A lively demonstration and packed rallies organised by the National Shop Stewards Network to lobby the TUC Congress in Manchester yesterday helped take the message to the TUC tops that they have a duty to lead national action against the cuts. If even a little of the spirit of struggle that came from trade unionists who had come to the NSSN event from all over England and Wales is shown in the Congress debates, then the Government should start to worry that the slumbering giant of the TUC is starting to stir.
Speaking to the rally outside the Convention Centre, I pointed out that Brendan Barber was now fond of pointing to the poll tax campaign as a model of how to fight. Well those of us who actually helped organise that battle (I was then Secretary of the Bromley Anti Poll Tax Federation) would agree that it showed how to unite local communities in anti poll tax unions, linked together in regional and national federations. But it won because it was based on action - in that case mass non-payment. For our anti-cuts struggle to win we need similar determination and organisation - but we also need national action - demonstrations and co-ordinated strikes.
What we don't need is a leadership that drags its feet. The sorry lesson of Ireland is, that where unions retreat, our pay, pensions and services are cut. The TUC's decision not to call a national demonstration until March 2011 - despite calls from the NUT and others for a demo this term - shows a lack of the firm leadership needed. We have to make sure that the March demo is built - but we can't wait to organise action until then either. By then, many of the cuts will already have been made.
All the speakers from the platform – from national leaders of the PCS, RMT, CWU and others - and from the floor - were clear that we have to go out and unite public and private sector unions, build local anti-cuts alliances of unions and community campaigns and build for national action. All the various events being called - like the Lobbies of the Liberal and Tory Conferences, the TUC Lobby of Parliament and the Regional week of action in October - must all be built firmly.
The NUT and PCS in Bristol have shown the way by calling their own Regional demonstration on Saturday October 23rd. I was pleased to be able to discuss with London organisers of the RMT and FBU at the NSSN Lobby. These unions - mounting their own struggles in London against cuts to their jobs and conditions - are considering calling just such a march in London too and hope for the backing of other unions like the PCS, CWU - and, of course, the NUT.
Look out for news of a London demo - and let's build united action !