Just as the student movement reaches Day X, the National Shop Stewards Network (NSSN) has set out the agenda for its anti-cuts conference on 22 January.
On 4 December, the NSSN steering committee agreed that the conference will launch the ’NSSN All-Britain Anti-Cuts Campaign – unions and communities together to save jobs and services’.
It was agreed to ensure the maximum amount of discussion time at the conference to encourage trade union activists, students and anti-cuts community campaigners to discuss the strategy needed to defeat the Con-Dem cuts.
There was a big debate at the meeting, which reflected the different views on the steering committee about how the NSSN should move forward. From its inception in 2006 as an initiative of the RMT transport workers’ union, the Socialist Party recognised the possibilities of the network as a vehicle to revitalise the trade union movement.
In many ways, the launch of the NSSN was an anticipation of the hectic times over the last few months, which have begun to see fresh forces coming into the anti-cuts movement. Last year, we saw, albeit on a smaller scale, the NSSN prove to be a crucial organiser in Lindsey, Linamar, Visteon and Vestas.
This year, it has been a key component of the anti-cuts campaign. It held the first conference of the Con-Dem era in the summer, from which it organised the lobby of the TUC in September, which definitely had an impact in pushing the trade union leaders into calling the March 2011 national TUC anti-cuts demo in London.
On 23 October, we called for the TUC to organise a national march but in its absence, the NSSN was one of the prime movers in getting local demos off the ground in London, Bristol and Cardiff. Its supporters have been involved in the setting up of countless anti-cuts campaigns all over the country.
Therefore, for those on the steering committee who tried to argue that, given the existence of the Coalition of Resistance (CoR) and the SWP’s Right to Work campaign (RTW), the NSSN’s anti-cuts campaign is ’divisive’, is to ignore the successes of the NSSN in helping build the movement from the beginning. They also ignore that the NSSN actually pre-dates CoR and RTW.
National Shop Stewards Network (NSSN) lobby of TUC conference in Manchester 2010, photo Suleyman Civi
The NSSN does not propose to declare ourselves as the anti-cuts movement, as is wrongly alleged. We don’t ignore the other organisations. In fact, the NSSN officers, on the advice of Socialist Party members, were the first organisation to write asking for a meeting to discuss how we can work together to ensure that we avoid clashing meetings, protests etc.
We participated in the RTW forum the day after the steering committee in this spirit and, along with CoR and RTW, we will attend the Trade Union Co-ordinating Group meeting on 14 December, with Labour left MP John McDonnell and the leaders of the left unions.
However, we are still at the beginning of this movement and while the NSSN is opposed to all cuts – including those of Labour councils and the Labour/Plaid Cymru Welsh Assembly – we aren’t convinced of the position of the other organisations. We believe that this will increasingly become a major issue of the anti-cuts movement as Labour councils start to implement Con-Dem cuts, like Neath/Port Talbot and Rhondda Cynon Taff in Wales who between them have issued 17,000 90-day notices to their workforces.
This has resulted in the threat of a 2% pay cut in Neath/Port Talbot on top of a three year pay freeze! Ignoring this and inviting such councillors into the anti-cuts movement is to give them a left cover and will divide the council workers from the anti-cuts campaigns.
We are in favour of practical unity on a step by step basis to build trust and confidence. There must also be a democratic process in the movement. We believe that the establishment of an anti-cuts committee can bring in fresh forces.
A strong NSSN in the anti-cuts movement, is the best guarantee for the effectiveness of that movement. Yes there are sharp debates in the NSSN but that is a good sign, and something which we are not convinced occurs in the SWP-dominated RTW.
Some other members of the steering committee are opposed to the NSSN’s involvement in the anti-cuts movement full stop, because they believe it distracts from the task of building a shop stewards’ movement.
We don’t believe, however, that the NSSN can achieve its goals in a vacuum. The best trade unionists will be involved in fighting the cuts. The role of the NSSN is to reach them, organise them, put them in touch with other activists and also re-orientate them to transform the unions as fighting organisations. It is in the anti-cuts movement that these activists will come up against the conservatism of the trade union full-time officials, many of whom will be encouraging workers to accept concessions. The class struggle isn’t static but fluid and the NSSN like all organisations must adapt to survive.
The NSSN steering committee agreed to organise this anti-cuts conference on 2 October, a direct follow-on from the statement agreed at its annual conference in June to get involved in the anti-cuts movement. The NSSN is in a unique position to be a unifying force for everyone who faces these brutal cuts because it will ultimately be the organised workers who have the economic power to stop the Con-Dems in their tracks.
About 100,000 have marched in the countless local demos since the cuts were announced on 20 October and of course a student movement of perhaps 200,000 and counting has exploded onto the streets to raise everyone’s sights that our class can win this battle.
Tell your workmates, your friends and family and your classmates – get in touch with every union branch and workplace, every fighting student group and every anti-cuts campaign. Get organised and come to the NSSN anti-cuts conference on 22 January.