Almost every school in the borough closed either partially or entirely on the 30th of March due to joint action by local Unison and the NUT. After picket lines were held, several hundred people assembled at Weavers Fields for a march to a rally at the London Muslim Centre. I’d walked some of the way with my school through our neighbourhood. Kids were on our megaphone all the way, other kids leaned out of windows to cheer us, cars beeped, and we got escorted off the premises of Canary Wharf to one of my kids leading a chant of “you’ve got loads of money”.
We were en route to support workers at another school where the head had been leading a campaign of intimidation against strikers. We met the workers of a Sure Start children’s centre holding a formidable picket line — this was one of many highlights, as we all cheered in riotous solidarity. Before we knew it, about 2,000 people had taken to the streets, the majority of them women, many of whom had never struck or demonstrated before. The demonstration, full of school bands and workers with their kids marching as service users as well as providers, felt massive, was incredibly loud and lively, and got loads of public support. Another of my kids appeared out of nowhere, clutched my hand and said in an awestruck whisper “I’ve never seen anything like it.”
The rally consisted of a top-table speaker panel made up of male union big-wigs. There was lots of fighting talk from the bureaucracy. Hundreds of people made it to the rally. There was lots of chanting demanding a general strike, a big vote in favour of combined public sector union action over pensions, and, I hope, a sense that we need to hold our tub-thumping “leaders” to account and demand action.
Obviously a one-day strike by itself is going to win nothing, but this was a necessary experience for us. It gave us practice at organising, arguing, mobilising and demonstrating. It was a massive confidence boost to lots of us who are feeling our way for the first time with this stuff. Perhaps most important, it allowed us to have solidarity with workers of different unions, in different schools, with parents and children — in short, our community.
Opportunities to build this solidarity are in themselves vital if we are going to be able to go on to fight a battle with a chance of winning. One opportunity may be soon as the NUT plans to ballot over national strike action on cuts in pensions.
By a Tower Hamlets teacher and member of Feminist Fightback Collective