Today was a huge success – but the Tories are fighting the strike wave with new anti-union laws. We need to escalate the strikes, writes Colin Wilson – and to do that we need grassroots workplace organisation.

Manchester rally

1 February was a landmark – teachers, university workers, civil service, train and bus drivers all out together. Thousands of schools were closed, stations of the striking rail companies were empty. It’s the biggest number on strike at once for decades – but it’s even more significant than that. The Tories are weak and divided, with Sunak forced to sack Zahawi at the weekend while Deputy PM Raab may be next. And the Tories aren’t just facing one strike – groups from postal workers to physiotherapists are taking action.

We can turn the tide

Throughout Britain, up to 100,000 marched with home-made placards. Demos took place in the big cities, but also in towns like Exeter and Wigan – we list some of the estimated numbers below. After decades with historically low numbers of strike days – and after the defeat of Corbynism – this is a real chance for us to turn the tide. We can push back against the austerity and neoliberalism that blight millions of people’s lives.

But we still face a real challenge to do that. The Tories want to restrict strikes even further by forcing unions to maintain ‘minimum service levels’. The government is weak but desperate. That’s why they’re trying to scapegoat vulnerable groups like migrants and trans people. We must remain united – an injury to one is an injury to all.

Escalate the strikes

But we also need to escalate the strikes. It’s clear that it will take more than strikes one or several days long to beat the Tories – the RMT have pursued that strategy for months now and still not had a significantly better offer from rail management. We need to move towards longer periods on strike and, eventually, indefinite action, if that’s what it takes.

Build at the grassroots

The key to delivering that isn’t the national union leaderships. It isn’t us all striking at once, though that shows us our strength and builds morale. What’s key is building unions on the ground, with activists and reps in every school, office and workplace. We’ve a mountain to climb. But as a seasoned NEU activist and rs21 member commented yesterday, ‘we’ve got pickets where no one has ever done one before – organised by reps who’ve never been on strike before.’ The Tories are weak, and issues like the cost of living and public service cuts unite us – we can win.

Demo numbers

London Over 40,000
Bristol 9,000
Oxford 7,000
Sheffield 6,000
Newcastle 5,000
Manchester 4-5,000
Brighton 4,000
Ipswich 500
Wigan 200
Exeter 700
Leicester Over 1,000
Cambridge 2,000
Lancaster 600
Stafford 200
Leamington 500
Coventry 2,000
Birmingham 3,000

Central London
PCS rally, Edinburgh
British Museum, London
UCU members, University of Westminster – Photo: Steve Eason
Ministry of Justice, London
Black LGBT+ Educators, London
UCL, London
UCU members, St Andrews University
Leith JobCentre, Edinburgh
Shooters Hill College, SE London
Leytonstone High School, NE London
Brighton rally


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