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'The members want to fight!' - Greater Manchester shop stewards network meeting
Hugh Caffrey, Socialist Party north west secretary
Supporters of the Shop Stewards Network in Greater Manchester met on 12 January to review the situation on the pension dispute in light of the TUC's refusal to coordinate further action, and PCS's statement that together with other 'rejectionist' unions it will seek to continue coordinated industrial action.
Opening the meeting, attended by activists from PCS, Unison and Unite, north-west vice-chair of PCS Alex Davidson noted the scale of the N30 strike and that the government is "pushing ahead with its pre-existing plan, that was available on 29 November", to prepare for "a bonanza of privatisation" in public services which all three main parties support.
Alex warned that unless this is fought in those unions which have signed up to the Heads of Agreement, there is the danger of demoralisation. Alex made clear however that it is being fought and "is not a done deal".
Moving on to the next steps for the public sector unions as a whole, Alex stated: "It is imperative that we take action as rapidly as possible, any delay just helps the government.
"We need to give support to the left-led unions which are taking action, and reach out to members of the unions whose leaders have accepted or are wavering, so they can put pressure on their leaders to take action." Alex concluded: "We have to link pensions with the attack on TUPE rights and working rights... this is linked in with private sector disputes over pensions, Unilever who will take 12 days of action unless the company backs down, at Shell, and also at Jaguar-LandRover."
Contributions from Unison activists made clear their members' anger and frustration at the actions of the leadership.
Two branches in Greater Manchester have, within 24 hours of the leadership's retreat, already passed motions calling for a special conference of their service group.
An emergency motion will be going from MMU Unison branch to a Higher Education conference of Unison in early March.
In Salford, reported a Unison member, there was "absolute astonishment that the leadership could take a position so obviously in opposition to the views of the membership" and total rejection of the government offer.
Discussing the unions as a whole, Shari Holden, Unite steward in the NHS, emphasised: "it is about leadership, we have to force the leadership to fight because the members do want to! And, really, is it that the right-wing leaders are scared of the membership and so don't want to mount a fight?"
Other contributions discussed what the NSSN had done last year, what it intends to do this year, and the nature and scale of further industrial action.
The proposal (below) moved by Alex at the start of the meeting was democratically debated and adopted, with the great majority of those attending in support.
NSSN supporters in Greater Manchester will now work to make this a huge success and support further powerful coordinated industrial action.
Proposal to NSSN meeting
That we adopt the principles of the statement agreed at the 7 January Left Unity open organising conference, with the exception of the third and final bullet-point which relates to the national situation, and resolve as following:
"This meeting agrees to contact Left organisations in the trade union movement, relevant union bodies and groups of workers in dispute, with a view to re-convening a further meeting to discuss co-ordination of and solidarity for industrial action, in early February.
"The precise date shall be confirmed by the Shop Stewards Network on the basis of these discussions and developments in the unions at a national level."