Wednesday, 13 June 2012

NSSN conference calls for one-day general strike against austerity

Around 500 workplace reps assembled in Friends Meeting House in London Euston today for an excellent sixth annual National Shop Stewards Network conference.

After watching a moving film commemorating the many struggles and anti-cuts events over the last year, NSSN chair Rob Williams kicked off the day's discussions, reminding the audience that it was their conference, to discuss and debate building workplace struggles, solidarity, and action across the whole trade union movement.

To introduce the first discussion, entitled 'The Fight back against Austerity', the conference was addressed by PCS General Secretary Mark Serwotka, NUT Deputy General Secretary Kevin Courtney, BMA member Dr Jackie Grunskill, and from Northern Ireland the newly elected NIPSA (Northern Ireland Public Service Alliance) President Padraig Mulholland.
NIPSA President Padraig Mulholland

Mark Serwotka emphasised the unprecedented nature of the attacks in this period, concluding that "normal rules of engagement do not apply".

With 85% of the cuts still to come, unions need a response that is up to the scale of the battle; "a radical opposition is required now more than ever...

"We need people bold enough to say that there should not be a single cut". He 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.

Padraig Mulholland deplored the hundreds of thousands of public sector jobs that are being lost and the fact that with wages being held down and working hours cut, "poverty levels are going through the roof".

He called for unified, non-sectarian workers' struggle against the coalition government and said that his union is preparing for the autumn, when he believes there needs to be a one-day strike as part of a unified fight across Britain and Northern Ireland.

Kevin Courtney emphasised the need for trade unionists to build strong 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 in France has just reduced the pension age from 62 down to 60! To strengthen the fight on pensions and wider issues, the NUT is aiming to build unity amongst teachers by working with the NAS/UWT following an agreement of "historic significance".

After these first platform speeches, NSSN communications officer Suzanne Muna moved a NSSN Guide to Action, which welcomed the TUC national demo being organised in October and called for it to be a "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" (for the full text see below).

Then came a wide-ranging discussion from the floor in which trade unionists from a number of different unions took part, including Unison, PCS, NUT and Unite.

Afternoon agenda

Later in the day, a session entitled Workers in Struggle was addressed by RMT president Alex Gordon, POA chair PJ McParlin, Youth Fight for Jobs activist Jacqui Berry, Remploy trade unionist Ray Ludford and by a rank and file construction worker.

Speakers from the floor gave valuable elaboration on recent workplace disputes, including on MMP in Bootle, Coryton refinery, Honda, Ratcliffe-on-Soar and Sheffield recycling centres.

Phil Potter FOC at MMP Bootle addresses conference

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.

A business section of the conference was introduced by NSSN secretary Linda Taaffe, who referred to a written report that had been circulated (text below).

Linda appealed for finance donations to be sought widely from supporting trade unionists and trade unions; and a new steering committee was elected for 2012-13.

Finally, in an inspiring end to the day, international solidarity was expressed, via a filmed address from Greece, and by Esenbek Ukteshbayev from the trade union federation Zhanartu in Kazakhstan who graphically explained the plight of socialists and trade unionists in Kazakhstan who are being harassed, jailed and even killed by the Nazarbayev regime.

In a rousing closing speech, PCS assistant general secretary Chris Baugh summed up the conference, paying tribute to the many excellent contributions during the day when he commented: "To try to do justice to all of the speakers is virtually impossible".

He spoke of the need to prepare for an autumn offensive against the government's attacks that will be on a bigger scale than last year and "this time it must involve workers across the public and private sectors".

Few of the hundreds present in the hall will have left without feeling that the NSSN has already made a tremendous mark on events, and with the authority and allegiances it is building up, can go on to become an even more decisive force in making sure we have a trade union movement that is up to the tasks ahead.

Terry Pearce from Bracknell commented:

Excellent NSSN conference, inspiring speeches from trade union activists fighting victimisation, redundancy and attacks on their wages and conditions.

These are rank and file workers at the coalface of the struggle against this vicious government and the bosses.

Great platform speeches from some of our best trade union leaders. Inspirational videos and speeches from trade unionists from around the world, many facing state violence on a day to day basis.

These were not merely nice, articulate speeches, they are a reflection of the day to day struggle of workers in austerity Britain. This conference was however more than just about speeches, this was a call to action.

We call for full support for the TUC national demonstration on 20 October, but more than that we call on the TUC to announce a one day General Strike of both public and private sectors.

This is now the only way to combat the Coalition's pensions cuts and cuts to wages, jobs, services, privatisation of the NHS etc.

We call on all NSSN supporters to redouble their efforts over the coming months to build support for this strike around the country, at the same time this will build the NSSN and increase the effectiveness of rank and file trade unionism throughout the country.

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