On June 30th unions and non-unionised individuals came out in force across the country. Under the remit of pension reform protest – but actually over a blossoming sense of discontent and injustice – there were pickets, rallies, demonstrations and protests up and down the country alongside at least 12,000 schools shut and 20,000 marching in London.
In Leeds 55 schools were shut and 120 partially closed, pickets were outside job centres and government buildings. Outside Leeds Met the official UCU picket was swelled by supporters and by the time it marched into City Square where about 1000 people waited, numbers were up to 2000.
Copies of the Sausage Factory were doled out up at Leeds University (which wasn’t on strike) to great enthusiasm, and interesting conversations were had with some of the lowest paid workers who were working there.
Whilst the unions are declaring it a resounding success, the government declare it a resounding failure. But aside from a display of public disapproval or approval for the pension reforms are more interesting questions such as how did j30 contribute or not to generalising struggle and dissent?
June 30th was merely a day within a process of contesting the austerity measures currently being implemented. June 30th might have been the visualisation of this particular moment but it wasn’t any more part of resistance than the process before and after it. And the process so far has certainly been of interest to us here at the ROU. Since March 26th when ROU and a number of other groups and individuals critiqued both the A to B TUC march in London and it’s naughtier little brother the black bloc smash up, agitators have been looking at new forms and new relationships between official and unofficial, the sanctioned and the unsanctioned. Using propaganda to encourage people to phone in sick or take the day off, this was an attempt to be with and in the official union structures but also ways to operate beyond it. That this happened successfully through assemblies in many towns and cities with people of different political backgrounds and allegiances finding ways of working together should indeed worry both the coalition government as well as the shadow cabinet.
Talking with people on the street leafleting, or giving out sausages, or on the picket lines, the public mood seemed to be with and for the protests not bemused and against. Likewise, it seemed that there was a feel of long term resistance, that nobody this time expected a demonstration would make the slightest difference to the austerity strategy, but that rather action would have to be taken again and again. When strike action happens on a wide scale like this, when there is face to face contact in the streets and schools and workplaces, then conversations happen. Statistically, it seems the nation was split nearly down the middle with strike support, (the young and the north significantly more in favour) but these cheerful protests do not just create a kneejerk Yes or No response but a more complicated and thoughtful consideration. June 30th was a moment when politics wasn’t happening down in Westminster but was happening here. With us all. On our streets.