YESTERDAY, steelworkers were marching for their jobs to parliament, defending an industry that is being deliberately destroyed, while university lecturers were taking the first day of a two day national strike action over an insulting 1.1% pay offer.
At the same time, student nurses were at Westminster Hall, demanding that the government drops its plan to replace their bursaries with tuition fees. They were spelling out their determination to defeat the tuition fees plan that is part and parcel of the Tory drive to privatise the NHS.
Meanwhile, in the afternoon young cinema workers at the Rio Cinema in Hackney were taking strike action demanding the ‘London Living Wage’. The working class is clearly on the move!
For the nurses, the Tory plan to overhaul the funding system in September 2017 and charge those studying to be front-line health workers for their degrees, leaving them with debts of up to £50,000, is absolutely unacceptable.
They are currently entitled to bursaries of £4,500 to £5,500 if they live in London – on top of a grant of £1,000 each year during their course. The course fees are also covered.
It is crystal clear that the attack on nurses’ bursaries is part and parcel of the Tory assault on the NHS and the Tory plan to ‘denationalise’ it. University lecturers were furious yesterday about the low pay that is being imposed on them along with the scandal of casualisation – through the use of zero-hours contracts.
At the University of East Anglia, Dr Jacob Huntley, lecturer in literature and creative writing and UCU school rep, told News Line: ‘Given the slow erosion of our pay over the last few years, and the huge rise in pay for vice chancellors (6.1% on a base pay of £250,000 to £400,000) it really is necessary to take this national action to raise awareness of unfairness in pay.
‘The problem with higher education and for all public services, is the drive to monetise and privatise them. They are turning to an ethos of education for financial gain and profit, rather than education as an intellectual question and the exploration of ideas.’
University lecturers are determined to fight the privatisation of education, and the way that university education has been turned from being a basic right into a very expensive commodity that only the very rich can afford.
The pay demands of the lecturers are in fact modest. They have rejected a 1.1 per cent pay offer and want pay rise of 5% to make up for the shortfall of 14.5% since 2009.
Steel workers marched to parliament to defend their jobs, their families and their communities. The truth of the matter is that the steel industry is being liquidated in the UK. Business Secretary Sajid Javid and Welsh First Minister Carwyn Jones have just travelled to Mumbai for a Tata board meeting to discuss what bids there are for Port Talbot and its other UK steel operations.
The deadline for potential buyers to make formal bids closed on Monday. The noose around the necks of the steel workers is about to be tightened. In fact, Tata has declined to say how many actual bids it has received from the various sharks trying to pick up the choicest pieces, without having to honour jobs, wage rates and pensions.
TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady spoke to the steel workers in London yesterday afternoon and urged that the UK should follow the US and impose stiff import tariffs to stop China ‘dumping steel’ on world markets.
Her conduct is a disgrace. Instead of trying to whip up a trade war, O’Grady should be using the strength of the TUC trade unions to demand that the whole steel industry is nationalised and placed under workers management. Instead, she is having a love-in with the Tories over their joint support for the EU, and forgetting the real interests of the UK’s workers.
In fact, steel workers should occupy their plants right away and demand that they be nationalised and that the TUC general council either call a general strike to secure their nationalisation or resign and make way for leaders that will make the call.
There is not the slightest doubt that such a stand would receive massive support from the working class as a whole, and that such a fight would be won!