The Yorkshire Shop Stewards Network conference held in Leeds on Saturday 24th November was attended by 45 delegates from 14 different trade unions from Hull, Scunthorpe, Sheffield, York, Harrogate and West Yorkshire.
The theme of the day was “Fighting Cuts and Privatisation, Build for a One Day General Strike, Bring down the Con-Dem government”.
Opening the conference, teaching assistant Vicky Perrin (Unison NEC personal capacity) explained how the National Shop Stewards Network (NSSN) has developed over the last 7 years and the need to now develop a regional network.
First speaker up was Andrea Busfield, a striking medical secretary form Mid Yorks NHS Trust. A newly elected steward, she inspired the conference with her speech which outlined how the mainly women admin and clerical workers are fighting management plans to cut their pay by £1700-£2800 p.a.
Dave Williams, Fire Brigade Union (FBU) West Yorkshire Brigade Secretary spoke about the station closures and fire engine and firefighter reductions that his union was campaigning against. He also told delegates that the FBU had proposed the nationalisation of all the banks at the TUC conference and that his union rulebook stated its ultimate aim was a socialist society.
“I’m more used to speaking in a car park, or on a hill or fence in front of 2-300 angry bears” joked Ian Bell, Unite shop steward for electricians from BP Saltend, Hull, who recounted the Sparks battle against the “Scabby Seven” employers over the BESNA.
Chris Skidmore (President, Yorkshire area NUM) said that 540 miners faced redundancy with the closure of Maltby pit. He recounted his own experiences at the Battle of Orgreave and the criminilisation of NUM strikers ever since. He said of the Labour government, “13 years, you can count on one hand what they did for us, it’s a bloody disgrace.”
Richard Chamberlain introduced himself as the Leeds branch chair of the Prison Officers Association (POA) “also known to the Tories as those buggers that went on strike even though its illegal.” He said that “Enough is enough” and explained why the POA had proposed Motion 5 at the TUC conference calling for consideration of a one day general strike.
Pete March, RMT rail union executive member, said it was the last Labour government that had commissioned McNulty whose report on ‘value for money’ on the railways was proposing no guards on trains and a 50% reduction in ticket offices. Pete asked delegates to support the cleaners strikes and demanded the re-nationalisation of the railways.
National chair of the NSSN Rob Williams pulled together all the strands of the conference speeches by calling on the TUC to Name the Day for a 24 hour general strike, co-ordinating the public sector with private sector disputes.
Postal worker Tony Pedel from Harrogate CWU was first into the debate with a fiery contribution in which he called for “action not just words” and defiance of the secondary picketing laws. Monique Hirst (Kirklees Unison) said that she had become a shop steward when 21 years old and the need to organise young workers. Continuing that theme, David Waight, a call centre worker in the CWU said that the NSSN should produce leaflets aimed at unorganised workers to support a general strike day. Adrian O’Malley, Mid Yorks NHS Unison branch secretary, told us how 250 admin workers had joined the union since they had started the union campaign against the pay cuts and that the next strike would be for 5 days.
Last speaker in the discussion was Wayne Gilmour (Unite shop steward) from the Superdrug distribution centre who had been on strike three years ago. Wayne said that union membership had gone up from 50% to 95% as a result of the strike. He ended by saying “We are the union on the shop floor, we are the union, we pay their wages, and if not (the officials don’t do their job) get them out!”
In the afternoon, delegates attended four workshops: on Trade Unions and the Media introduced by Adam Christie (National Union of Journalists Executive member), on Building Trades Councils introduced by Steve Miller (Unite GEC and Scunthorpe Steelworks), on Organising Youth and in the Community with Iain Dalton (Youth Fight for Jobs) and Joe Rollin (Unite Community organiser),and on Fighting Blacklisting and Victimisation with Paul Tattersfield from the Blacklisting Support Group.
Kevin Pattison (West Yorks CWU and Yorkshire rep on the NSSN steering committee) concluded the conference by explaining the need to develop the Shop Stewards Network in Yorkshire, and ten delegates volunteered to sit on a regional steering committee to take that work forward.