Britain: Union leaders must open the floodgates of mass action!

National Shop Stewards’ Network lobbies Trades Union Congress (TUC)

11 September 2011 was the day the role of the National Shop Stewards Network (NSSN) in the labour movement gained further recognition.

Hundreds of trade unionists from all over the country came to put pressure on the Trades Union Congress (TUC) to take action to defend our living standards.

They heard trade union leaders like Bob Crow and Mark Serwotka, amongst the most militant of union leaders in Britain, make fighting speeches.

Our rally in Friends Meeting House, Euston, was opened by PCS (Public and Commercial services’ union) president Janice Godrich in the chair. Recognising the events on the same day marking the tenth anniversary of 9/11, she saluted all those fighting for equality and justice around the world, including in this year’s revolutions in the Middle East and North Africa.

She also saluted the victims of the "other 9/11", those workers and youth slaughtered by the Chilean army in Pinochet’s coup of 1973.

The first video shown to the rally covered the activities of the NSSN through the past 12 months, since the previous year’s lobby of the TUC. "And what a year!" said first speaker at the rally, NSSN chairperson Rob Williams.

The NSSN, he said, "stands shoulder to shoulder with the fighting unions and all public sector unions taking action on pensions".

What the government is afraid of most, he added, is the "organised working class striking together" in a 3 million strong strike in November.

Rob appealed to youth, including the one million ’NEETs’ (not in employment, education or training) to join in the fightback with the trade unions.

This was later amplified by Suzanne Beishon of Youth Fight for Jobs when she talked about the terrible effects of the cuts on youth and explained how the closure of youth clubs and the 75% cut in funding for the youth service in Haringey were amongst young people’s grievances in the riots in Tottenham.

She appealed for support from trade unionists for the Jarrow March starting in October, which will highlight the problems of young people today.

Capitalist crisis

Rob was followed by Bob Crow, general secretary of the RMT transport workers’ union. "What’s changed in a year?", he asked. "Capitalism is in a bigger crisis!", and he called for a socialist society to get workers out of this mess.

He called for renationalisation of privatised industries, including transport and electricity, saying that the energy companies should pay us compensation rather than any compensation being paid to them when nationalised!

He warned Ed Miliband, the Labour party leader, that he couldn’t face both ways: he either supports workers in struggle, or the bosses, but he cannot back both.

And he had words for the TUC leaders too: they are misguided if they believe that justice and fairness can be achieved under capitalism; workers need to take on all capitalist policies to secure a victory.

POA radicalised

PJ McParlin, president of the Prison Officers Association, in an excellent speech explained to those who might be dubious about the role of the POA in the labour movement that his union has been radicalised by successive attacks. The POA had the right to strike withdrawn by New Labour; nevertheless it sent a resolution to the TUC congress two years ago calling for a general strike!

The union was told by the TUC leadership that then wasn’t the right time to rock the boat with New Labour before a general election.

But if they were denied then, now is certainly the right time as the POA faces marketisation of the prison service, which could only lead to "disaster".

Companies are queuing up to sponsor prisons. He denounced the "feral overclass", including prison service managers whose bonuses are higher than the starting pay of prison officers.

Following comradely greetings from Ray Morrell of Right to Work – the NSSN will be sending a speaker to their protest rally at the Tory Party conference in Manchester next month – and a video of the demonstration in Derby against the redundancies in Bombardier, Alex Gordon, RMT president congratulated the NSSN in making the right decision at its January special conference to fight the cuts.

He also raised a call for the renationalisation of the whole railway industry, including manufacturing of rolling stock, to turn away from profiteering and start planning the transport system.

Paddy Brennan, Unite convenor at Honda in Swindon, then explained why he had been suspended by Honda; it was because he had fought for effective trade unionism in the plant.

He had been nicknamed ’Paddaffi’ by managers and ’Paddy Power’ by fellow workers, but he was really interested not in his own ’power’ but in the power of the workers.

Paddy has full confidence that, if he faces dismissal, "the NSSN will come to Swindon and say enough is enough!".

Construction industry

Representing those construction engineers taking unofficial action at the moment against attacks on their wages, terms and conditions, Michael Dooley of Ucatt explained how this is a major onslaught by the employers and urged trade unionists to attend the series of protests, the next in London being on Wednesday 14 September at the Olympic site near Pudding Mill Lane.

Michael is the left candidate in the Ucatt general secretary election to be rerun, and urged Ucatt members in the NSSN to support him as he is the only candidate who rejected ’partnership’ and framework agreements and advocates "open confrontation with building employers and victories".

Ucatt should build up union density in the building industry, which stands at just 10% of workers, he said.

He is in favour of "regime change", including in trade unions if the leaders impede the advancement of the working class!

Pension cuts

Two representatives of trade unions in the public sector then gave their assessment of the current state of the pensions’ dispute after a video was shown of the strike action on 30 June.

Martin Powell-Davies of the NUT, said that all teachers’ unions had either balloted and taken action or had agreed to ballot.

The pensions discussions led by the government have been a "sham" and workers’ pensions are "neither unaffordable nor a drain on taxpayers".

He called for support for the teachers’ lobby of parliament on 26 October and warned the government: "Back down or we strike together".

April Ashley, a member of Unison’s NEC, speaking in a personal capacity, explained how hundreds of thousands of Unison members are under attack from employers.

Many of them had believed that their union was on strike in June! A number of local government branches have been calling for an emergency section conference to call for a ballot on the pension cuts and urging Unison general secretary Dave Prentis to lead a fight.

April’s speech went down really well. Now it seems that Unison will be finally discussing starting a strike ballot.

NSSN congratulated

Mark Serwotka, general secretary of the PCS, came to the rostrum and congratulated the NSSN for organising the rally and lobby. PCS opposes every cut yet there are still some in the TUC who opposed putting this into composite motions for the TUC congress for fear of accusations of being ’deficit deniers’!

He too warned Ed Miliband that his poll ratings would soar if he opposed every cut yet he had chosen to attack the pensions’ strikes in June.

Mark was "quietly optimistic" that unions representing up to 3 million workers would strike in November, with the bigger unions like Unison, Unite and the GMB joining in, but activists have to keep up the pressure in their unions.

To those who use the argument "a day’s strike is not enough" as an excuse not to organise any action, Mark countered with: "a day would be a bloody good start"! He believes that workers can win in this battle.

The rally was concluded by NSSN secretary Linda Taaffe who said if the TUC organises mass action the floodgates would open.

Three quarters of the people suffering cuts from this government would be children and the trade union movement must step to the fore in this battle.

A mass one-day strike would give the bosses and the government such a shock, she concluded.

March to Congress House

With that the rally ended and those present assembled behind some lively drummers to march to Congress House, headquarters of the TUC.

There, a short rally hosted by Coventry Socialist Party councillor and NSSN anti-cuts committee member Dave Nellist heard a number of speakers further demand that the TUC take action, including Glenn Kelly, Unison activist victimised by his own union and Fidel McLean, a young PCS member from the campaign to save Camberwell Green DWP office.

TUC deputy general secretary Frances O’Grady accepted the NSSN’s letter and petition urging this week’s Congress to organise coordinated action and recognised the NSSN’s role in representing and organising workers.

The key issue for Congress, "our parliament", she said, is to stay solid in the face of the attacks of the government.

Dave Nellist concluded the event by warning the Tories and the bosses that they will be forced to listen to workers if millions of us take action in November.

The whole day was a marvellous event. Some present were suggesting we make this an annual event! The TUC leaders will be in no doubt as to the feelings of the hundreds of thousands of workers represented by those present.

Dave Nellist urged the rally not to underestimate the significance of the appearance of Frances O’Grady to receive our letter and petition at the end of our march. The NSSN is taken seriously in the labour movement.

And was that Brendan Barber looking out of the third floor window?… Next year, if the NSSN organises a similar event, we want to see him speak, not to give the NSSN a ’big name’ but to outline that the TUC has and will continue to organise action in defence of our jobs and services.

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September 2011