February 1 was an inspiring and historic day, with half a million trade union members striking and marching together in protests in towns and cities across the UK.
Now we need to step things up. We know we will need more joint action if we are to win. And we need that action to broaden and intensify. In particular, Budget Day on 15 March has the potential to be an even more massive day of coordinated action. Unions should make a clear call for this now to help build the momentum and maximise what’s possible.
Here we carry an outline of the programme that will be needed to win above inflation pay rises, and that even if the burgeoning workers movement results in the removal of the Tory government, workers will need to continue the struggle under a Starmer-led government.
Below we carry reports of some of the rallies and protests that Socialist Alternative were at.
Absolutely huge demo in Central London, mainly members of the National Education Union but other unions too, with UCU and PCS members present as well. It was a very youthful and noisy march with a fantastic atmosphere.
We were swamped with people wanting to find out more on how to take the strike wave forward beyond this coordinated day of action and many people were interested in socialist ideas and went away clutching a copy of our paper!
Really big trade union presence in Manchester, there were upwards of 10,000 people out to protest against the anti-trade union laws, as well as support the coordinated day of action of strikes. There were lots of fresh layers on the protest, including a large number of students and some parents who weren’t on strike, who had taken the day off due to child care then brought their children down to the pickets to support their teachers.
A lot of people were saying that they were out of their first ever protest/strike. NEU and PCS were a significant majority of workers out on the protest, and a majority of them were younger workers.
A youthful and energetic rally was attended by hundreds of people in Coventry, many of whom were striking workers – some taking industrial action for the first time – but also many people were present to support the strikers. Speakers from a number of unions addressed the rally, including an Amazon worker who had just taken part in the historic first Amazon strike in the UK at the BHX4 facility on the edge of the city!
There were also successful picket lines across the city, with the NEU alone picketing 40 workplaces!
The message from both the speakers and the crowd was clear – this action will not stop here, it will continue and it needs to escalate. The coordination between unions to organise this rally shows the potential to coordinate further action, as part of building towards a general strike!
An estimated 200 marched through Chatham and attended a rally on the right to strike organised by Medway Trades Council. There were mostly teachers, with support from ASLEF, RMT, PCS, CWU and left groups. The mood was very upbeat and the march received tremendous support from passing traffic and pedestrians.
It was clear that many teachers were out on their first strike ever, with a mix of excitement and nervousness about what would come next.
Teachers in Brighton started their action with placard and banner making workshops for their picket lines, which was a good way to build morale and camaraderie. There was a large demonstration on Wednesday as most schools closed and strikers from the civil service and universities came together and marched through the city to a rally. An NEU representative reported that over 40,000 new members had joined the union over the last month, which he thought showed that when unions fight for their members
then people will want to join.
The February 1 strike demonstration in Liverpool really stands out as one of the biggest held in the city in recent years. Most people were expecting a turnout of a few hundred, one organiser admitted that they had told police only to expect around 700 people, but on the day there were several thousand at the march and rally in the city centre.
There wasn’t enough room in the hall at the Adelphi Hotel where speakers were due to address a rally at the end of the march, so open mics were improvised in the foyer and on the steps outside. As well as strikers from different unions, there were also lots of children and teenagers who had turned out to support their teachers.
There was a clear sense of politicisation and a feeling of solidarity on the demo. Most of those at the demo already see the need to continue and escalate their own strikes, but also to coordinate the different unions together. Lots of strikers expressed agreement with our leaflets calling for a general strike, as well as the call for an expanded day of mass strike action on March 15.
It was noticeable that this event was much younger on average than trade union-oriented demonstrations in the past. Going by age, many of the workers will have only recently become active trade unionists and were probably going on strike for the first time. In all it is an encouraging sign that a new generation of workers are moving into struggle.
There were about 60-70 at the Doncaster rally. Speakers were there from all the unions who were striking. Tosh McDonald, the former ASLEF General Secretary saved some of his most blistering comments for Starmer and the Blairites.
Several thousand filled out Barkers Pool in Sheffield on Wednesday, which was probably the biggest trade union protest in Sheffield for many years. Our leaflet on coordinating for a general strike went down really well.
On 1 February, trade unionists and their supporters in Huddersfield joined half a million teachers, university staff, civil servants, railway workers and in some places bus drivers on strike against the miserable below pay rises offered by the government and the private sector to essential workers.
At 7.30am SA members who work in education joined the picket outside New College, high above the town in a 60 mph gale. However, quickly more pickets arrived and by 9am, masses of cars, ambulances, lorries, buses and taxis were loudly sounding their horns in support.
Then on to the University where a large UCU picket handed out leaflets and talked to students who were very sympathetic to lecturers and gave their support to the dispute.
By midday we made our way up to the railway station where striking ASLEF members had set up their picket. Hundreds of teachers and lecturers gathered outside the railway station, then marched through the town to a planned indoor rally, supported by Kirklees Enough is Enough. The numbers were too big to fit in the booked room so the rally took place outside.
Speaker after speaker condemned the employers and government for their attacks and demanded a proper wage rise. Lots of copies of the new Socialist Alternative paper were sold and leaflets handed out encouraging strikers and their supporters to attend an SA public meeting in the evening on defending the right to strike.
The mood on the rally was incredible, there really was a sense that this was the start of something bigger. Speakers were discussing how this is not the end but rather the sprouting of a new movement. There was talk of how this is more than an industry by industry campaign but the start of a movement to get the Tories out.
Wolverhampton Trades Council organised a march from the railway station to Queens Square as part of the 1 February day of action, passing Wolverhampton University and with striking UCU members joining the march from their picket. All along the route, the march received a great response from bystanders and cars honking in support.
At the rally at Queens Square, there were several striking workers from TSSA, RMT AND NEU who spoke at the rally, talking about the need to coordinate further action and now allow the day to become a one off, and our leaflets on calling for a general strike were well received.