strikes

Resisting the outsourcing giants

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Has the outsourcing of groups of workers limited their ability to fight back? Ian Taylor looks at recent strikes that challenge this claim, while Kevin Devine looks at the growth of outsourcing.

Outsourcing need not end workers' power to resist their employer. Strikes by three groups in the last three months - cleaners at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) in London, ancillary workers at Ealing Hospital, London, and Care UK workers in Doncaster - make that clear.

Cleaners at SOAS won improved holidays, sick pay and pensions after taking on multinational ISS, one of the world's biggest employers.

The group of mainly migrant workers struck for three days in March after a long campaign for parity with in-house workers.

A new mood to resist

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Teachers, firefighters, council workers and health workers are all moving to either strike or hold ballots for strikes. Socialist Review looks at the shift in mood and argues that any strikes will be very political.

Suddenly the logjam could be broken. The announcement that Unison members in health and local government in England will be balloted over pay, plus a decision by the National Union of Teachers' (NUT) conference to call a further one-day strike in the summer term and the move for a new round of strikes by firefighters in early May mark a step change on the industrial front.

1914: War in the US Coalfields

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This month marks the centenary of the Ludlow Massacre when US national guardsmen killed 20 striking miners and their families in Colorado. This is the story of one of the most violent episodes in American labour history.

On 20 April 1914 the US National Guard attacked a tent colony of striking miners at Ludlow in Southern Colorado. By the end of the day at least 20 strikers, their wives and children were dead. Thirteen had died in a pit dug underneath a tent where they were sheltering from the gunfire after the militiamen deliberately set fire to the tents.

Anatomy of a strike victory

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The current spate of local disputes provides a glimpse of the potential for a fightback. Donny Gluckstein reports on the successful strike at Edinburgh College.

The strike of further education lecturers at Edinburgh College has been described as "a classic example of how to conduct a strike" by the executive of the EIS, the Scottish education union. The bare outlines of what happened make impressive reading.

Fighting Spirit

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Julie Sherry draws out the wider lessons of the spate of local disputes.

There is a frustrating contrast between the intensifying assault on workers by the government and employers and the lack of coordinated national resistance led by the unions. Yet in recent months we have seen a spate of militant and determined local strikes - some of which have won serious victories - that point to the potential for a wider fightback.

The successful strike by Hovis workers in Wigan last September, which defeated an attempt by bosses to introduce zero hours contracts, has not been an isolated example.

The strike that could have beaten Thatcher

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Thirty years on from the 1984-85 miners' strike most commentators, including many on the left, claim the power of the state made defeat inevitable. But Sheila McGregor argues we could have won but for betrayal by trade union officials and Labour leaders.

They fought for a year as the police occupied their villages, blocked roads and tunnels to stop them picketing, and surrounded working pits to stop them approaching. Miners and their wives faced gratuitous violence ranging from pickets' cars being smashed up to attacks by police armed with drawn truncheons, horses and dogs. Miners faced individual arrests and mass arrests. The courts were used to give bail restrictions banning miners from going to picket pits and to sequester NUM funds so as to limit the ability of the union to function.

Union free school no more

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The strike at STEM6 Academy in north London against zero hours contracts and for union recognition shows that if you get organised and fight hard you can win.

Early in October 2013 a message arrived at the Islington NUT office from a teacher at the newly opened STEM6 Academy telling us that she had never been a union rep before and asking for our support in negotiating teachers' terms and conditions.

The three months which followed saw her lead an often bitter fight which, although taking place in a small workplace, has won a big victory with major implications for other free schools, as well as important lessons for workers facing nasty anti-union employers.

Fighting the war on the home front

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The claim of national unity during the First World War is a myth. The reality, argues Chris Fuller, was huge levels of repression by the British ruling class and a largely untold history of resistance.

The carnage of the First World War has been seen by many commentators as different from any conflict that went before. In fact there were hints as to how terrible a war between the rival imperial powers of the early 20th century might be. At the battle of Omdurman in 1898 the British had deployed the Maxim gun for the first time and slaughtered 10,800 Sudanese rebels. However, the war mindset was still that of the "cavalry charge"; few people envisaged the scale of the horror that was 1914-18.

Letter from South Korea

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Kyung-nok Chun reports on how a strike by rail workers shook the country's rightwing president and altered the political landscape.

The 23-day strike by the South Korean railway union that ended on 31 December was by far the most serious challenge to Park Geun-hye, whose election as president a year ago sowed horror among many worker activists and the left.

The strike was the lightning rod for the anger of everyone disgusted by Park - the former dictator's daughter. It was a battle fought on behalf of the entire working class. And though the outcome fell short of a victory, it left in its wake fertile ground for future struggles to develop.

Taste of victory

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Zero hours contracts have become a symbol of austerity Britain. Workers at the Hovis bakery in Wigan have shown how they can be beaten.

Bosses have been using the recession to impose so-called "zero-hour" contracts. These contracts allow employers to hire temporary workers on a short term basis, with no guarantee of further work, at lower wages and worse conditions.

According to government figures there are some 200,000 people on these contracts. Zero-hour contracts have spread to the health service and colleges, as well as the high street. These contracts are a direct attack on workers' pay and conditions, and contrary to popular belief, are not simply in workplaces with low union organisation.

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