Teachers and council workers from Tower Hamlets called on their leaders to organise general strike action today in a mass rally after 2,000 trade unionists, joined by the local community marched against cuts.
Council workers in purple Unison jackets were joined by school banners, behind which marched school children, parents and lots of teachers carrying NUT placards.
As the march snaked through the East London streets, motorists and truckers honked their horns and people came outside of the shops and cafes to wave and cheer, to the sounds of chanting and singing.
As we marched past a Crisis housing shelter, the staff left their desks to come outside and salute the public service strikers.
Perhaps as many as a thousand protesters crammed in to the East London Muslim Centre for the after-demonstration strike rally.
John McLoughlin, branch chair of Tower Hamlets Unison gave an inspiring speech. He made the excellent point that strikers weren’t just out to defend their own jobs, but to defend future jobs, which the next generation will rely on. He finished by calling for union leaders to coordinate their actions into a “public sector general strike.”
He was given an ecstatic round of applause.
Keith Sonnet, deputy general secretary of Unison received a lukewarm response as he listed the severity of the attacks on healthcare and public services, promising to “fight”, but ignoring the plea for coordinated strike action, or indeed, any strike action at all.
Mark Serwotka, PCS General Secretary, gave an excellent speech, which really struck a chord. He asked the audience to contemplate what society would be like “if we lose.”
And as his father told him, “If you end up in a fight, always make sure you have as many people on your side as possible.” He called for everyone to strike together.
But then something quite remarkable happened.
He said that the PCS was in discussions with some other unions for coordinated strike action in the summer. Then he called upon all other public service unions to ballot their members now and get behind a mass coordinated public sector strike.
The wild applause turned into a standing ovation as every member of the audience stood up from their seat shouting “General strike! General Strike!”
Hands were raised as strikers unanimously expressed their support for coordinating future union action.
This is the kind of will to fight that can happen when workers come together. Now we need to spread the action that took place today to every borough and county in Britain, up and down the country.
See pictures of the protest here
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