02 July 70 trade unionists in 10 unions from all over Wales, mainly reps and shops stewards, gathered in Cardiff at the annual conference of the Wales Shop Stewards Network on June 30th.
The conference was taking place at a time when there are dozens of disputes taking place but while there is also a summer break in the huge struggle between the government and public sector workers over pensions and cuts. But it is a break before potentially the biggest battle yet. While the dispute over pensions continues public sector workers are also being confronted with new cuts all the time.
All the way through the conference delegates repeated that only 20% of government cuts have been implemented 80% are still to come. Another theme was the total lack of trust for Labour leaders offering any way forward for trade unionists.
Katrine Williams, Chair of PCS Wales, opened the conference looking ahead to these battles. As Cameron launches the campaign to cut benefits further to the unemployed and low paid she explained that PCS’s posters exposing the effects of government cuts to benefit provision have been banned by management in DWP (see picture below). She hailed the historic result of the ballot of PCS members announced on June 29th that voted by 79% to engage in political campaigning by supporting candidates who oppose all cuts in national elections.
Les Woodward, national convenor of REMPLOY, whose workers face the complete closure of all 54 factories, explained how he has discovered why they had been picked on: it is because “there is not one hedge-fund manager amongst them, not one, venture capitalist, not one banker and as far as I am aware not one of them has been found guilty of dirty dealing in the financial sector. If they were then the government would have bailed them out”.
Ramon Corria, secretary of Cardiff Trades Union Council, called for action that could kick out the Con Dem government but he warned about Labour too: “there is no point replacing a government of the rich kids with a government of the 2nd XI. We need a plan B and a plan C.” There is an easy solution to the problem of the banks: “nationalise them.”
This was echoed by Dave Bartlett (PCS MOJ group executive) from the floor who summed up the mood of the whole movement when he asked “Who are the markets? No more than a few thousand people, economic terrorists holding the rest of us to ransom – nationalise them”.
Cerith Griffiths, chair of FBU Wales, went further on Labour “there is no difference between Tory and Labour”. FBU members across Britain are facing a sustained attack from the employers trying to impose continual service up to 120 hour shifts and the threat of dismissal with re-employment on worse terms and conditions.
Owen Herbert, South Wales and South West representative on the RMT council of executives, explained how the McNulty Report aimed to cut rail-workers on stations and trains putting vulnerable people at risk. He disagreed with the idea that the trade union movement just had to get Labour back to prevent the cuts. “That won’t work – Ed Miliband and Ed Balls say slower cuts, but we have to stop all the cuts”.
Mark Evans, secretary of Carmarthenshire council UNISON and newly re-elected Wales representative on the union’s Local Government Service Executive, went further when he spoke from the floor: “Workers need a workers’ party. None of the existing parties represent workers in struggle, that is why I support the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition”. He reported that in his union branch not a single member had supported the pension deal negotiated by Prentis and the leadership.
John Hancock, south Wales and south west England representative on the Prison Officers Association, to laughter made a point of thanking Alec Thraves for his contribution at the Wales TUC conference in support of the POA’s recent protest action an unstated reference to Alec’s censure by the president of the Wales TUC.
The POA has been threatened with an injunction by the government if it did not promise that there would be no repeat of the protest action when prison officers walked out on the May 10 at the same time as PCS, UCU and UNITE members struck. But “we can paper the walls with injunctions so one more won’t make a difference”.
He promised if Bob Diamond (Chief Executive of Barclays Bank) is arrested or imprisoned as he should be for the fraud perpetrated at his bank then “I’m sure we can find him a place at Cardiff or Swansea prisons”.
John Watkins, Chair of the University and College Union Wales, pointed out the pensions strike can still be won but it was important to bring together the unions in dispute in action in the autumn.
Claire Job, a nurse member of UNISON, called on trade union activists in Wales to unite to defend the NHS in Wales. She said the NHS is heading for a ‘perfect storm’ of attacks in Wales: “The NHS in Wales now faces greater financial pressures than any other nation of the UK. The Welsh Audit Office reports that, by 2014-15, Wales will have the lowest spending per head of the population of any area in the UK and the seven Health Boards in Wales have to find £300 million of savings, around 5% of their budgets on average, every year for the next 3 years. Already £1 billion has been cut since 2005.
“They say a better NHS is one where: we lose hundreds of hospital beds from every health board. But a recent RCN survey of nurses in Wales highlighted the growing practice of patients being treated on trolleys in casualty corridors.
“They say a better NHS is one where: The number of A&E/casualty units is reduced. Never mind that this will lead to further travel time for patients in need of urgent assessment at a critical time – when every second counts.
“They say a better NHS is one where: Your local District General Hospital is downgraded and centres of excellence are established. Although this pools expertise, it removes people from their communities and their support systems and does not take into account patients’ preferences.”
Claire called on the conference to “unite community campaigns with the best activists in the health service unions to build a campaign that can stop the Welsh government from passing on Tory cuts and provide a health service in Wales to meet the needs of all the people of Wales.”
Ronnie Job declared that the Wales Shop Stewards Network represented the rank and file leadership of the Welsh trade union movement. He believed that as the Wales TUC had agreed to call a bland slimmed down conference for 2013 only able to discuss motions deemed important by the General Council of the Wales TUC then the WSSN should step into the gap and call a more representative conference immediately afterwards.
After a delicious lunch provided by the Cardiff and District DWP PCS branch the afternoon session was broken up into workshops on the NHS in Wales, trade unions campaigning in the community and organising action in the workplace.
A statement of aims was agreed to:
- Mobilise for the NSSN lobby of the TUC on September 9th in Brighton
- Mobilise maximum support across Wales for the national TUC demonstration in London on October 20th as a step to a 24 hour general strike
- Build for a Wales demonstration against cuts which is now WTUC policy
- Mobilise opposition to NHS cuts and work to coordinate campaigns together
Rob Williams, chair of the National Shop Stewards Network, summed up the conference when he explained all the battles in the private and public sector can be unified behind a campaign for a one day general strike.