By Nicky Dempsey
Hundreds of militant activists and trade unionists gathered in central London to oppose concerted efforts to curb the power of the trade union movement. The People’s Assembly Against Austerity brought together a series of campaigning organisations, grassroots activists and union members to rally in support of ‘Hands off our unions’.
The background is a series of attacks and threats against organised labour as the government presses ahead with its austerity offensive. From the vicious attack on Unite at Grangemouth to threats of outlawing strikes on ‘essential services’ such as the London Tube to physical assaults on student protests it is clear that coercion, legal attacks and outright force will form part of the on-going attack on unions’ ability to defend their members.
Authoritative commentators suggest that the austerity programme is not yet even half completed, so it is clear these attacks will be maintained in the period ahead of the general election in 2015 and beyond. The next government will be a Labour or Labour-led one. Labour’s right intend to maintain austerity and the decision of shadow Education Secretary Tristam Hunt to cross a recent UCU picket line is a provocative signal that there will be no let-up in hammering the unions. Hunt’s action was not condemned by the Labour leadership.
But as speakers from Unite, the RMT, the NUT and others made clear at the rally, they do not intend to roll over in the face of this onslaught. Alex Kenny from the NUT pointed out that the 4th strike day under this government due on March 26 will be more than in the union’s previous 150 year history. There were cheers for the RMT as they and the TSSA have been able to win talks in London by taking strike action, which Transport For London management and the London Mayor had previously refused. It is clear that that the battle against austerity and in defence of the unions is set to be a prolonged one.
- The Women’s Assembly Against Austerity takes place on February 22. Sign up here
- The People’s Assembly Against austerity re-call conference takes place on March 15. Get involved here