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People’s Republic of South Yorkshire

March 9, 2010

First Bus Drivers on the picket line at Olive Grove bus depot, 2009.

As many of you will be aware, Sheffield has a proud history of worker’s action, left wing politics, and inclusivity.

At the more ‘liberal’ end of the spectrum, I refer you to my previous post on City of Sanctuary, but the stand out thread throughout Sheffield’s history and present for me and many others is our tradition of workers’ action.

This is timely because for the first time in my life I am currently under dispute in my own workplace and standing on my own office’s picket line. Not to say that I haven’t been supporting the workers’ movement for a while – I’ve attended several other pickets and rallies to show support such as during the bus workers’ strike and the firefighters’ strikes in Sheffield. But when you’re there protecting your own conditions, suddenly feeling alienated at your own workplace…that’s different. The worst experience was watching some of my colleagues scabbing this morning and I know that the office will never be the same again once I got back after these initial two days.

Anyway, let me take this from the beginning and explain why I think it’s important that Sheffield residents support not just the current Civil Servants’ dispute, but all of the disputes that affect our workers in this city.

I found a useful history of local disputes, click here to access it.

Obviously Sheffield is our Steel City, and this term should not be taken lightly. The history of steel manufacturing in the city is long and one of many examples of how the decline of manufacturing, deskilling, and privatisation can disintegrate parts of the workers’ movement. In 1980 British Steel (later privatised under Thatcher, and what is now Corus) workers across the country went on strike for thirteen weeks over pay, and plans to cut thousands of jobs.

To view a video from the BBC archive regarding the national steel strikes, click here. The fight was eventually lost, and British Steel was privatised. The strength of the steel unions now compared to then (Corus in Stocksbridge has a virtually non-existent union presence) is depressing at best, and in order to protect jobs the steel workers must organise once again as Corus is under threat.

From BBC Website

Furthermore…need I mention the miners? South Yorkshire was one of the strongest areas of solidarity during the strikes, and with 2009 being the 25th anniversary, I refer you here to a picture gallery of images in this area from the dispute.

So that’s a short touch on some local history – but what about today? Well, in the past few months I’m sure you will have noticed the national postal strikes, local firefighters strikes, bus strikes by First workers, and maybe even heard about the ‘bin strike’ over pay and gender inequality in Leeds that lasted for three months. These are hard times, and the unions may not be as strong, but it is clear that the workers are still angry and that the movement is growing again. What I pose to you is that instead of seeing such incidents as an unneccessary inconvenience, understand why workers choose to strike. The simple explanation is to prove their value to the employer (and therefore that the business cannot function without them) – in fact, the more of an inconvenience it is to the general public when the posties or the bus drivers are striking, the more proof it should be to you how vital they are for our city, and how we should be fighting for their rights too. Moreover, when the working class unites to fight it shows the full force of the power we have. The bosses are few and their strength lies in false power given to them from on high. When the masses organise from the grassroots up they can bring the country to a standstill – with damage to the employer to win our demands.

"I never believed money grew on trees until I discovered workers"

I went down to the picket line at Olive Grove Road bus depot during the strikes last summer, and spoke to many of the workers there. Their attitude was the same as most on picket lines – striking is difficult for all – noone wants to lose pay (especially in these tough times) but sometimes we have to use the weapons that we have as workers to remind our employers where the real power lies.

As Yorkshire folk we should be proud of our industrial heritage, and also proud of the way that our workers have defended themselves and fought for their rights over the years. We may not always win, but our principles are strong. I ask you to support the civil servants in their ongoing disputes – have a chat with some of us on the picket lines of your local Jobcentre, tax office, or one of the many other offices around Sheffield that were out this week and will be out again on the 19th, and ask them why they’re doing it. Give your support, but if you can’t understand why someone would strike, the best place to go is the picket lines themselves.

The answer I would give if you asked me (and feel free to do so) is that I won’t take attacks to my terms and conditions and job security lying down. The rights we have are the rights we have earned, and we deserve more because we deserve respect and a decent deal. Those who work in the private sector often say we have it too good – that’s not the case – they don’t have it good enough and should organise to gain the rights that they deserve too.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Justme permalink
    March 10, 2010 10:22 pm

    Such a good idea. How about having separate pages for each suburb/village etc of Sheffield. This would make it much more interesting.

    • March 10, 2010 10:27 pm

      Hi, good idea – I’m hoping different people will volunteer to write and so experts from various areas can write little bits about the city – are you volunteering?

      The best way to navigate the blog is by tags or categories (shown in the right side bar at the top). I will categorise posts by area where appropriate.

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