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NSSN conference agrees call for one-day general strike against austerity
Helen Ridett, Lewisham Socialist Party
The sixth annual National Shop Stewards Network (NSSN) conference saw around 500 activists come together from across the trade union movement.
Rob Williams, NSSN chair, opened the first half of the conference which focused on the fightback against austerity. He gave an overview of the huge number of struggles NSSN activists have been involved in over the last year alone. As the government and bosses carry out brutal attacks against workers the NSSN is needed more than ever.
Mark Serwotka, general secretary of the PCS civil service union, gave a robust and inspiring speech about the events which unfolded around the public sector pensions dispute. In December, Mark was in bitter negotiations with those trade union leaders who wanted to accept the little improved 'offer' from the government following the two-million strong 30 November (N30) strike. Mark said he felt heartened by the chanting of activists lobbying the TUC building outside.
Mark pointed out that cuts are not necessary, but the Labour Party and the heads of some unions are not willing to take a 'no cuts' position. "We need people bold enough to say that there should not be a single cut."
There will be many more PCS-led strikes as grassroots members, such as DVLA vehicle licensing workers and coastguards, fight back against the cuts they are facing. Mark supported the NSSN's intention of lobbying the TUC in September to call for more strike action on the scale of 30 November 2011 and greater.
Kevin Courtney, deputy general secretary of the NUT teachers' union, emphasised the need to build strong trade unionist networks on the ground and recognised the NSSN as a serious organisation in this process.
He declared that defending pensions is still a crucial demand, and that it is possible for governments to make changes. For instance, president Hollande has just reduced France's pension age from 62 to 60!
The NUT is now working with the NASUWT following an agreement of "historic significance". Together the two unions represent 85% of teachers in England and Wales.
Newly elected NIPSA president Padraig Mulholland addresses National Shop Stewards Network conference, 9 June 2012, photo Suzanne Beishon (Click to enlarge)
Padraig Mulholland, the Northern Ireland Public Service Alliance (Nipsa) union president, reminded us that without the hard work of union grassroots members there would have been no strike on N30. He called for a united, non-sectarian workers' struggle against the Con-Dem government.
BMA member, Dr Jackie Grunsell, pointed out that her union's recent ballot result reflects the real anger of doctors over the health and social care act. She anticipated that doctors are now more likely to unite with other health workers in the fight to reclaim our NHS, but that action short of strike action won't go far enough.
Rank and file workers
Then we heard a range of contributions from rank and file trade unionists. This included DWP members, health workers and teachers to name but a few. NSSN communications officer Suzanne Muna moved a NSSN Guide to Action (see below).
Martin Powell-Davies, teacher and NUT executive member, called on conference to build for one-day general strike action across the unions.
Several speakers made the point that the capitalist system is not working and called for the only other alternative, socialism, to rapturous applause from conference!
What is clear is that these workers all have the confidence to step up and be leaders in their workplaces and communities thanks to the strategies and tactics they have learnt from the NSSN.
Katrine Williams, NSSN vice-chair, opened the afternoon session which focused on workers' struggles. Alex Gordon president of the RMT transport union, gave a thunderous speech as he outlined various transport worker disputes. The RMT in particular has been targeted by the bosses challenging successful strike ballots in the courts, as its strikes are very effective. In spite of these attacks there have been many victories, including the recent strike action by Heathrow Express workers, which lead to victimised stewards being reinstated. The RMT are preparing to fight against a new wave of attacks on trade union laws by the EU commission.
PJ McParlin, chair of the POA prison officers' union, passionately laid into government plans to exploit prisoners as a source of cheap labour.
Student nurse Jacqui Berry reflected on the Youth Fight for Jobs campaign and the struggle against workfare, speaking of the need to unite trade unions and young people.
Unite member Ray Ludford condemned the lies behind the closure of the Remploy factories and outlined how disabled people will be left high and dry by this savage government attack.
A construction electrician spoke in detail about the Besna dispute and movingly described how the rank and file workers led that struggle to victory. The NSSN supported this lengthy struggle against a vicious threat of a 35% wage cut.
Speakers from the floor gave valuable elaboration on recent workplace disputes, including on MMP in Bootle, Coryton refinery and Sheffield recycling centres.
PCS member Tony Mulhearn from the Liverpool 47, who was a Liverpool mayoral candidate for the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) last month, spoke of the importance of TUSC in encouraging workers to stand as anti-cuts candidates in elections.
Reinstated Unite health and safety rep Jason Poulter addresses National Shop Stewards Network conference, 9 June 2012, photo Suzanne Beishon (Click to enlarge)
Victimised union reps Honda Swindon convenor Paddy Brennan, and Jason Poulter from Ratcliffe power station also spoke. Both lost their jobs but, following action by the workers they represent and by NSSN supporters, have been reinstated.
A business section was introduced by NSSN secretary Linda Taaffe. Linda also appealed for finance donations to be sought widely from supporting trade unionists and trade unions. A new steering committee was elected for 2012-13.
The NSSN brings together trade unionists from the international labour movement and we heard from workers in Greece and Kazakhstan. We were humbled on hearing that our brothers and sisters in Kazakhstan risk their lives by organising themselves to fight back against the greed of the ruling family.
PCS assistant general secretary Chris Baugh closed the conference by reminding workers of our immense power when we are organised. He spoke of the need for an autumn offensive against the government's attacks and of uniting workers' struggles across the public and private sector in fighting all cuts.
We are in no doubt that there are huge battles ahead but the NSSN has armed us with the tactics and strategies to continue to organise workers and win battles.
NSSN guide to action
Since last year's conference NSSN has been involved in an increasing number of workers' struggles, and, as the austerity cuts bite, we expect these struggles to intensify
- We encourage supporters to concentrate on organising local and regional NSSN Networks with events and meetings to help rank and file activists to build up reliable support networks
- We welcome the TUC national demonstration on 20 October and we will do everything we can to make this day a successful start to the next phase of an action-based campaign against austerity
- We advocate that the next step should be for the TUC to organise a one-day general strike, which includes both public and private sectors, against all cuts to pensions and wages, jobs, services, and housing; to stop privatisations of NHS, education and public services; and to stop the slavery of workfare
- To this end we call on trade unionists, campaigners, youth and pensioners to come to Brighton for TUC week To lobby delegates to press for a national strike To hold an NSSN fringe meeting to highlight this demand
In The Socialist 13 June 2012:
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