Monday, 21 November 2011

Report from the Unite the Resistance Convention

I was part of a delegation from the UNITE IT & Comms National Industrial Sector Committee to the Unite the Resistance convention (see, 19th November 2011.

Around 1200 people attended, and over 200 union bodies had backed the convention.

It was an excellent event, from which I would summarise the key points:

1. We all need to take responsibility for making November 30 as big and active as possible, not rely on others to do it for us. It should be a day of resistance, not just about pensions and not just for public sector workers.

2. N30 is a key part of a wider movement of resistance in the UK and globally.

3. We need to oppose efforts to divide the movement.

4. There were some excellent reports of how people are building in particular workplaces and branches, with ideas others can copy.

5. We need a plan to win, not just a token protest. We urgently need a plan to escalate and widen action after N30 and activists need to debate this, not just leave it to our leaders.

Plenary: Building the 30 November Strikes

Hannah from Occupy London Stock Exchange reported that there were now three occupations in London – the original LSX one outside St Paul’s, one in Finsbury Square and the most recent one is an occupation of the old UBS building, now known as the “Bank of Ideas”. She emphasised that the Occupy movement had backed the N30 strikes from its first gathering.

Sean Vernell from UCU urged trade unionists to mobilise against any attempt to evict Occupy LSX. The government is weak. It is important N30 is not a “protest”, but the second strike day of a rising movement which can win. The government is nasty, trying to divide public and private sector workers and use racism and nationalism. We have to prepare to escalate the action – and not wait another 5 months to do so – he argued “all out and stay out”. N30 is not just about pensions, but cuts, privatisation, health, EMA etc. We have to stand for democracy not the rule of unelected “technocrats” trying to make us pay for the crisis.

Mark Serwotka from PCS pointed out that while everyone would welcome Berlusconi going, it was worrying that it was the financial markets deciding rather than the people. Like many speakers, he referred to the inspiring Greek resistance. Labour should be opposing cuts, rather than Ed Milliband telling off the TUC over the strikes. He described Ed Balls’ plan for recovery as fiddling while Rome burns – falling well short of the measures needed, such as building millions of homes. The unions should be proud that they are now leading the opposition to the cuts. However, it had taken a long time to get to N30. Even getting the 26 March demonstration had taken 3 years of argument. He paid tribute to the members of the unions that struck on 30th June, despite sniping from within our own movement, as this had created links with pensioners, UK UNCUT, students etc and laid the basis for more. He argued that N30 had to be the beginning not the end of the movement – this was an argument that had to be won in each union – and that N30 should not be just a token protest. PCS is arguing for the TUC to meet within 2 weeks after N30. At a minimum they should be calling a further public sector general strike as early in 2012 as possible, and doing it again and again until we win.

A UNITE BASSA member from BA cabin crew described the bullying, suspensions and sackings they had faced during their 18 month struggle. It had been his first strike. He had been disgusted by the role of pilots, who work with cabin crew every day, and their union BALPA in helping the scabbing operation. He said that despite all this they had stood firm and eventually won. Instead of private sector workers opposing public sector workers, we should be fighting to make private sector pensions as good as the public sector ones.

Sheila McGregor from the NUT talked about her Dad’s generation who fought fascism and for the welfare state. The ruling class are trying to take everything they won away from us. There are two ways out of every crisis, and the people at the top want us to pay. We should be proud of the resistance being built around N30, which builds on what has been done by students, other strikes, June 30, Tunisia and Egypt. She argued that as well as trying to get the maximum numbers out on strike and involved in the protests on N30, we also have to aim to win. She highlighted the actions of Greek workers refusing to cut off electricity to poor people.

Ian Bradley, a UNITE spark (electrician) talked about the 8 contractors who are trying to tear up the 40-year-old JIB agreement, meaning a 35% pay cut. Sparks have been holding demonstrations. A turning point had been Len McCluskey’s speech at the TUC calling for civil disobedience. There have been occupations of sites since then, as well as walkouts (17 this week). The 9 November demo had about 2000 sparks. They had support from the Occupy movement, students, public sector workers. People didn’t believe the public/private split. Sparks would be there on N30. Balfour Beatty sparks plan to strike on 7 December and he asked for support. Fight together – win together!

Ron Singer, a doctor in UNITE, explained that the BMA and RCN had not balloted – mistakenly believing that acting like a “reserve army” was stronger than joining in. Doctors are well paid and mostly striking for others’ pensions and because of what is happening to the NHS. The bill going through parliament will privatise the NHS – not just delivery of particular services, but commissioning too. It was not true that this was just to GPs – private companies are offering “support” to them. The NHS budget is being cut, and provision will shrink. The Tories are turning the NHS into no more than a safety net which those who can afford to top up with private medicine. See The NHS cuts are planned over several years and he urged anti-cuts groups to take this up.

Jess Edwards from the NUT argued that N30 must change society. People had to feel stronger and more confident afterwards, while the government should feel the pressure. We need a strong strike and shouldn’t take this for granted but work for it. We also need an active strike to make N30 a big political day. Dave Prentis was right to say that while the legal ballot was about pensions, what was in people’s heads was far wider. As Brendan Barber said, there should be a tax on the bankers. The parasites are currently being put first. The plans for N30 vindicated the strategy of striking on June 30.

Zita Holbourne from PCS and BARAC (Black Activists Rising Against Cuts) talked about the inequality of the cuts and argued that fighting discrimination is not an optional extra for the campaign, but everyone’s responsibility. The “hardest hit”, including women, ethnic minorities, disabled people, young and old, are not a minority – they are the majority. Almost 50% of young black people are now unemployed. Young people are being demonised. There are more black people in prison than in university. Cuts are hitting deprived areas hardest. Immigrants are being blamed for all the problems by the right wing. She highlighted the aggressive policing, attacks on the right to protest and recent sentences handed out. The recommendations from the McPherson report after the murder of Stephen Lawrence have still not been implemented. N30 will be a huge day for everyone, not just the strikers, and BARAC will be on the streets.

Caroline Johnson from Birmingham UNISON talked about the dispute there and how they have built the union through it. On 1st November the council imposed a new contract on 25000 staff. It was known as the Martini contract, because you had to do anything, any time, anywhere. You could be told to work 24x7 for no extra. 6000 of the lowest paid staff had lost pay due to losing Out Of Hours payments – she ran through some examples. They had struck for 2 days since June. The council boss is on £230,000 and other directors are on huge salaries. A third of the budget goes to Capita. The campaign had won delays to the cuts, and other small concessions. On N30 they will be striking over both the contract issue and pensions. There are 15000 members in the branch, and confidence is uneven. They took 700 members on the 26 March demonstration, and these had had their confidence boosted. These had then been linked to other members. In one workplace they had a picket of 90, from which they built a core of activists. Through the campaign they had recruited new stewards and members. They also linked to the community and were meeting weekly with other unions in preparation for N30. One day will not be enough – more will be needed.

Eileen Short from Defend Council Housing talked about how they had linked up with other groups including private sector tenants for a “Housing Emergency” lobby of parliament this week. She highlighted the attack on housing benefit. In Camden there is now no housing available which someone on benefit could afford – people are being told to leave the area. Across the country the numbers homeless and sleeping on the streets are rising rapidly. The Tories plan to increase rents and attack the security of tenancies. We need to link tenants and trade unionists to tackle the housing crisis.

Graham from Barnsley UCU talked about the cuts in services and jobs at his college, and the rise in casualisation of work. From the job cuts he had been left as the only Compulsory Redundancy. As he was the branch secretary members recognised this as victimisation. After one day of strike there was no movement. They had a members’ meeting to discuss escalation. A proposal came from the floor for a 5-day strike. Two days before it happened, the college found him a job. We can win.

Anne Drinkall, a community nurse from UNISON, talked about the weak organisation in their fragmented workplaces. She was the only person who had been on strike before. She had been grudgingly doing the rep’s job – grinding through casework. They started the campaign by calling a meeting at a central location, which had not gone well. Then she was persuaded to try a different approach and had been having lots of lunchtime meetings in workplaces. These had gone really well and recruited extra members. There would now be serious pickets. There is a long way to go in organising but it is a start and a confidence boost.

Yunus Bakhsh from UNITE talked about his five year battle after being victimised by his employer after 25 years in the NHS. The lesson is never to give up. The week before last he was back in court after his employer refused to reinstate him. The judge had slated the employer for spending public money to defy the law and an order of a court. He had awarded the maximum compensation – over £100K, but this doesn’t even meet Yunus’s legal bill (Ian’s explanation: he was a UNISON member at the time but UNISON failed to back him and kicked him out of the union). Yunus is now meeting John Hendy QC to discuss a legal challenge to the use of public funds to flout the law. If this is successful, it could have a major impact for other Unfair Dismissal cases and the way tribunals operate.

Dave Carr, a UNITE health worker, said that when 150,000 job losses were announced in the NHS there were demonstrations outside hospitals, but no campaigns inside. This is now changing. In the ballots health workers had voted massively for strikes – UNISON 82%, UNITE 80% and in some sections higher (radiographers 85%, physiotherapists 86%). The strike would have a major impact on N30. Members didn’t just want to strike, they want to know how to win – how we can escalate the action. People like the links with other workers and unions – it gives them confidence. They llike the links with the Occupy movement and internationally. We have to Unite the Resistance to smash the Tories.

Kevin Courtney from the NUT urged people to work hard right up to N30 to make it as strong as possible. Everyone had to go away with a plan. Everyone is responsible – don’t rely on others doing the work for you. N30 has the potential to be the rebirth of the movement. Kevin reminded people of the detail of some of the arguments around pensions. The NUT position is that if there is no acceptable settlement, they would take a view to the TUC as described by Mark Serwotka. There should be more action – rolling action, more days of action.

Helen from Barnet UNISON talked about their fight against “Easy Council” and for the 99%. We have to go further than N30 – one day will not be enough.

The Global Struggle Against Austerity (I attended this session)

Alexis Sodoukis spoke on behalf of Nikos Fotopoulos, the Greek power workers’ general secretary. Greeks are facing cuts in wages, pensions, jobs and services – as well as privatisation. Greece is being used as the guinea pig for the storm spreading across Europe. Workers had occupied factories and government ministries. They even cut off the power to the health ministry because it owed millions to the public power company. They refused to cut off electricity to the poor and pensioners. Many local councils are giving legal support to those who can’t pay the new taxes. Good luck for N30!

John McDonnell MP argued that this crisis might not just be a blip for capitalism, but might be a time when systemic change was possible. The economy is a mess. Unemployment is high. Even Barosso talks about a fundamental crisis in the Eurozone. Austerity is nothing more than class warfare, and the only response is class struggle. Direct action was succeeding in raising issues, but it will peter out eventually if not linked to the organised working class. We need to link direction action and industrial action to make political action. Trade unionists should support the Occupy movement and help non-violent defence against any attempt at evictions. He hoped on N30 workers would march to St Pauls. The Occupy movement hopes to halt the city – we should help them. We have to build N30 but it can’t be a one-off – we have to prepare for more in the New Year. Some union leaders are leading. We have to say to the others – if you sell us out we are coming for you. There should be not settlement until we win – this is about more than pensions. It will be futile if it is just “opposition”. We have to talk about the sort of society we want. In some countries bankers are being installed as leaders – the very people who caused the crisis. We need regime change – to bring the government down. We need commitment, direction and solidarity.

Matt Myers from the Education Activists Network (EAN) talked about the need to unite students and workers. The police had kettled electricians when they tried to join the students because they are scared of that unity. The technocrats fear democracy. Students will join pickets and marches.

Someone from EIS, the Scottish teachers’ union, said this year had been inspiring, with events from Egypt to the USA. However, it had been frustrating too. 90% of members had rejected a pay freeze and changes to terms and conditions and backed actions, yet EIS leaders had backed down. It is encouraging that EIS members have voted again for action, to join N30. N30 has to be the beginning. Activists need to make links to avoid any repeat of a bad deal.

Suzanne Jeffries from the Campaign Against Climate Change trade union group talked about the campaign for a million climate jobs. There is a crisis of unemployment, especially amongst young people. Now the government wants people to work for benefits, so that taxpayers are subsidising multinational companies. In contrast, the climate jobs campaign was about socially useful, skilled and paid jobs. Homes need insulating. We need good public transport. There is both an economic crisis and a climate crisis. Climate change is a big issue for the poorest in the world. Cameron is not even going to the Durban talks or the Rio+1 talks – doing the queen’s jubilee instead. We should make the climate jobs campaign central to our fight against austerity.

Max Watson from UNISON explained how UCU members at London Met had struck alongside them against job losses mainly affecting UNISON members.

Mark Campbell from UCU argued that the cuts were not really due to the deficit. This was a very ideological attack – the 1% are getting rich on our backs. We stand with the people of Egypt, Palestine etc, with people in Greece and other European countries. We stand with the Occupy movement and should oppose any attempt at eviction. We stand with students – with all who resist. We have to defend the right of people to protests. We also need to argue for an alternative. He highlighted the Unite the Resistance action plan, for which a brochure is available for 20p via, listing the main points:

1. The money is there

2. Equal rights for all

3. One million climate jobs

4. Health & social care

5. Education

6. Pay & Pensions

7. Housing

8. Public utilities

Nahella Ashraf spoke from the “Save the Family Home” campaign ( Manchester city council is seeking to make a family homeless because one family member has been given three life sentences on terrorism charges on the basis of evidence from undercover cops. The individual is appealing, but irrespective of whether he is guilty, it is very dangerous to establish this collective punishment for the family. The house belongs to the wife, not the husband in jail. Nahella thought it was no coincidence that this test case was happening in Manchester – after the riots the leader of the council said that the families of rioters should lose their homes. If this approach stands, which protester or trade unionist will be next to have their family made homeless? It is easy to target Muslims in the current climate, but we should all speak out.

Paul Holmes from UNISON talked about how the ruling class were teaching people about class, even though the media rarely discuss it. 40 years ago lots of jobs had pensions, now few. Working class people used to put up with hardships in the belief that their kids would have a better life than them, but this is no longer true. Young people face a mountain of debts. A “technocrat” is an unelected leader appointed by someone else to take your money. MPs still have good pensions. We need socialist politics. Not just the bankers should be our target. The anti-union laws are there to tie our hands while mugging us. Cameron spent years at Eton being taught class solidarity – now the 99% need to learn it.

Mr Silver from BFAWU highlighted the 4 month lockout of 1300 staff at Crystal Sugar in the USA.

Raymond Morell from UNITE argued that it was the resistance of workers in Greece and elsewhere that had led to the acrimony between those at the top. The movement is growing globally, inspired by Tunisia and Egypt. The breadth of the movement, including the N30 strikes, the students, UK UNCUT etc is a strength. The government wants to divide us – it is frightened of unity. This is why the police attacked the sparks who were trying to join the students. The government’s attack on sick leave shows their nastiness. He has a national ballot over pay in his company. This will be too late to join N30, but they could coordinate action with the sparks. We should twin private and public sector workplaces. The sparks plan a rolling demonstration visiting pickets. They supported the St Paul’s occupation. Occupiers had helped the sparks shut a construction site. If eviction is threatened, we should all resist.

George Binette from UNISON and Camden TUC said our main focus should be on the success of N30. However, there were lessons to be learned from the huge demonstrations in France a year ago over increases to the retirement age – both positive and negative. On the positive side, industrial workers had been involved, and students had gone into occupation. Young people had made the link between increasing the retirement age and youth unemployment. The protests wounded Sarkozy but didn’t win. The main leaders refused to escalate the action to a sustained general strike. N30 can boost the confidence of workers to strike again. He proposed that the interim Unite the Resistance steering committee should bring forward the date of the next conference to be earlier than March, as the strategy needs to come from the base and needs debate.

A speaker from the FDA talked about the risk of workers being disillusioned if there was a shoddy deal after a big strike vote. Some officials only wished there was a shoddy deal there to be done. To prevent this, officials needed to be worried about the potential for unofficial action. If the government threatened even worse anti-union laws, we need to say we will break them. We need the start of rank and file networks to prevent sell-outs.

Stuart Richardson from the NUT described how his local anti-cuts group had taken advantage of council consultation meetings to force votes on anti-cuts motions.

John McLoughlin from Tower Hamlets UNISON talked about two turning points locally. On 30 March there had been a joint strike of UNISON and NUT. Then people had mobilised to stop the EDL coming to the borough. This was the process of building unity. N30 will be our biggest day – the world will be looking at our contribution to the struggle. Some people are trying to limit what our side does. For example SERTUC are saying Tower Hamlets is having a rally. They are not – they are marching all together.

Rehad Desai, a South African climate activist described how his family had fled South Africa to London in the 1960s. When the massacre in 1976 made him to decide to get active, he had been inspired by the role of the British trade unions supporting black workers at Grunwicks and fighting fascism. We need to take a stand again, with the Daily Express trying to blame immigrants for youth unemployment. Africa has faced 30 years of austerity, with the IMF raping society. In South Africa there is a huge movement, but despite that they have faced a decade of austerity since 1994. 6 million people were HIV positive, and 450,000 had died due to lack of treatment before the campaign won. Millions had been cut off from electricity and water, but campaigners had reconnected many. Workers are organised and fighting back. South Africa is seeing electricity prices rise rapidly to pay for building two of the biggest coal fired power stations in the world. Lots of people are saying they won’t pay unless it is for clean energy. South Africa is an emerging economy – already the 12th biggest polluter in the world. It is already a victim of climate change too. 30% of rural areas are seeing a 25% fall in maize yields – the staple diet. Further north, land is burning, lakes shrinking and crops failing. In hotter areas, a temperature increase of 1C or 1.5C is enough to cause crop failure. 150,000 people a year are already dying in Africa due to climate change. While Bangkok floods, other areas see droughts. Britain’s “1m Climate Jobs” campaign was inspiring and is now being taken up by unions in South Africa. We have one world, and one fight. People should join the protest in London on 3rd December which is part of a global day of action around the Durban climate talks.

Leah Petty was a teachers’ union member who was part of Occupy Wall Street from the first day. In two months the movement had done more to boost the confidence of workers than the last two decades. The occupation had started with just 200 people, and she had hoped it might last a week. Now hundreds of cities in the USA have occupations. Americans had seen uprisings in the Middle East and Europe, but it had felt impossible that it could happen in their own country. OWS had transformed the situation. The slogan “we are the 99%” means that this issue – class – was being discussed everywhere, including the media. 72% of New Yorkers support OWS, and everyone is talking about it. The 99% slogan and having a clear target in Wall Street had helped unify people and give the movement direction. Leah is part of the OWS “labour committee”. Initially this had focussed on the unions giving material support to the occupation. It had now turned into the occupation giving inspiration and support to workers. Many people are getting organised for the first time, and networking. Occupy is going into workplaces, schools and communities. The establishment first tried to discredit us. They claimed there were health and safety grounds for clearing the occupation. We cleaned the area ourselves, with help from the unions. When that didn’t work they turned to violence to get rid of us. The unions helped with physical defence of the occupation. The police injuring an Iraq war veteran had caused outrage. The occupation in Oakland had voted for a general strike – then 15000 marched down and shut the port. OWS has now been evicted, but two days later held a march of 35000 with the slogan “you can’t evict an idea whose time has come” which stopped the stock exchange from opening. There are also occupations of subways.

Organising in our Communities Against Austerity (John Garvani provided the report for this session)

The overwhelming theme from the speakers in this session was "All Out & Stay Out" and a call for Nov 30th to be the start with a call for the TUC to name a further day early in the New Year followed by all out strike action if necessary.

Coalition of Resistance speaker:

  • We shouldn't undersetimate the severity of the problem. If there are defaults then there will be another banking crisis
  • UK government is trapped into cuts
  • We need to take the message from the Occupy movements and have to oppose austerity
Rob Williams - NSSN:
  • Only 11 days to go and its een a marathon to get here.
  • need to nationalise the banking sector
  • Working class and big sections of the middle class will be affected by the cuts
  • some Labour Councils will support the strike but they also need to continue this support into the budget meetings and reject cuts.
  • This strike will show the way for private sector and like the construction workers show that there is a socialist alternative
Paul Brandon - Right to Work:
  • We can't do enough work in Communities
  • "Students & Workers - Unite & Fight"
  • The assembly movement is a massive world wide movement that not just resists but also offers an alternative
  • We have to build organisations that can keep up the momentum of 2 - 3 million striking
  • Need to be readical e.g. wipe the slate clean of debts
  • Key thing is to carry forward the momentum and take on the Government and the system
Lee Jasper - BARAC:
  • Mandate for strike is overwhelming & now need activists to go out and talk to people in the workplace & community
  • N30 is not the end but the start
  • Black Community never enjoyed the benefits of the 80s boom as there was no tickle down. They never had money in the 80s, haven't got money now & won't have money in the future
  • High rates of unemployment and child poverty in the black communities
  • 80% of black employment is in the public sector and is predominantly women. Cuts are pushing women's unemployment up to the level of men - Government policy is intrinsically rascist & sexist
  • Trade Union movement has, like Unite, to open up membership to unemployed etc
Richard Razor - Disabled People against the Cuts
  • disabed people need support from Trade Unions
  • Need those implementing cuts to stop
  • hate crimes against disabled is on the increase

There were then around 15 - 20 speakers from the floor who covered points such as:
  • Criminalisation of protestors
  • growing legitimacy of being anti-muslim
  • the need to build in our communities and to go on the doorstep and carry out
  • Community Audits
  • This is a class war beyond belief
  • As Trade Unionists we have to do everything in our power to get everyone out.
  • N30 is just the start and we have to build on the confidence

The affect of the cuts was brought home when a speaker from DPAC said they knew of two suicides following cuts to benefits amd of 1 person who had died waiting for his appeal against benefit cuts to be heard. He was dying of terminal cancer but the assessor cut his benefit saying he was fit to work.
Plenary: Where next for the movement?

The British embassy had refused a visa for the Eyptian doctor activist who was due to speak, on the grounds that he was not “secure in his socio-economic status” i.e. he wasn’t rich enough. He sent a message of support which was read out. The Egyptians had inspired the world, and were now being inspired by the resistance spreading. The doctors had struck and organised – they had kicked out their boss and elected a replacement. There is currently fighting in Tahrir Square and he is there helping the injured. When they struck they felt free and in control.

Alexis from Greece spoke again.

Ian Hodson from BFAWU explained how his members in the baking industry rely on public services such as the NHS and education. Why not tax those who can pay? Churchill had a 97% tax rate to rebuild the country. UK UNCUT activists face prosecution, but not the bankers. If the government beats the public sector workers, we will all be weaker, including those in the private sector, on welfare or pensioners.

Mark Wood, the UNITE convenor from Southampton council, talked about their 6 month dispute. In April the council issued 90 day notice, then on 11 July 4300 staff were dismissed and re-engaged on new contracts which meant 20% cuts. The strike is joint UNITE & UNISON. They have used a three-pronged strategy. Firstly rolling selective strikes and action short of strike. Secondly political. Thirdly legal. On 6th October UNISON care workers had struck and all UNITE members had struck alongside them. The unions have lodged a joint claim for failure to consult, and backed 1000 unfair dismissal claims. The Tory council sacked members in July, so they aim to sack the councillors in May. They struck on June 30 alongside PCS and education unions. They have handed out 100000 leaflets to residents and taken out adverts in the press. The strike fund has received £100K from UNITE alone. While the workers haven’t won, other councils have backed off as they don’t want “another Southampton”, they have given confidence to others to fight, and have forced the council to negotiate. The union is currently consulting members over the council’s 5th “final” offer. UNITE has recommended rejection, and believes members will reject it. Mark argued that where we give them confidence, members are willing to fight. We have to educate members, including about the economic alternatives.

A speaker from Dale Farm talked about how Michael Howard had told travellers to buy land, but when they did, they were told they could not stay on it. The police had used near-fatal force to clear them, including using tazers for crowd control for the first time, leading to fears such practices could spread. He urged people to support the campaign for travellers’ civil rights which had sprung out of the Dale Farm situation.

A speaker from the NUS talked about how students had smashed the cuts consensus. Their movement had started officially, with events called by NUS and UCU, but then radicalised. People had the same enemy, so should fight together. We have to make N30 a day of resistance. Students cannot fight and win alone, but the working class can bring down the government. We should shut down education on N30. Students should join pickets and have feeder demonstrations. The day of resistance should reclaim education from the profit agenda. Some people in NUS had argued that we should only back strikes if they are not disruptive – but this is the point of strikes. Be disruptive!

Steve Kelly from UNITE construction covered some of the same ground covered above by Ian Bradley. The employers are making their attacks now because they know the unions were weak, having not done what they should for years. People face pay cuts from £16 to £10.50 an hour. The rank and file has been building up since August, and is now a major movement spreading across the UK. They had forced UNITE to call a ballot of 1700 Balfour Beatty staff. They are due to be dismissed on 7th December. The ballot result is due on N30, with 7 December planned as a day of action. We can’t rely on the ballot – we need flying pickets. We can’t rely on the union to do it for us. Without the rank and file UNITE would have sat back until next year. The whole industry is a shambles, with exploitation, particularly of foreign workers. There has been a media blackout apart from Socialist Worker, the Socialist and Socialist Appeal. The ranks and file has its own publication – site worker – which needs funds.

Leah Petty from Occupy Wall Street spoke again (see above). People in the USA are watching N30 and hope to copy it. She led one of the main chants from OWS – “I believe that we can win!”

Sara Bennett from UNITE, who was chairing the session, explained that this was the second conference called by leading activists from the unions involved in coordinated action. We need a committee, and the intention is to elect one at the next conference. In the meantime the convention agreed that the existing team should continue acting as an interim committee.

Karen Reissmann from UNISON talked about the scale of the attacks and of the resistance. There is a whiff of change, shown by the breadth of the speakers at the convention. N30 is not just about pensions, but about what sort of world we want. New leaders in Europe are linked to Goldman Sachs. They helped cause the crisis, so why would anyone imagine they could fix it? Brendan Barber’s response to the latest Tory offer hadn’t helped the campaign. The offer tried to divide workers based on age. We are rusty at striking – the last national strike in health was 1982. But the Tories are rusty too, hence mistakes like Maude’s ridiculous suggestion of a 15 minute strike. Yet Barber’s only complaint was that the idea hadn’t been put to the TUC first. The idea of not crossing picket lines is coming back. The strike votes are fantastic. As the Tories attacking us all at once we can resist all at once. This is not the 1980s, that legacy is fading. Northern Ireland UNISON had no militant tradition, and only a close strike vote, yet their strike in October was strong and they now wanted more action. This shows how N30 can change things. We win by showing we are serious. In 1989 local government strikers won by having a clear escalation plan. After N30 we should all be out together – and stay out.

Jane said that members are asking what next after N30. This is about pay, jobs etc as well as pensions. On million young people are unemployed – the highest since records began. The answer is jobs with wages, yet the Tories plan to close job centres. We need three things. Firstly, unity. Secondly, size matters – 29 unions are joining so far, with more to come. Thirdly, after N30 we need to widen the action – including to the private sector, and have another date soon. The government is weak – we can win.


There were many campaigns handing out leaflets, including:

• UNITE dispute at Stagecoach Barnsley, asking for messages of support to their steward Stuart Bacon, 33 Dearne Road, Brampton, Barnsley, S73 0XA. Their next strike is due 21st November 2011.

• Highlighting the case of Yunus Bakhsh (referred to above), asking for contributions to Yunus’s legal fund (which will be returned if the NHS trust can be forced to pay costs). Sort code 20-80-47 account 30852937 “Defend Yunus Bakhsh Campaign”, c/o 46c Lawe Road, South Sheilds, Tyne and Wear, NE33 2EN.

• Opposing the Welfare Reform Bill
• Highlighting Atos Origin, the “Work Programme”, “Mandatory Work Activity”


Brother Marx said...

Isn't it a touch ironic that the proposed approach to trying to boost or at least maintain the numbers of people in employment is to go on strike ?

What purpose does striking serve in the modern age ? If wages for the working class are genuinely inadequate then going on strike and losing a days pay does suggest a slightly contrary view, unless the strike pay is better than a day's normal pay. But if that were the case, we would see a proliferation of strike action. The other problem with strike action is, as the BA cabin crew found to their cost, if the organisation is able to continue to operate in spite of the action, not only is the power of a strike nullified, it also suggests to the employer that they can operate with far fewer staff anyway. The employer has no incentive to settle, so all that happens is the strikers become increasingly frustrated and may act in a manner that could lead to dismissal.

In the current economic climate the employers hold the edge. Strike action, if it is solid, can drive companies out of business. Now that may be good news if the employment practices are oppressive, but it won't provide wages to pay for food on the table and a roof over one's head.

Socialism is about equality. From each according to his/her ability; To each according to his/her needs. An admirable tenet, but one that is questionable when the difference between income between those who give and those who receive is only modest. We hear all about the greed of bankers and others who have fat paycheques, but they form a small fraction of the working population. The masses are on far more modest wages. The masses are the people who fund the welfare state. The welfare state that pays out significant sums to the unwaged. Sums that can be as much as the average income. Thus whilst we have a large number of unemployed, they have no incentive to seek work as the welfare state will meet their needs. We are building a drone class. Is that equality ? Is that socialism ? Whilst I can see that providing a respite for those who are unable to find work is admirable, subsidising them ad infinitum seems unreasonable. Moreover, actions that can only add to the numbers of unwaged mean that the working classes become even more oppressed. Bad enough to have the state on your case, but when your comrades are also acting against your interests it is time to take stock.

The planned action on November 30th runs the risk of alienating the union movement still further and creating divisions between the working class. It smacks of political posturing as opposed to a genuine concern. High time it was called off before socialism in the UK is dealt another blow.

Ian said...


So in summary you are saying:

1) If people can "afford" to strike, they aren't justified in doing so
2) Employers hold the edge so there's no point striking
3) If strikes are effective, the employer goes bust
4) Unemployed people get benefits equating to the average wage
5) United strike action divides the working class
6) You are arguing all the above because you are worried about the future of "socialism"

You've done such a great job of arguing yourself in circles that it barely seems necessary to respond, but just in case you're not a troll...

1) People strike because they can't afford not to, not because they can afford to
2) Strikes sometimes win, often achieve something positive, and sometimes lose
3) If you are never prepared to fight, in an economic system based on competition, employers are forced to keep pushing down on you - the race to the bottom
4) A united response from working people, such as that currently developing, has the best chance of success. If people don't fight they are certain to lose.