Solidarity Magazine » Anti-cuts campaign Fri, 01 Mar 2013 19:29:19 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Striking Cleaners Join Anti-Austerity Rally Tomorrow Wed, 13 Jun 2012 20:29:32 +0000 Continue reading ]]> Striking cleaners on the Tyne and Wear Metro will join up with fellow trade unionists and campaigners at an anti-austerity rally in Newcastle against attacks on jobs, pay and working conditions organized by the Coalition of Resistance.

The Metro strikers have just completed a 48 hour rock solid strike in their campaign of action against the imposition of a zero % pay award.

The “Defend Pay, Pensions and Public Services” Newcastle anti-austerity rally will be addressed by Mark Serwotka, General Secretary of the PCS and Craig Johnson from RMT amongst others on Thursday 14 June 6.30pm, Royal Station Hotel, Newcastle.

During the cleaners strike action RMT secured massive public support out on the streets and stations for the fight for pay justice and Churchill’s were forced to offer scabs double money to do the cleaners jobs, proving that there is no shortage of cash.

RMT research shows that despite their plea of poverty Metro cleaning company Churchill’s has in fact doubled its profits in the past five years and has extracted nearly £7 million from the exploitation of essential cleaning staff on the most basic pay and conditions including no sick pay, no pensions and none of the travel concessions rights enjoyed by other NEXUS workers.

While the company is trying to enshrine poverty pay amongst the staff who deliver vast returns for the shareholders, its own highest paid director has had a salary increase of more than 18% in the last 5 years to nearly £160,000 making a nonsense of their claims that they can’t afford a decent offer to the front-line cleaning staff.

RMT General Secretary Bob Crow said:

“RMT pays tribute to the Metro cleaners who have shown guts, determination and unity in their battle for pay justice. We have seen only this week that boardroom pay has rocketed while the workers take the hit and the Metro cleaners are a classic example of that scandal.

“It is a disgrace that Churchill’s are being allowed to get away with a poverty-pay attack on this group of key workers while the Labour-controlled transport authority sits back and does nothing.

“This exploitation has to stop and RMT intends to drag the Labour Party into the spotlight – they’ve got the power to call a halt to this scandal and it’s about time they used it.”

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Town halls face legal threat over cuts Thu, 14 Apr 2011 17:55:29 +0000 Continue reading ]]> 08/04/2011 | By Rhiannon Bury, Inside Housing

Local authorities face being taken to court over their spending cuts, following a landmark court case.

In the High Court last Friday Birmingham Council was told its £1.4 million cut to voluntary sector funding was unlawful.

The court found in favour of 13 voluntary organisations which argued the council no longer fulfilled its equalities duties because the cuts negatively impacted on disabled people, ethnic minorities and women.

Organisations involved in the case include Birmingham’s Citizens Advice Bureau, Age Concern Birmingham and the Bangladesh Welfare Centre.

The court found that England’s largest local authority failed to consult adequately on the funding changes to the groups.

Mr Justice Blake criticised the council’s decision to implement the cuts last month, even though a consultation to approve new grant management will not end before July. This would leave a four-month gap in which the 13 voluntary groups would receive no money at all from the council.

Lucy James, a solicitor specialising in judicial review at law firm Trowers & Hamlins, said she expected similar cases to arise in the coming months. ‘Organisations are more likely to use [judicial review] now in the face of big cuts than they would have been in the past. That’s not to say that local authorities won’t make cuts, but they will have to make sure any decision-making is robust.’

The court ordered Birmingham Council to continue to pay £25,000 a month to three organisations – The Birmingham Tribunal Unit, the Chinese Community Centre and St James’s Advice Centre – which provide a unique function in the city, until July’s grant management consultation concludes.

A council spokesperson said: ‘We are disappointed by the court’s judgement. The council is considering its position, including potential appeal against the judgement.’

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After the cuts protest, what next? Tue, 29 Mar 2011 16:02:27 +0000 Continue reading ]]> The huge turnout of protesters means the TUC is burdened with great expectations; now unions must push the cuts campaign on

Gregor Gall

The TUC and the union movement must be delighted that Saturday’s march mobilised between 250,000 and 500,000 people against the cuts. They must be delighted that much of society was represented there – from union members to students, pensioners and social justice campaigners.

If the attendance had been anything less than the 100,000, the TUC had predicted, the headache the union movement would have woken up to on Sunday morning would have been one of the demonstration being probably the end of the campaign against the cuts, rather than its continuation.

But the massive turnout – way more than what most people thought possible – gives the TUC and unions another kind of headache. This is the headache of great expectations. Both first-timers and veterans of demonstrations will be asking two crucial questions: “If we can pull this off, what else can we do?”, and “How can we build on the momentum we’ve just created?”. The government has already laid down this challenge in another way by saying it will simply ignore the scale of the turnout.

Calling for more marches, whether in London or the provinces, is not enough on its own. More demonstrations when there is not much of an actual fight going on usually leads to declining turnouts and disillusionment. But if demonstrations are called to allow the expression of active, widespread resistance and opposition then the situation is quite different.

So the sixty-four million dollar question is not so much whether the will exists among the marchers to continue the fight in their workplaces and communities, it is whether the unions and their allies can organise people into effective forms of action to change the government’s behaviour.

The action will have to be physical – strikes, occupations, blockades and other forms of civil disobedience that bring society and the economy to a halt. This does not necessarily mean taking a leaf out of the book of our southern European cousins and calling a general strike.

It does mean that the union movement has to do more than assume that pensions are the most likely issue to bring about co-ordinated strike action.

While such action would be a boost to the fight against the cuts – given that it would be the first significant piece of united action and would involve a million workers – it would nonetheless be far from sufficient to build a wider and broader resistance movement.

This is because it would not unite the producers and users of public services in an active alliance. The government would be quick to point out producers were striking for their own vested, sectional interest. And if the government felt it was on the back foot, it could offer concessions to defuse the pension row.

The kind of action that could unite producers and users of public services is action that defends jobs, and thus also services. So far 170,000 jobs in local government are under threat and 26,000 have already been cut but there have only been a tiny handful of industrial action ballots to stop these and no strikes so far.

When Brendan Barber and the leaders of Unite, Unison and the GMB next speak, they must focus on how to organise the fight over this sort of issue. Encouraging people to vote Labour in the elections of 5 May 2011 is at best a distraction to this task.

If these union leaders do not want to be accused of being cowards and backsliders they will have to up their game. This necessarily means taking a lead and encouraging such action by going to workplaces and communities rather than just saying “We will support those that want to take action”. The unions have created either a rod for their own backs or stick to beat the government with.

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250,000 or more on TUC demonstration Sat, 26 Mar 2011 18:12:15 +0000 An estimated 250,000 or more people attended today’s demonstration.

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Resisting the Cuts – Success at Bright Start Nursery (Brighton) Fri, 14 Jan 2011 16:56:11 +0000 Continue reading ]]> Last month saw Brighton & Hove Tories make a U-turn in their plans to shut down Bright Start nursery.

The report going to the Council Cabinet Member meting on the 17th January, which was due to recommend closure by Apri,l is now going to recommend that the council “ withdraw the proposal to close the nursery by the end of April 2011 and, to reassure parents and staff that there will be no change to the status of the nursery before September 2011.”

Brighton and Hove Unison,which represents all the staff at the nursery, initiated the campaign. But its success was due to working with the public service users. Or at least their parents! Nearly all those involved had never been involved in any campaign before. Some had voted Tory back in May. Some agreed with the cuts in general but expected front-line services to be protected. But we were all united in our determination to save a much loved nursery from the axe, and our determination, energy and imagination surprised the council, other campaigners, and even ourselves!

The day after they announced the closure timetable, Unison had the petition up and running. Two days later the first councillors meeting discussing closure saw the biggest lobby known of such a meeting, complete with TV coverage. The next day we had Caroline Lucas MP visiting to offer practical support. Other Labour and Green opposition councillors followed, and met with Unison and parents to discuss how we could stop the closure. And we got a real boost at the end of October when up to 100 parents, staff, children, and former parents and children led the 1,500 strong march against the cuts.

How We Campaigned

Without all the hard work of so many people it is very unlikely that the Tories would be trying to wriggle out of closure.

We marched 3 times, heading the 1,500 Brighton Stop the Cuts Coalition march in October as well as joining the “Burning of the Clocks” parade with a giant pair of scissors, and marching to full council with children and parents singing anti-cuts Xmas songs. We made our own banners, placards, stickers and balloons.

We petitioned everyone we knew, had stalls in town and at a school fair. We asked people to sign on the touchline at kids football games,inside the cinema at family films and in school playgrounds, while Unison reps and others took it round their workplaces. By the time it was presented to full council, we had 5,125 signatures – more4,000 more than we needed to trigger a debate at council, and the biggest petition they’ve been presented with.
Parents and staff spoke out at demonstrations, public meetings and council lobbies. We planned our own public meeting with a binman (who stopped the council cutting pay) speaking alongside a Labour’s Chief Whip in the House of lords,Lord Bassam of Brighton, Caroline Lucas MP and staff from the successful Save Phoenix Nursery campaign. Staff and parents also spoke out at 2 full council meetings, though the 9 year old “Old Bright Start-onian” who also addressed council must have embarrassed them most.

We sent letters and emails to politicians and the press, as well as setting up our own website and Facebook group.

Our campaign led to more than 10 Argus stories as well as coverage in “Nursery World” which goes out to nursery workers nationally, and even the “Financial Times”.

Parents and staff researched facts, undermined council misinformation (using the Freedom of Information Act), ridiculed council waste and wrote detailed replies to the council’s consultation documents. A fellow trade unionist at the Job Centre calculated the cost to the taxpayer of lost taxes and unemployment benefit was 2 or 3 times the “saving” of closing Bright Start.

We also blew up balloons, produced stickers, banners, and placards, met and worked with politicians.

Finally, to keep everybody informed and enthused, Unison produced a

news bulletin with upcoming events, ideas for action, and statistics on frivolous council spending.

Our campaign has been noticed by many local people as broad and dynamic. Brighton and Hove Unison branch is certainly impressed with the campaign, and it is a great lesson for all of us who face arguments that the cuts can’t be stopped. Clearly they can.

Save Bright Start Campaign still has much to fight for

The fact that the new consultation will take us way past the local elections in May, when the council will probably change hands, was in many ways as much as we expected to win.
Obviously we can’t rely on the Tories losing control of the council.

A statement from opposition Green and Labour groups on the council regarding their plans for Bright Start should they win control would now be really useful. It would send a signal to senior officers in the council that any more plans to close or privatise us are a waste of their time.

We are not in the clear yet, because the new period of consultation now planned is about taking the nursery out of council control.

Any attempt to privatise us would lead to staff leaving after a few years as they could not afford to support their own families on minimum wage. Unison is urging all parents to support us in opposing such a change.

As with Connexions, the battle is far from over. The support we have had so far from anti-cuts activists and Opposition Parties needs to continue, just as Connexions staff still need our support.

There is an important lesson for everyone here. A weak Tory council has retreated 3 times in one year when faced by popular, union led resistance. GMB members at the bin depot had to go as far as striking, but reversed a pay cut in less than 48 hours. Connexions staff and Bright Start staff have won a reprieve of sorts after popular campaigns backed up by the threat of industrial action.

More Trouble Ahead

Unfortunately, the Tories seem to be a bit slow to learn from their mistakes. They are about to start a new period of “consultation” in order to try again to get rid of Connexions staff.

Other jobs are also on the line .Carers in day centres for the elderly and people promoting healthy eating and lifestyles to schoolchildren are amongst the latest to be threatened. The Tories’ War on the Vulnerable shows no sign of letting up.

But the campaigns at the bin depot, Connexions, and Bright Start all show that there is an alternative.

Staff at Bright Start showed the council that if they were given more say in the running of the nursery, money could be saved.

Unison also pointed out how much the council spends unnecessarily £Millions on executive pay and golden handshakes, PR and image, management consultants and lawyers,and even luxury chocolates and alcohol. On top of all this, our council has over £20million stashed away in reserves.

As with the council, the nation too is bursting with wealth. One Bright Start nursery nurse walked through the first protest outside Vodaphone and explained to staff and customer that their £6Billion tax break was the equivalent to 69,000 Bright Start closures.

One commentator recently said that we were experiencing a “Tax Avoidance Crisis”, not a Deficit Crisis. As more and more people begin to see the reality of the cuts for themselves, we can show that there is an alternative. And the example of Bright Start shows how a campaign uniting the service users with the public service workers and their unions can win.

From Brighton Stop the Cuts Coalition

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Birmingham boosts workers' fightback Thu, 06 Jan 2011 12:18:54 +0000 Continue reading ]]> Wednesday 05 January 2011

by John Millington, Campaigns Reporter, Morning Star

Britain’s industrial fightback against the government austerity drive will receive a huge boost today as Birmingham’s council workers take to the streets in protest against cuts.

Workers at Birmingham Connexions service, which assists the young and vulnerable to access, work and training opportunities, will demonstrate outside the company’s HQ tomorrow at 12.30pm.

And public-sector union Unison, which represents 70 per cent of the Connexions workers, will begin the industrial action at 1pm in opposition to the 24 per cent job cuts announced by the Tory-run council.

It is the first industrial action in the country’s biggest local authority directly in opposition to spending cuts across the public sector since the Comprehensive Spending Review last year.

Connexions Unison convener John Griffin said:

“We are taking this action as a last resort. Managers have closed consultations on avoiding job losses, despite the need for Connexions to provide careers advisers for the new All Age Careers Service. The city council has some alternatives that could avoid compulsory redundancies. This, with plans to cut the education maintenance allowance, is part of a massive attack on young people who need the most help to stay in education or training.”

The action against the cuts follows Birmingham refuse collectors’ refusal to bow to “management bullying” by declaring another two days strike action, which will take place on January 13 and 14.

Following intense negotiations with council employers, Unite and GMB unions accused them of trying to bully members back to work and unnecessarily escalating the dispute.

A walkout will add to the disruption to refuse services caused by cold weather, adding to collection workers’ decision to work to rule from last December.

Originally the council was attempting to cut pay by £4,000 a year under the guise of equalising pay between men and women in the council. But now the council is attempting to change the method of pay from contracted hours to paying by the amount of waste each refuse collector manages to collect.

Unite West Midlands regional secretary Gerrard Coyne said: “Our members have no choice other than further strike action. Rather than acting in the best interests of the people of Birmingham this council seems hell-bent on making the dispute even worse.”

Unite regional officer Lynne Shakespeare pointed out the council was wasting valuable public resources on trying to break the strike.

“The council recruited 200 casual staff to break the strike, it has cost the council £20,000 just to provide work-wear for them, before any wages and dust wagons are paid for,” she said.

“The council has claimed that its lead council officer Cllr Rudge has met the unions 22 times. As the Unite lead negotiator I can confirm that I’ve not met him once.”

Unison assistant general secretary Roger McKenzie called on Birmingham City Council to ignore the “ideological dogma of the government and listen to its own employees.”

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Resolving the dispute in the NSSN Mon, 20 Dec 2010 17:20:31 +0000 Continue reading ]]>

This is a personal view from SOLIDARITY Editor, Martin Wicks

Download a PDF of this piece here

Six officers of the National Shop Stewards Network, together with 11 members of the steering committee have produced a statement on The future of the NSSN (see ). They refer to the disastrous outcome of the Steering Committee meeting on December 4th where a majority voted in favour of the January 22nd Anti-cuts conference setting up an NSSN All-Britain Anti-cuts campaign and the election of a committee at the conference for said campaign.

The statement says that Launching a further national anti-cuts campaign, while obstructing cooperation with other organisations would be a retrograde step, as well as changing the nature and direction of the NSSN. They say that if one organisation controls the NSSN then we would see no point in any further participation.

The reply from Linda Taff, Bill Mullins and Rob Williams (See says, Behind the disparate opposition to the NSSN majority is a clear difference on programme, strategy, and tactics.

The reply is curiously posed as a reply to Dave Chapple when the statement is signed by 17 people, as if the fact that everybody other than Socialist Party members were opposed to their proposals is of no consequence whatsoever.

In an unholy alliance with the SWP and their front organisation the Right to Work (RTW) he hoped to put the NSSN in the dock before fellow trade unionists as unprincipled splitters and sectarians.

It is apparently the accusers who are guilty of these crimes rather than the Socialist Party. What follows is an attack on the SWP for various misdemeanours, including the formation of the RTW campaign, sidestepping the real issues in dispute.

Those against these proposals believe that NSSN should step back, and leave leadership matters to other organisations, particularly like the RTW.

This is patently not true since the resolution which the non-SP officers and steering committee members puts forward says “that the NSSN Officers and Steering Committee do everything constructive, through discussions with Coalition of Resistance, Right To Work and other groups, to build and launch a single national anti-cuts organisation early in 2011.”

We then read (in Linda, Bill and Rob’s reply) that:

What workers are interested in is a fighting programme to defend ALL jobs and services. No other campaign other than the NSSN has such a programme. An anti-cuts committee democratically elected at the conference but linked to our NSSN steering committee, will make us even more able to intervene effectively in this movement at this volatile time.”

The first question in response to this is what programme? The NSSN hasn’t voted on any programme. The comrades can only be referring to the SP’s programme. The logic seems to be, we have the ‘correct’ programme, therefore, any campaign that we set up will be better than the others that exist. They don’t explain how such a committee would be ‘linked to our NSSN steering committee’. If the campaign was essentially that of the NSSN then why would other forces participate in it?

What seems to me to be self-evident is that any campaign which is launched at the NSSN anti-cuts conference would be an “All Britain Anti-cuts campaign” in name only. It is unlikely that the Right To Work campaign, the Coalition of Resistance, or the Labour Representation Committee would be involved. The Socialist Party may consider that this wouldn’t matter because these groupings don’t have a ‘correct’ programme, but in reality such a campaign would be little more than the Socialist Party and people close to them; the sort of thing that they criticise the SWP for. Whatever we may think of the RTW and CoR they have people involved in them beyond the organisations which launched them. Indeed Len McLuskey (who the SP supported in the election for General Secretary), in his recent Guardian article, declared that Unite would be supporting the CoR. Do we ignore them or campaign to bring them all together? Launching a campaign of its own would be a step in the wrong direction for the NSSN.

Unity” based on recognition of the ‘record’ of the SWP?

The “reply” says that the SP is in favour of unity but then undermines this statement by saying that:

To attempt even to forge a genuine unity in action with such people requires, above all, an open recognition of their history and record.”

It is difficult to imagine a more dogmatic and sectarian point of view than this. Are we supposed to agree on the history and record of the SWP in order to create unity”? This is patently absurd. We might just as well say that a precondition for unity is recognition of the opportunism of the SP in opposing the candidature of Mark Serwotka for PCS Secretary (and calling for support for a bureaucrat to ‘avoid splitting the vote’). That’s an historical record, though the SP obviously has its own interpretation. Would demanding agreement from the SP that this was a big mistake help to achieve unity to campaign against the cuts? Obviously not.

It is true that many activists were unhappy with the decision of the SWP to launch the RTW campaign, which was taken without discussion with other people. But many union activists are equally disenchanted with the methods of the SP which acts as if its ‘record’ means it will be the leadership of this movement.

Organisations that have long standing differences can only work together on the basis of discussing what to do, in this case in order to build resistance to the austerity drive of the coalition. How could you ever agree on any practical collaboration if agreement on differences from years past was a necessary precondition?

The non-party and cross-party nature of the NSSN”?

The dispute also relates to the nature of the NSSN and its method of operation. The idea behind its launch was to build a shop stewards movement. In practice because of the weakness of the unions and shop floor organisation, it has taken on the form more of a union activists network, since it is open to any trade unionist who is in an elected position, be it shop steward, health and safety rep, or union branch officer. Broadly speaking it has involved activists who are members of the various left groups, as well as the Labour Party, individual activists who are members of nothing other than their union, syndicalists of one stripe or another. What all these people share in common is opposition to ‘partnership’ and the desire to transform the unions into fighting organisations rather than class collaborationist ones.

Such a breadth of composition has created political tensions and the much maligned Dave Chapple has played the role of holding the ring between the various organisations, especially in preventing the political differences between the SP and the SWP from leading to either of them walking out. The 17 refer to the “non-party and cross-party nature of the NSSN”. Given the diversity of those people involved in it any indication that a single group controlled it would lead to its collapse.

One of the reasons for the lack of growth of the NSSN is that many activists already consider it to be an organisation dominated by the SP, so they have never seen it as a useful vehicle. Should the SP push through its proposal in the face of the opposition of the non-SP people involved in the NSSN, should it win on the basis that it can mobilise more people than the rest, then that would confirm the opinion of many people that the NSSN was an SP dominated organisation. Many activists would walk away from it and it would truly be reduced to an SP front. Even if the discussion and the vote was democratic it would not make a jot of difference. Why? Because the NSSN cannot continue, never mind prosper, unless there is a degree of consensus and compromise in order for people to work together in a collaborative fashion, despite their differences.

Anti-cuts candidates”

The attitude of the SP towards the NSSN was reflected in its original two pronged proposal: an All-Britain anti-cuts campaign and for the NSSN to make as a priority ‘anti-cuts candidates’ in the May local elections.

The latter proposal was problematic in a number of respects. The SP had at various times previously floated the idea of the NSSN supporting the Trade Union and Socialist Coalition and the No2EU campaign. It had not pressed the issue in the face of opposition. As pointed out at this time this would have led to the withdrawal of support for the NSSN from the Labour Affiliated Unions. It might be considered that this would not matter, but in any case the pros and cons should be discussed.

More importantly, to saddle the NSSN with a particular political/electoral strategy would have caused it’s break up since those activists who did not support such a course would have walked away. The NSSN is neither a political party nor an electoral initiative.

That the SP wanted the NSSN to endorse its political strategy was reflected not only in the resolution. Dave Nellist announced on the NSSN Facebook group that a conference to launch the TUSC election campaign would be held immediately after the NSSN conference finished! Thankfully, they withdrew this proposal when they were told by everybody else that this was guaranteed to split the NSSN. Yet the fact that they put forward such a proposal reflected a mistaken conception of the role of the NSSN.

Tackling obstacles to action in the unions

The idea of the NSSN as an organisation concentrating on building its own national anti-cuts campaign is in my view mistaken for a couple of reasons. Firstly, ant-cuts campaigns are being organised independently by activists, trades councils and so on, on the ground, since people do not need to be be told what to do in the face of such savage attacks. NSSN activists are already involved in this work in their areas, of course. The organisation of an NSSN anti-cuts movement would require a great deal of time and effort from already busy activists who are limited in number.

Secondly, the NSSN, as a movement of union activists should concentrate its efforts on tackling the obstacles which are being placed in the way of the “coordinated industrial action” which all the unions voted for at the TUC last September. There is no guarantee of a fight back emerging on the national level. In the NHS all the health unions signed up to the Mutually Agreed Resignation Scheme (See ) which encouraged staff to leave with only half the level of remuneration they would receive from redundancy. The idea was to create vacancies for soon to be redundant staff to be slotted into (thus accepting job losses and the inevitable worsening of the service). And now the idea of a no-compulsory redundancy scheme is being floated for the consideration of the health union membership. It is combined with the demand to accept a freeze in pay or 35,000 jobs will be at risk. The blackmail is bad enough, but this is in any case, a bogus scheme because it would constitute an enabling agreement which local trusts would not have to implement, and does not in any case apply to Foundation Trusts. How can you build a movement against the cuts if you are collaborating with management in their introduction?

There are also signs of acceptance by local union branches of “voluntary redundancies” in local government. Acceptance of “voluntary redundancies” in the context of unprecedented cuts would undermine the prospects of building a campaign together with service users. Of course, unions cannot stop their members taking voluntary redundancy if offered, but they should oppose them and spell out the consequences for service provision. Just because you are not strong enough to stop all job cuts it does not mean that you have to help management introduce some.

There is another factor which needs to be taken into account. Youth unemployment is already 20%. Trades unions have a responsibility towards the new generation. Acceptance of voluntary redundancies inevitably means a decline in the number of jobs available for them. Union density amongst young people is only 9% and the unions have their work cut out to tackle this low level. Campaigning for work for young people should be an essential part of trade union policy. Accepting voluntary redundancies undermines this task.

Activists also face a major political problem in the big 3 unions – UNISON, UNITE, GMB – where there is no sign whatsoever of “coordinated industrial action”. For instance, the NUT is preparing for a spring ballot for industrial action in defence of its members’ pension. So far only the PCS and UCU have indicated that they might coordinate action. There is no sign yet that the big three will do likewise.

In local government, where 140,000 job losses are predicted this coming financial year, there is no industrial action as yet, with moves towards balloting for action in only a few isolated areas. The big three dominate here of course.

Therefore the struggle in these unions for the implementation of the TUC resolution should be a priority for the NSSN. In order to build pressure for action the NSSN could organise a national meeting bringing together activists from the big three unions who work in local government to campaign for action. It might also do the same in relation to the NHS where the very future of the health service is at stake.

The Poll-Tax analogy

There has been much talk of building a mass anti-cuts movement on the lines of the anti-poll tax movement. This is a problematic analogy. The poll tax presented a much simpler issue because everybody was faced with paying it. You either did or you didn’t. Dealing with the coalition austerity drive is much more complicated because there are such a range of services under attack and not everybody is immediately or directly affected by them. We also face the problem that many people have to one degree or another swallowed the argument that some cuts are necessary in order to tackle the current account deficit.

These factors make it more difficult to build an anti-cuts movement because we have to overcome the fractured nature of opposition in which separate service user and community groups will oppose cuts which affect them but do not necessarily oppose all service cuts. We still have the task of convincing many people that the cuts are not necessary, that they are ideologically driven and are not simply a pragmatic response to the deficit. We have to convince people that there are practical alternatives.

When Linda, Bill and Rob say “what workers are interested in is a fighting programme to defend ALL jobs and services”, it is too sweeping a generalisation. Some workers are snapping up their voluntary redundancies without any consideration as to the consequences for the services they provide. This reflects the fact that, as a result of the defeats suffered from the 1980′s onwards, and the promotion of the ‘service model’ of trades unionism, many members see their union membership as a kind of insurance, rather than seeing themselves as members of a collective organisation for which they have a responsibility. We have a major task in rebuilding a collective class consciousness.

Resolving the dispute in the NSSN

Should the SP push through their proposal on January 22nd the NSSN is likely to break up. This will be to no one’s advantage. The resolution supported by the officers and steering committee members (see Addendum below) offers a compromise. The SP could accept this. All it has to do is recognise that the NSSN cannot build a genuinely All-Britain Anti-cuts campaign on its own, and that competing campaigns would be a retrograde step.

The situation we face is a dangerous one, with an unprecedented assault on public services, the welfare state and jobs. Unless there is a sufficient mass movement, including industrial action, then there will be a further decline in union membership and union organisation on the ground.

Any organisations that have aspirations to provide leadership in the struggle against the coalition government programme should recognise that building practical unity requires that the interests of the working class are put above narrow party interest. Differences over strategy and tactics can be debated passionately but they will be tested out in the struggle. Sectarian arrogance and methods of work will only serve to undermine the chance of building practical working class unity in the unions, the workplaces and in working class communities.

The NSSN can play its role in building an anti-cuts movement, but as an organisation which brings together trade union activists it should concentrate its effort on campaigning for the “coordinated industrial action in defence of jobs and services” that all the trades unions voted for last year.

Finally, if the SP could accept withdrawing its attempt to get the NSSN to support anti-cuts candidates, why can it not compromise over the issue of an ‘All-Britain anti-cuts campaign’? We can surely agree on the need to work for one. All that is required is for the SP to accept that they cannot build one on their own through the vehicle of the NSSN.

Martin Wicks

20th December 2010


Resolution put forward by George Binette and Pete Firmin with the support of all the non-Socialist Party members of the Steering Committee

“The NSSN calls upon all its trade union supporters and affiliates to ensure the largest possible turnout for our national anti-cuts conference on January 22nd.

We re-affirm our commitment, as trades unionists, to work to build and strengthen the local, regional and national anti-cuts movement, between now and January 22nd.

Given our basis as an industrial organisation, the January Conference should concentrate on providing the widest possible debate on the tactics and strategy needed to ensure that trade union strike action against the cuts begins sooner rather than later, that it is coordinated at local and national level, and that if possible it is sustained rather than restricted to token efforts.

It follows from this that this conference should NOT declare the NSSN as THE lead organisation of a national anti-cuts movement: rather, that the NSSN Officers and Steering Committee do everything constructive, through discussions with Coalition of Resistance, Right To Work and other groups, to build and launch a single national anti-cuts organisation early in 2011.

Whilst Conference should allow time for a full and necessary debate concerning trade union bodies supporting anti-cuts candidates in 2011 elections, the NSSN will leave decisions whether to stand such candidates to our local and national affiliates.”

To move: George Binnette

To second: Pete Firmin

]]> 3 Unions, get set for battle Mon, 20 Dec 2010 09:49:04 +0000 Continue reading ]]> Len McClusky The Guardian Sunday December 19th

We must join students in a broad strike movement to combat attempts to strangle the welfare state

Britain’s students have certainly put the trade union movement on the spot. Their mass protests against the tuition fees increase have refreshed the political parts a hundred debates, conferences and resolutions could not reach.

We know the vast rise in tuition fees is only the down payment on the Con-Dem package of cuts, charges and job losses to make us pay for the bankers’ crisis. The magnificent students’ movement urgently needs to find a wider echo if the government is to be stopped.

The response of trade unions will now be critical. While it is easy to dismiss “general strike now” rhetoric from the usual quarters, we have to be preparing for battle. It is our responsibility not just to our members but to the wider society that we defend our welfare state and our industrial future against this unprecedented assault.

Early in the new year the TUC will be holding a special meeting to discuss co-ordinated industrial action and to analyse the possibilities and opportunities for a broad strike movement.

The practical and legal hurdles cannot be dismissed. Thatcher’s anti-union laws, left in place by New Labour, are on the statute book for just these occasions. But we must not let the law paralyse us. The bigger issue is winning working people to the conviction that the cuts can be stopped. It is vital to rebuild working-class confidence.

Unless people are convinced not just that they are hurting – not hard to do – but also that there is a coherent alternative to the Cameron-Clegg class war austerity, then getting millions into action will remain a pipedream. That alternative needs to be one the whole movement can unite around. A key part must be a rejection of the need for cuts. “What do we want? Fewer cuts later on”, is not a slogan to set the blood coursing.

So I hope Ed Miliband is going to continue his welcome course of drawing a line under Labour’s Blairite past, in particular by leaving behind the devotion to City orthodoxy, which still finds its echo in some frontbench pronouncements that meet the coalition’s cuts programme halfway at the least.

I would argue there is no case for cuts at all: the austerity frenzy has been whipped up for explicitly ideological reasons – to provide the excuse for what the Tories would have loved to do anyway, completing Thatcherism’s unfinished business by strangling the welfare state. If the deficit is seen as a problem – it is not high by either historical or contemporary standards – a positive growth and tax-justice programme should be the main means of addressing it.

Trade unions need to reach out, too. Students have to know we are on their side. We must unequivocally condemn the behaviour of the police on the recent demonstrations. Kettling, batoning and mounted charges against teenagers have no place in our society.

It is ironic that young people have been dismissed as apathetic and uninterested in politics – yet as soon as they turn out in numbers they are treated as the “enemy within”, in a way instantly familiar to those of us who spent the 1970s and 1980s on picket lines.

And we should work closely with our communities bearing the brunt of the onslaught. That is why Unite has agreed to support the broad Coalition of Resistance established last month, which brings together unions and local anti-cuts campaigns from across the country.

The TUC’s demonstration on 26 March will be a critical landmark in developing our resistance, giving trade union members the confidence to take strike action in defence of jobs and services. These are Con-Dem cuts, and this is a capitalist crisis. An attempt to blame Labour local authorities for the problem is a shortcut to splitting our movement and letting the government off the hook.

That doesn’t mean Labour councils should get off free. There are, alas, Labour councillors embarking on union-bashing under cover of cuts, something we won’t tolerate. Labour needs to understand that any social alternative to the present misery needs strong trade unions. And this is the moment when we have to prove ourselves.

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The birth of a new movement Sun, 28 Nov 2010 16:54:02 +0000 Continue reading ]]> Friday 26 November 2010

by Paul Brandon

An unprecedented opportunity for all those on the left is upon us. It’s time to resist together but also to find alterative vision to challenge the coalition government.

The collapse of the Irish economy in a swamp of toxic debt and the panic that has ensued gives us a window into the scale of the crisis.

Nobody in Britain should forget that it was new Labour that opened the door for the bankers who created the crisis. But there are millions of Labour voters and thousands of Labour Party activists who want to fight. Whether we are from non-Labour or Labour backgrounds we have to fight together.

The working class in Britain is facing an enormous attack. We could see the destruction of everything the struggles of ordinary people have built up since 1945.

We’ve watched in recent months as workers across Europe have gone into battle against the “age of austerity.”

They have fought heroically to defend their families and communities from the effects of a crisis made by the bankers.

But in recent weeks things have changed. BBC workers took strike action to defend pensions, London firefighters fought back against the threat of mass sackings and Tube workers are set to strike yet again to defend jobs.

And now there are the students whose magnificent mass protest on November 10 saw 50,000 take to the streets.

No wonder they are angry as the government pushes to price them out of education through massive fees and the end of the education maintenance allowance.

Once again, just like in the 1980s, a whole generation faces a life on the dole. This isn’t rhetoric – it’s fact.

With £80 billion to cut and 1.3 million jobs at threat, what else can the fate of young people be if access to education is closed off?

In this situation there is an enormous responsibility on the shoulders of the left. We have to try to maximise the resistance and the unity and power of a growing movement.

The Right to Work Campaign was born out of the early stages of the recession. Its initial national conference of almost 1,000 people in Manchester heard stories of resistance from those who occupied the Vestas and Visteon factories.

Since then we have been involved in a multitude of activities from the 7,000-strong protest at the Tory Party conference to the Vodafone shop shutdowns.

We are proud of the role we have played so far, a role that has won us backing from unions like the CWU, PCS and UCU and from hundreds of national and local campaigning groups and union branches.

But we know that we are just part of the movement. There are a growing number of broad-based local anti-cuts campaigns that are bringing thousands of people onto the streets.

There are national campaigns – The People’s Charter, the National Shop Stewards Network (NSSN) and the Coalition of Resistance.

This is not to mention major “single-issue campaigns” like Keep Our NHS Public and Defend Council Housing and of course the “overarching” body attempting to co-ordinate the fightback, the TUC.

Whatever we think of the speed of its response – and Right to Work believes the demo on March 26 is late in the day – we all have to bend our backs to make it the biggest protest in British working-class history.

The Coalition of Resistance holds a national conference this weekend, the NSSN meets in January and Right to Work will hold a “People’s convention against cuts and austerity” on February 12 at Friends Meeting House in London, with a further major event planned for Sheffield in March or early April.

It would be tempting and traditional for each part of this mosaic of campaigns to declare itself the leadership of the entire movement.

We believe this would be a fundamental mistake. If we are serious about taking on the biggest attack on working people since the 1920s, the different parts of the movement are going to have to come together.

Unity can’t simply be imposed by diKtat or from above. But it does need to be achieved.

Whatever the emphasis of our campaigns – and Right to Work has always looked to militant protest and the power of students and organised workers as the cornerstone of resistance – we simply have to work together.

To help open a genuine dialogue on the way forward, Right to Work has initiated a forum for representatives from national and local anti-cuts campaigns on Sunday December 5.

We hope that away from the glare of the conference hall, activists will be able to take time out to discuss a way forward for the movement and the best way to achieve what is emblazoned on many of our banners “unity is strength.”

The resistance movement is under way in this country, but we also need to say what we are for. We need to continue to put the case for higher taxation and tackling tax evasion. But we also need to engage with the radical ideas bubbling under the surface.

People’s assemblies have been active during the Greek struggle and could provide a genuinely democratic alternative to our broken power structures, operating independently of state and global financial markets, and challenging their hegemony.

Land value taxation is a policy backed by many in the labour movement. The Green Party and friends in Scotland, who may well hold the balance of power following elections next year, argue that the tax would bring stability to the housing market and would make three-quarters of Scottish households better off while dealing with urban decay and land banking.

And then of course there is the “fiat” money system itself. It’s time for a proper debate about how the banking system is allowed to create money out of thin air for profit. Money reform campaigners have longed argued that the government could create its own money and spend it into the economy on public works and infrastructure.

A new social movement is being born before our eyes. All of us need to channel our energies into shifting this political landscape for good.

Paul Brandon is Unite Rep at Holloway bus garage and chairman of the Right to Work Campaign.

From the Morning Star

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