do for us. There are only two sides to a picket line after all.

The local newspaper, not known for exaggerating numbers of protesters, estimated 60,000 people were on strike in Nottinghamshire, an astonishing number if true. Come 11 o’clock people started to assemble on the forest in preparation for a march. I’m still wary of this as a tactic as I think there is more sense in some workers remaining on pickets if there is going to continue to be comings and goings, such as at a university library. Shutting down a workplace and disrupting its running is surely more important than going for a walk. Upon arriving I have never seen here such a wide array of union branded tat; flags, vuvuzelas, whistles, drums jackets, placards, even giant unison balloons were evident. The numbers, but mostly the noise from the instruments really made the march have a far livelier feel than most staid A to B marches here I’ve experienced. Future marchers would be wise to take note. Along the way we snaked by representatives of the local refugee forum, hard hit by cuts, and chanting members of the Occupy Nottingham camp. Both were greeted with cheers. Stationary cars, buses and shoppers also greeted us warmly. The only negative voice I heard was a young cliché shouting, “get a job.” At a march full of people with jobs. Oh dear.

Police estimated numbers at 6-7000 thousand with organisers putting it around 10,000.  It took 20 minutes for the march to pass the assembled throngs of xmas bargain hunters. The Anarchist federation handed out the below leaflet, which was warmly received, and carried the local banner.

http://www.afed.org.uk/pdfs/N30_2011_flyer_afed.pdf

The march finally came to a halt at the Playhouse where the lucky few with tickets (or on the unprecedented outdoor TV screen) could listen to the echo chamber of union officials’ rhetoric. Judging by the 45 minutes queue in Wetherspoons, the majority of strikers didn’t fancy that much.

Following the strike the chief executive has sent out congratulations to all the people who came into work for keeping our valuable services running and asked people to report instances of intimidation on pickets to management. This is blatantly an intimation tactic and an attempt to paint strikers as reckless and needs to be resisted.

The government’s latest dismal offer of a 1% contribution freeze to some is more or less an insult. Workmates I speak to are universally in favour of more strikes with even picket line crossers now willing to take action now they feel they have protection from the union. Someone who has no experience of ever being on strike even expressed the opinion, “why don’t we just go on strike till they give up?” a fine postscript that in my brighter moments I hope is an attitude that will spread and find a way of being put into action.

REMEMBER: if the union in your workplace has a non disclosure agreement with management (most of them do. and if not, ask them why not) your bosses have no clue who is striking and who is not. In the unlikely event that this is discovered, striking itself is technically a breach of contract and thus everyone who refuses to come to work that day must be disciplined and disciplined identically. A virtually unheard of scenario. ONE OUT, ALL OUT!

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