**Breaking news** The PCS motion for more co-ordinated action has been passed TODAY! The debate on the POA motion on a general strike is tomorrow.
Even before the actual NSSN lobby of the TUC for a general strike took place on Sunday 9 September, NSSN supporters had been busy discussing, debating and mobilising workers and the wider community around the next step in the fight against austerity. And it has made a difference!
Before Congress began, even Frances O’Grady, TUC General Secretary elect, “put herself on collision course with Labour leader Ed Miliband, by saying she would help organise action if it was approved by ballots.‘If members vote for it – it depends on democratic ballots – then obviously the TUC stands ready to support and co-ordinate action’.” (Guardian Online 8 September 2012.) This was in addition to Unite’s Len McCluskey, RMT’s Bob Crow, PCS’s Mark Serwotka and, of course, Steve Gillan of the POA, who was bringing the motion to the conference, having already put their support to the idea.
On a scorching hot day, over 800 marched through Brighton to urge the TUC to support the call for a general strike. Welsh supporters started travelling at 5am, now that shows commitment!
We got a great response as we marched through Brighton town centre and along the promenade, where hundreds of people were able to see and hear our demand for the next step in the battle against austerity.
At the assembly point for the march, many speakers, including Janice Godrich (PCS President), argued for the need for co-ordinated action against the huge onslaught that was piling up against us. PCS and many others have continually argued against the need for cuts, but the union has also shown that there is no need for any cuts, explaining that £120 billion is lost to the government in tax avoidance. The march had been welcomed by Phil Clarke of Brighton Trades Council, who congratulated the NSSN for marching in a city where 10,000 had protested on N30.
Other speakers included former library worker Nancy Taaffe, who explained how austerity was boosting the far right throughout Europe but they could be stopped: with a combination of a socialist programme against austerity, and tackling them on the ground, as had been done against the EDL in Walthamstow on 1 September. Steve Hedley, newly-elected Assistant Secretary of the RMT, welcomed the part played by young people in fighting back against the cuts when they protested against the loss of EMA and the cuts to higher education, but the labour movement must lead the fightback now against austerity.
The lively rally was opened by Shona McCulloch, (Brighton Trades Council & member of Union’s higher education exec (HESGE), in a personal capacity. (Earlier on Sunday, Dave Prentis met with 4 well respected activists, who had been suspended by the union, they brought a petition to Unison over the possibility of an appeal). Shona argued that strike action was necessary and supported, with 2 days of action over pay to take place.
Bob Crow (RMT general secretary), was introduced by NSSN National Secretary, Linda Taaffe, noting that there would have not been an NSSN without the RMT’s initiative and leading role five years ago. Crow began with his support for the NSSN march and lobby, and his support for the POA motion for a general strike. “In reality it is a class attack… whether [a general strike is] legal or not is not the issue; the reality is, is it right or wrong?” He went on to say this was the only action that could really make a difference, and reported on a recent ballot for action over privatisation at CalMac ferries in Scotland, where the Scottish government assured the union there would be no break up and privatisation of the routes.
“The only thing more contagious than fear is courage,” Bob Crow concluded and called on the TUC not just to consider a general strike against austerity but name the day!
Ex-Remploy Shop Steward Mark Holloway expressed his anger and sadness at the closure of the factories that had put thousands of disabled workers out of work. He pointed out that some had argued it was necessary to close Remploy, as it was ‘segregating’ workers but he said it was their choice to work separately, in workplaces that had better understanding and systems set up to be an accessible employer. He also pointed to the ongoing hypocrisy that didn’t shut down the Paralympics for the same reason.
Steve Gillan (POA), whose union put forward the motion on a general strike, and had been putting forward similar motions for a few years, argued that the need for this motion and action was necessary, as the government “bails out the banks but not Remploy”; this was one example of what had been taken away from us. He ended by asserting, “They’ll only stop chasing us, if we stop running!”
April Ashley, in a personal capacity, reported on the terrible murders of the South African miners at Marikina who are in their fourth week of strike action for a living wage from Lonmin, a British company. As an activist against apartheid, she said it was the like the worst of the apartheid massacres, but shocking under an ANC government, a government which then jailed 300 other miners for the murder of their colleagues, citing a charge of ‘common purpose’, again used by the apartheid regime. After mass actions across South Africa and solidarity protests in Ireland, Nigeria, Austria and England, including 2 lobbies initiated by the NSSN, those jailed miners have been released. More workers are now making the call for a living wage. “If they can’t afford this, nationalise the company!” April ended, requesting continued support and solidarity for the ongoing battle.
Mark Serwotka PCS, began by congratulating the organisers of the lobby and rally, reminding anyone who thinks lobbies don’t work to remember the lobby at Congress House when some unions were about to call off the pension strike; the lobby helped stiffen resolve, when the trade union leaders could see and hear the protest outside the meeting. Mark encouraged the audience to make sure the debate for action was injected into communities, who were facing the massive cuts and biggest wage of privatisation.
PCS had been one of the unions that had actively promoted and led co-ordinated action in the pensions’ battle, pointed to what they have been able to do, against the odds and with an unremitting avalanche of publicity against them. With the HMRC dispute, over 1000 jobs were pledged. The Home Office strike, due to start the day before the Olympics, with politicians and the mainstream press calling for the end of strike action in the civil service and a state of emergency, won 1,000 jobs!
Further action is now already on the cards, as they have voted for another national strike, which they will co-ordinate with the NUT, who have also successfully balloted for strike action over pay. They have also had a huge discussion and debate in the union and agreed to stand or support political candidates who will support their members.
Steve, an electrician and Unite member, was part of the campaign against the BESNA, which threatened pay cuts of around 35%, but led to un-official action and the seven companies backing down. He explained how the campaign began and also developed into the necessary action to defend the JIB agreement. Steve also linked that battle to the campaign against the blacklisting of union activists. Major players in the BESNA group were also leading companies charged with blacklisting workers.
Rob Williams, Chair of the NSSN, was the final speaker, an ex-convenor of the Visteon/Linamar plant in Swansea. Rob began with international messages of support for the lobby. The first was from CONLUTAS, a Brazilian federation of trade unions, who commented: “We must unite forces across the world.”
Rob reminded those at the rally, that 28 years ago, there was also an important lobby of the TUC in support of the miners on strike in 1984. While the NSSN supports the TUC marches in London, Glasgow and Belfast on 20 October, he also said it was necessary to talk about what next, and what is necessary to defeat this weak ConDem government, a government that was responsible for food banks growing at a massive rate, “which were nothing more than modern day soup kitchens”.
Rob noted how the NSSN weekly bulletin was getting longer and longer, but it was a reflection of the change in the industrial landscape; battles were taking place and many had won including the Construction Electricians against BESNA, the PCS in the recent disputes at HMRC and the Home Office, the London Bus drivers for an Olympic bonus, and concessions for workers including MMP after mass campaigns, to name but a few!
This year was also the 40th anniversary of the Pentonville 5 and the jailing of the Shrewsbury pickets, campaigns which showed the need to fight against unjust anti-trade union laws.
To a huge cheer, as the rally was about to end and lobby TUC delegates as they entered the Brighton Centre, it was announced that the Unison delegation had voted to support the POA motion for a general strike. This is already with Unite ‘onside’!
- Send the linked flyer to your members and raise the model motion at all meetings in the build up to the 20 October demonstrations that will take place in Glasgow, Belfast & London.
- Get involved with the regional NSSN events and meetings
- JOIN the NSSN, as an individual or affiliate as a branch and take out a standing order so we can continue our work.
Thanks to everyone who helped build for this rally, raise finances, bring supporters and continue to argue in their many many branches/union/ and wider community action that will make a difference!
Some other Reports on the Lobby/General Strike, which we will add to:
1. NSSN steering committee member and NUT NEC Martin Powell-Davis
One of the reports about today, more on their way in the next few days.
2. Guardian: TUC delegates are also expected to vote on a motion to explore the “practicalities” of holding the first general strike since 1926.
3. The Socialist: NSSN lobby demands a 24-hour general strike.
3. Short video of march on way to the rally
4. Short video Bob Crow at the Rally.
& Our rally on the TUC website!