Yesterday was not a day for Londoners to be sitting at home. Thousands marched against the cuts to Whittington Hospital, against fire station closures, against the bedroom tax and more besides. At the same time, around a hundred trade unionists met in the TUC's Congress House for the SERTUC Conference on 'Resisting Austerity in Europe and the UK'.
The Conference heard from speakers from UNITE, POA, NUT, FBU and UK UNCUT about 'how trade unions can fight austerity'. John Hancock from the POA called on trade unions to act on the motion successfully proposed by his union at the last TUC Congress to consider the 'practicalities of a general strike'. But, as John added, now they have been considered, that 24-hour general strike needs to be called!
Matt Wrack of the FBU spoke after coming straight from the demonstration against station closures in Clapham. Max Hyde from the NUT explained the attacks on both teachers and education as a whole and alerted the Conference that announcements would be made soon about further action that the NUT will be taking to oppose them.
The meeting also successfully put the battle against cuts in Britain in the context of the European-wide attacks on our pay and pensions, and on our conditions and communities. Fernando Mauricio from the CGTP in Portugal, Maria Pentroulis from SYRIZA in London and Paul Murphy, Socialist Party MEP from Ireland, spoke about the attacks being made across the EU.
Paul Murphy's key message was to explain that austerity IS working - for the bankers and bondholders in their efforts to use the crisis to steal away the gains that the labour movement has made in the past. He called for a socialist solution to capitalist crisis and for trade unions to adopt both industrial and political strategies in opposing 'austerity'.
Quoting Jim Larkin, Paul pointed out that our movement has two arms - an industrial arm and a political arm - and we need to use both! His excellent speech - along with a brief solidarity greeting from Alexis Tsipras, leader of SYRIZA in Grece who was also in the building for other discussions, is on this video: http://youtu.be/n-fAlSywf38
Coming in from the floor, Rob Williams from the NSSN pointed out that the best solidarity we can show to the workers of Greece is to build our own struggles, particularly in building a 24-hour General Strike to start to drive Britain's Coalition Government from office.
The second session of the Conference explained the economic context of the attacks with speakers including Owen Jones, Bill Greenshields from the 'People's Charter' and John McInally from the PCS. To applause, John explained why the PCS was starting national action on March 20th and called on unions to raise their sights and build co-ordinated strike action to defeat this Government's attacks.
Sarah Veale spoke about the impact of the cuts on women, black and other minority communities. Duncan Wheldon, TUC Senior Economist, pointed out that the graphs of economic 'recovery' for the UK first started to compare economic performance with the 90s, then the 80s - and now are having to be drawn in comparison with the 30's - but they still aren't showing 'recovery'! In fact the graphs now have to be drawn in 'landscape', not 'portrait' as the line just keeps crawling along showing continued stagnation of the economy.
That means, as I said in summing up the Conference from the Chair, that these attacks will inevitably continue - unless we act to stop them. The PCS are showing the way by taking national strike action on March 20th and beyond. Now other unions need to show the same determination to mount a serious battle against 'austerity' and its dire consequences for all our communities - in Britain and across Europe.
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