On June 30th, around 1,000,000 people in the UK will go on strike. This means that most people will also know someone who is going on strike – teachers, civil servants, lecturers, council workers, etc. However, it also means that 64,000,000 people won’t be going on strike, but many will want to support it somehow. So, here’s a quick guide for how to support a strike if you’re not striking.
1) Don’t cross the picket line
This might sound like an obvious one, but it really is important. Lots of people think that they are somehow exceptions to strike days. So let’s get this straight: the point of a strike is to shut down the workplace. Often, management rely on un-unionised workers, agency workers and quite simply right wing scabs to keep the workplace open. This means that often these places look like they’re open, and you end up with a situation where it’s essentially a dispute about whether the workplace is on strike or not, played out on the doorstep of the premises.
The way the workers win is by NO ONE going in to the workplace. This means that the whole range of excuses people come up with are entirely invalid. Some examples: ‘I need to use the internet’; ‘But I have an appointment’; ‘Today’s my day off’; ‘I’ll only be a minute.’ This sounds harsh, but it’s true: every person inside the building is a point for management; every person on the picket lines is a point for the strikers.
2) Turn up with food, hot drinks and conversation
Being on a picket line, as you’ll notice from the above point, is quite stressful. Often there’s only a handful of people – especially as there are often several picket lines to every workplace, and also because the TUC guideline is having only 6 people on a picket line, so as not to intimidate scabs (yes, seriously).
Also, the UK as you’ll have noticed has abysmal weather, even in the Summer. So turning up with hot drinks, sandwiches and the like is always very welcome. Yesterday, I took a load of sandwiches to the picket lines at London Metropolitan University. For the record, I spent a tenner on veg, skipped the bread, and ended up with sandwiches at around 50p each. Bargain, and worth it for the solidarity smiles. And not sure what to talk about? Try handing out some leaflets beforehand, or putting up a poster (see point 4).
You can find out where picket lines n June 30th are here: http://www.j30strike.org/
3) Tell people what you went and did
Strikes and unions live and die based on the solidarity they receive. That solidarity can mean a whip round for a strike fund in hard times, to people turning up with coffee and cakes (see above) to other branches and unions sending messages saying ‘well done! we’re going to try and join in too!’
So when you’ve gone somewhere and decided to respect the picket line and give the strikers a pat on the back, or you’ve handed out some grub and had a chat, or have even thought ‘Damnit, it’s about time I joined my union too’, go and TELL PEOPLE about it. Go to a public meeting of some kind and say how it made you feel; tell your friends or workmates about it; put up a poster about the next strike near you. These things make a huge difference. And then you can tell the people on the picket line what you did and you have something to talk about. Excellent.
4) Join a union
So now you’ve probably understood what being in a union is about half the time. It’s about sticking one to the boss, convincing other people that you can actually fight for better working conditions, another way to fight for a better world. (See point 1). If you walk out of your work in disgust at management on your own, you’ll get sacked. If you do it through the union, it’s a strike – and you get to keep your job while also pissing of the boss.
However, you can’t do all this without joining your union. Lots of people then say ‘Oh, but I can’t join a union, as I work for an agency/ for a charity/ only occasionally/ haven’t been employed for quite a while now, etc etc. Actually, almost anyone can join (and get involved in) a trade union. You work in the creative industries? Try the NUJ or BECTU. Temporary worker? Try the GMB or Unite. Haven’t been employed for a while? Still try the GMB or Unite! Seriously, you can still join a trade union, almost regardless of your work. Ask people you do similar work to you and see if they’re in a union; and if you have some kind of traditional work place (like an office), or work for a big organisation (like a temping agency), then you probably have a union rep already.
Yes, they’re not perfect institutions, but it’s a damn fine start, and many struggles that seem disconnected from the Unions have relied on them, from the anti-war movement, to the Suffragettes and civil rights. And it really doesn’t cost much to join: probably about the same as a few extra pints a month. You can find the right union for you through the TUC’s website, and by talking to people you work with about what union they might be in. If you’re in a big organisation of some kind, you probably already have a union representative without knowing it.
Joining a trade union is probably the best long term thing you can do to support strikers. It means you can start agitating in your own local or workplace branch, pushing for your union to take industrial action as well.