Where were you?

James Jarvis & Katie Lee

On the 30th November, Pulp joined the ranks of the workers and got involved in the national day of industrial action called for by the public sector workers and respective Unions. Alongside 25,000 likeminded protesters we matched through Manchester to show solidarity against pension cuts and the general dissolution with the policy directions being undertaken by the Con-Dem Government. With an estimated 3 million public sector workers and 24 unions involved including Unison, the NUT, NASUWT, ATL and Unite to name a few, it has been said that this was the largest national strike to occur since 1926.

An impressive picket line outside the Royal Manchester Infirmary, Oxford Road had already assembled by the time Pulp was entering the city and it was clear that the day was going to be a historical one.  The general march led from Castlefield, down Deansgate and up Portland Street towards Oxford Road. Meanwhile students from MMU  had congregated from 10:30am at All Saints Park and worked their way up to Castlefield in a feeder march organised by the Student Officers at MMUnion.

The march was a peaceful one and any tension between protestors and the police was barely detectable. With people bringing their families and dogs, this was not a day of wrath, but an opportunity for people to exercise their right to protest, stand up for what they believe in and put two fingers up at what’s being done to the countries great social institutions. We spoke to the Greater Manchester Police and Assistant Chief Constable Ian Hopkins had this to say about the day’s events: ‘An estimated 20,000 people have had their voices heard in a peaceful and legal way across the county and the fact we have not made a single arrest is testament to the way in which the protestors have conducted themselves. ‘

After oversleeping and sprinting straight to the march from bed MMUnion’s much loved speaker bike provided a vital source of moral for my tired legs and the sound of music bouncing off the surrounding buildings as we made our way down Oxford Road gave it all a brilliant vibe. Once the march reached Whitworth Park, Oxford Road we respectfully cut the tunes to allow for the organized rally of public speakers and union officials. Rena Wood of Manchester Unison took to the platform stating that “What’s happening to you is unfair. […] Join us. Stand side by side to fight because everybody deserves a decent pension.” – A powerful message appealing to those not on strikes. Another speaker alluded to the ease in working with the emergency services in the run up as emerging from their own vested interest in the impact of the day. The scope with which Government policy is resulting in detrimental changes is massive and few people are going unscathed, the strike helped to highlight  this as well as the individual plight of public services pensions.

Meanwhile, public services around Manchester ground to a halt with only 5 out of 158 schools open and university buildings closed. All but three libraries were closed, including the main city library. The city’s two crown courts saw one trial and only urgent cases were addressed by magistrates. Limited services were offered at Manchester register office and five social care offices were shut. Residents were warned not to expect street cleaning or bin collection.

Despite lengthy warnings of the happenings of November 30th, the government refused to negotiate further on the matter of pension cuts and is clearly underestimating the power of the country’s workers. That David Cameron would claim the strike by public sector workers is proving to be “a damp squib” as many key services have continued to operate, displays his inability to comprehend the gravity of 2 million citizens so incensed by his policies that they take to the street in an organised ‘No’.

Although some pessimists say that these actions will see no reward, it is important to show unity in times of hardship. At worst it shows that when these cuts and changes where being pushed through the ordinary decent citizen stood up and said No! At best it gets the ball of realisation rolling to the point of policy reversal. Cameron is delusional in his insistence that changes to public sector pensions are “very reasonable and very fair”, it is questionable to call them necessary let alone the insult and ignorance in calling them reasonable. Unison responds stating that “the thousands of picket lines, demonstrations, rallies and events are not a figment of our imagination. These people are angry public servants who the government has driven to the end of their tether”.

A worrying aspect in terms of MMU was the institutions apparent lack of interest in informing the student population, potentially at the detriment to those students who would have travelled into University today expecting the provision of lectures. One analysis of this could be of an attempt by MMU to create hostilities between the student and staff bodies to prevent the sort of movement cohesion which has the potential for massive impact. As it happened this cohesion existed anyway to a degree although I must say I would have liked to have seen more student faces on the march (those of you who spent such a historic day in bed should ensure another doesn’t pass you by in the future). Everyone from prince to pauper, banker to baker and MP to GP should be having a deep think over where they want to be recorded as standing on these monumental issues and what answer they can give to the next generation to the question, what did you do?

Photograph: Phil Simpson http://www.lifeaswe-knowit.blogspot.com/


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