Sunday 10 June 2012

For a one-day general strike !

National Shop Stewards Network Conference 2012
Yesterday's sixth annual conference of the National Shop Stewards Network brought together hundreds of trade unionists to discuss how best to build a united struggle against the attacks on pensions, pay, jobs and services.

The Conference agreed that NSSN Networks need to do everything they can to build the TUC national demonstration on October 20th - but to demand that the TUC uses it as a springboard to build for a one-day general strike - including both public and private sector trade unionists - to challenge cuts and austerity.

Every speaker from the rostrum - and the many from the floor - brought a flavour of the many struggles that had taken place over the last year. Reps from private-sector battles such as the successful construction workers' disputes, from MMP in Bootle and from Honda, described how determined action can make the employers retreat. Two doctors described the unprecedented support for action within the BMA membership.

Trade union leaders such as Mark Serwotka (PCS), Alex Gordon (RMT), Padraig Mulholland (NIPSA) and PJ McParlin (POA) showed how a fighting leadership is battling to maintain the momentum of struggle despite the retreats by the TUC tops and other unions who had thrown in the towel on pensions just a few weeks after the massive show of united trade union strength on November 30. But the battle is far from over - and we certainly aren't going to let N30 be the end of the story! 

Mark Serwotka congratulated the NSSN on their position of "no cuts" and described the Labour Party's opposition to austerity as being 'pitiful'. The PCS is now going to ballot its membership on support for standing trade union candidates where other parties are failing to provide an opposition to cuts and privatisation. But he also called for an honest analysis of both the successes and setbacks over the last year explaining that no one union, or even one sector, can defeat these attacks alone. Mark called for a strengthening of the rank-and-file organisation, especially in those big unions holding back from struggle, to pressurise leaders to act - just as they had been pushed from below to act on N30. That is, of course, a role that the NSSN has been built to take on. 

Kevin Courtney, DGS of the NUT, also congratulated the NSSN on its efforts to build an organised network of political trade unionists in touch with members in the workplaces. Kevin also called for trade unions to make demands that will win support from the millions beyond our memberships - such as the '68 is too late' demand for both occupational and state pensions.

Kevin explained how the recent agreement between the NUT and NASUWT would hopefully bring not just the 45% of teachers in NUT membership into action, but also the 40% of teachers in the NASUWT - allowing teachers to make a more effective addition to the joint action that needed to be built in the Autumn.

Newly-elected socialist President of NIPSA, Padraig Mulholland, called for a 1-day public sector strike in the Autumn but explained that while NIPSA called for the greatest possible unity, it could not be 'unity at any price'. That was a theme that I also took up in  my contribution from the floor. The prospect of united action with the NASUWT can certainly help rebuild confidence after the stuttering campaign over the last few months, but not if the NASUWT leadership are allowed to set a pace which holds back the movement - just when we need to be stepping up action, not holding back. I also warned that, while action-short-of-strike-action can play its part in defending teachers from the attacks we face, it is national strike action that most easily brings together both the strongest and least strongly organised regions and schools into action - and let's us unite alongside other trade unions too.

However, while I pointed out that other trade unions must have been questioning the NUT's resolve after the 'will-they-won't-they' debates over March, May and June - when the NUT has regrettably held back from national action, I made clear to the Conference that the NUT is a union that will fight. With the attacks we face on pensions - and all the other attacks that we are now going to ballot to take action over as well such as pay, capability and workload - we have no choice but to act. 

Teachers certainly can't work until they're 68 and with the stress in today's schools, few teachers can even work until they are 60 (and indeed in 2010/11 official figures show that 4 in 10 teachers retired before their existing retirement age) ! That's why NUT members must go all out to win a big YES vote in the new ballot starting on 25 June. But we must then use that mandate to unite with others across the trade union movement in announcing a calendar of united national strike action, starting as early in the Autumn as possible.

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