The fourth annual conference of the Yorkshire Shop Stewards Network was held in Leeds on Saturday 5th March, attended by representatives from ten different trade unions from across the region.
Opening the “Stop the Union Busters” morning session, Andy Budds (RMT transport union executive member) said it was no accident that it had been the Tory transport minister who first announced the (anti) Trade Union Bill because the government wants to break the RMT. Recalling that his union’s former general secretary, the late Bob Crow, had been accused of being a ‘dinosaur’, Andy asked “who’s the real dinosaurs?” when the Tories want to take us back to the conditions of the 19th century!
Continuing that theme, Ian Hodson (national president of the BFAWU bakers’ union) said that he called the Trade Union Bill the “Masters and Servants Act”! Calling on all trade unions to take action, Ian said: “If you are going to defend your right to strike, then you must be prepared to use that right to strike.” He said that yes, he was always calling for a general strike, but never had it been more needed than now because “the NHS is in a war we cannot afford to lose.”
Melody Redman, a junior doctor at York hospital who sits on BMA committees, explained the background to their dispute with Jeremy Hunt. She stressed that Hunt’s propaganda about more pay and less hours was in no way matched by the reality on the ground with a massive recruitment and retention problem which is why 98% of junior doctors had voted to strike.
Even so, Melody admitted that as it was the BMA’s first strikes in 40 years, most doctors “felt uncomfortable” taking industrial action and are “a bit out of our depth” which makes the support of other trade unions and the public such a confidence and morale booster.
John Vasey (CWU postal worker shop steward) thanked the National Shop Stewards Network for its active support that had helped him win reinstatement to his postie’s job in Wakefield after being victimised and sacked by Royal Mail for alleged “gross misconduct”.
In the afternoon, we had a very useful discussion about “how to be an effective shop steward” with reps experienced and new swapping information and helpful advice. This was followed by a session on “organising the unorganised” with a very youthful panel.
Ben Mayor (Leeds Unison branch youth officer) talked about the difficulties of working in the social care sector but how small successes had helped him recruit more union members.
Vicky Blake was introduced as the UCU lecturers’ union anti-casualisation officer but said she preferred to more accurately describe herself as “the representative of staff on shite contracts”! She vividly described the reality of zero hours contracts and unpaid work in higher education, a sector most people wouldn’t expect it in but where it is rife and spreading.
Where people do know about exploitation at work is in the fast food industry. Elisha Andrews, a 17-year-old part-time fast food worker from Hull explained why she had joined the bakers’ union. Three quarters of her workplace are 16 and 17 year-olds, hardly any of them had even heard of trade unions, so the BFAWU and Fast Food Rights campaign to scrap zero hours contracts and fight for a £10 an hour minimum wage made them aware of what unions can do for young people.