TUC must name the date for a 24-hour general strike
The hundreds of trade union activists who attended the National Shop Stewards Network (NSSN) rally and lobby of the TUC on Sunday will have left certain that the boiling anger at the tsunami of austerity is pointing towards an autumn of important battles.
Along with this is an ever-growing call for the TUC to name the date for a 24-hour general strike.
"The NSSN rally", said PCS president Janice Godrich, "has become a regular event at the TUC, setting the tone and a fighting agenda to turn words into action this year".
The indoor rally – that preceded an outdoor lobby – brought together TUC delegates and up to 300 other activists to hear contributions from trade union general secretaries: Bob Crow from the RMT, Steve Gillan from the POA, Ronnie Draper from the bakers’ union BFAWU and Ian Lawrence from the probation officers’ union NAPO; with activists from many unions and campaigns.
There was no doubt that with the attacks raining down, with battles unfolding, the task facing supporters of the NSSN is to turn the anger into action.
Janice finished by saying: "If we are going to send a message to the government, we need action on a scale not seen before".
Bob Crow asked the rally: "In the last year, have things got better? Those who get sacked, now face a bill for £1,500 to go to an industrial tribunal, just to get in the ring".
Speaker after speaker listed the pain brought to workers and their communities from the Con-Dem posh boys while their rich friends benefit. "If the minimum wage had kept up with the rise of the FTSE share index, it would now be £19 an hour" exclaimed rally chair Linda Taaffe.
Helen Pattison from Youth Fight for Jobs was one of many to highlight the toxic effect of zero hour contracts facing up to 5.5 million workers. "I haven’t spoken to anyone who isn’t sick of their boss. From one week to the next you don’t know your hours and how you will pay your rent".
Teresa McKay from Unite and Ipswich TUC highlighted the "21st century outrage of child poverty, where in one of the richest countries in the world, one in three British children live in poverty, where many go hungry.
Eight out of ten children in poverty have one parent in work, which shows the urgent need for a living wage. Mothers in Britain are more likely to poor than anywhere else in Europe".
Waiting for Labour won’t work for us
Those in the leadership of the TUC who have opposed the demand of many of last year’s TUC delegates for a 24-hour general strike have offered the prospect of an elected Labour government as a way out. But who can wait in the face of these cuts and what will change if Labour is committed to austerity of its own?
Bob Crow raised the need to challenge UKIP and the Tories’ right wing anti-EU demagogy with a clear stand against the bosses’ EU.
He called for support for the No2EU – Yes to Workers’ Rights European election platform.
Some speakers, including Ronnie Draper, raised the need for a new workers’ party and others spoke of the need to work towards one by building a socialist alternative through the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC).
Reflecting the anger of workers who have no choice but to fight back, Martin Powell-Davies from the teachers’ union NUT national executive outlined how his members are rising to the challenge. "We now have dates for action.
"On 27 June solid strike action in the North West closed down the majority of schools. On 1 and 17 October further regional strikes will take place with a national strike planned before the end of this term.
"Let’s ask the TUC, aren’t the attacks facing teachers what is facing every worker? We are all in it together, we have to be all out together".
In the key battleground of the NHS, Len Hockey, Unison rep from Whipps Cross hospital brought news of their fight.
Speaking in a personal capacity he said: "Our union branch chair has been attacked by management, health bosses have announced the need for ’turnaround measures’ and Price Waterhouse Cooper consultants have been brought in with no experience of the NHS.
"Union members have made the link between the three events. We are taking the lead, our public meeting was attended by over 100, with two demos planned for 16 and 21 September".
Prison officers took action last week over closures and overcrowding: "Since 1994 we have not been allowed to take lawful action.
"Our mantra is, if our members want to take action, we will. I was proud to stand with brave prison officers outside prisons on unofficial action.
"They [prison managers] couldn’t stop it and have taken no action against us", reported POA general secretary Steve Gillan.
Probation officers are on the verge of national strike action for the first time in their history. NAPO general secretary Ian Lawrence explained: "Con-Dem minister Grayling wants to sell off efficient services that turn around the lives of thousands of people.
"He thinks we are ripe for profit. We are moving increasingly towards industrial action, not on our own but with members of the POA, PCS and Unison in the probation service".
George Osborne has argued that cuts to the public sector would pave the way for growth in the private sector.
This myth was demolished by Ronnie Draper: "We have achieved nothing without a fight, nothing has ever been given.
"Workers at Hovis in Wigan have been on a week-long strike, defending their jobs against the introduction of zero hour contracts.
"They have won a victory, with 24 workers given full time jobs, but now the fight goes on against agency workers being used on zero hour contracts."
Victories are possible
Hovis workers were not alone in winning an important victory against the bosses. The PCS has won an important battle in the High Court against a new attack on trade union organisation.
Janice Godrich explained: "Taxpayers now face a £90,000 legal bill after a High Court judge ruled the communities secretary, Eric Pickles, acted unlawfully by unilaterally scrapping the ’check off’ system for collecting union subscriptions through salaries".
Dave Smith from the rank and file Blacklist Support Group announced their campaign’s recent victory with the reinstatement of Unite member Frank Morris at the Crossrail site in London. "They’ve gagged Frank and the union but I’m not gagged.
"Frank Morris starts work back at Crossrail tomorrow. Thanks to the NSSN and everyone who has supported us. This is an historic victory for the unions".
Currently engaged in a programme of strike action, Unite member Candy addressed the outdoor rally held outside the TUC congress venue.
She slammed her employers at One Housing: "Massive profits are on the rise, £4 million in 2011, to £35 million in 2013 for this London housing provider while £8,000 cuts are made to frontline workers’ pay".
The introduction of Universal Credits will mean benefit cuts not only to the unemployed but will affect 40% of benefit staff in the civil service, low paid workers subsidising low paying employers, including the government.
Name the date
In every contribution the demand for the TUC to provide leadership and act boldly was raised. Opening the rally Linda Taaffe said: "A 24-hour coordinated strike is the clearest way to send a message to the government.
"It’s no good waiting for Labour. The NSSN calls on the TUC and the trade unions to build a mighty force that can force Cameron to retreat.
"Last year’s words need to be turned into action so we hear every union say – We’re with the teachers!"
Bob Crow received a standing ovation for his call " to start after leaving here to organise a general strike, let’s put a date down and go out and do it!"
With on-going national action in the PCS, teachers planning strikes, the FBU voting by 78% for national strike action and CWU members in Royal Mail balloting against the effects of privatisation, an army is being prepared for action.
Dave Smith reported that the TUC supports a day of action on blacklisting. "Instead of taking action for a few thousand workers, why not take action for millions?" Helen Pattison from Youth Fight for Jobs said: "For the TUC to call a strike and show who is up for a fight, would show workers what they should be part of".
BFAWU has not waited for the TUC but consulted its own members: "Those who have responded voted by 70% in favour of a general strike".
Alec McFadden from the Trades Councils explained how they had passed an emergency resolution in June: "To lobby the TUC Congress in 2013 to uphold the decision taken in 2012".
Ending the indoor rally before leaving to lobby the TUC delegates arriving in Bournemouth, Rob Williams from the NSSN challenged the inactivity of the TUC: "They say a week is a long time in politics, we’ve had 52 weeks waiting for the TUC to act.
"How is it possible for that resolution to be left on the table when cuts have been deeper than ever?" Rob railed at the injustices of mass redundancies in the public sector, the pay freeze, bedroom tax, loan sharks, food banks and the implosion of the NHS, often to pay the debts of PFI vultures.
"The NSSN supports the NHS march on 29 September but that demo will not be enough on its own. Cameron’s defeat over Syria shows they are not all powerful and can be defeated if the necessary steps are taken. If every worker went on strike, on the same day together, that would have an impact. That’s what’s at stake at the TUC this week".
This message needs to be taken by NSSN supporters to every trade union branch across the country. NSSN meetings need to be prepared to build solidarity for those teachers and others taking action.
Organised from below, growing pressure on the tops of the TUC, allied to those unions taking action, can lay the basis for an historic step forward in the months ahead.