Strike day in Oxford.
We will have brief write-ups of strike and protest activities across the country from today – first, Oxford, by me.
At seven thirty, in glorious sunshine, about 50 local residents turned up outside Oxford’s central job centre to bring love and breakfast to striking workers. For some of us, it had been a brief wink of sleep after the previous night’s solidarity pub crawl encouraging people to call in sick the next day and show their support for the strike.
After breakfast, some of us popped on a bus to Whitney for a special mission while others toured more picket lines.
Across Oxfordshire, an amazing 141 schools were closed today – which the NUT say is nearly three times as many as the strike in 2008 shut.
And it was clear that the huge support for strike among the members of the unions taking part was matched by significant public solidarity. On our pub tour, most sympathised with public workers. People crossed the street to hooted their horns, or gave a thums up to show support for picket lines.
And that was our experience in Whitney too. The local youth club has made headlines recently. Recently praised by David Cameron for its work with excluded young people, it is now being hit by the cuts. We were supporting these young people to show their support for the strike and opposition to cuts. “Without the youth centre”, they told us, “we’d all be in jail by now.” And they knew something else too. The placards they painted were clear: “youth love public services” and “youth support the strike”.
As one of them – a 14 year old who’s been excluded from school – told us: “the government should tax the rich. Instead, they are making us – the poor – pay. The people on strike today are fighting that. That’s why we want to thank them”.
Back in Oxford, nearly a thousand of the striking workers marched through the city centre. A few months ago, a call for a general strike at such a gathering would come from the back, and be marginalised. Today, this cry came repeatedly from the front. And these teachers and council workers cheered it.
After the march, a few of us broke away and occupied a branch of NatWest “The banks should pay, they caused this mess, it wasn’t us, it was NatWest.” “Send the bankers to detention, they should pay, not teacher’s pensions”. People leaving the shop slapped us on the back, congratulating us. Passers by joined in. Even the police officer who eventually turned up told us that he too supported the strike.
It seems that we have a long summer ahead of us. And, increasingly. It seems that people across Oxford know which side they are on.