Thursday 6 September 2007

Socialist Party National Trade Union Meeting

Being a member of Stoke Socialist Party, last Saturday I attended the above event at Conway Hall in London that attracted a good turnout from comrades from a wide range of unions. Bill Mullins, the Socialist Party’s Industrial Organiser, opened the meeting with some comments on the current state of the UK economy. Bill painted a picture of rising profits but a slowdown in the growth of wages, especially in the public sector, in respect of which he posed the question - what price a united struggle?. Bill added that it looked that the PCS were isolated until the recent massive show of loyalty by the POA, although he also praised the fighting spirit of the RMT. There followed a series of contributions from the floor, and I cannot list them all here, so I shall briefly mention some that particularly caught my attention.

A comrade from the Visteon car plant in Swansea reported that ‘for every two steps that management are able to go forward, we make them take a step back’ which struck me as a realistic assessment of the defensive but never more necessary nature of trade unionism in this country at the moment. A comrade from the CWU in Stoke recounted some horror stories about the use of agency staff in the Royal Mail, including tales of undelivered mail being left in bags in the street! Another from Unison in Huddersfield reported on various local struggles, and that an attempt to close three workplace nurseries was defeated after activists organised 2 demonstrations, 3 lobbies and a petition of 6000 names. A comrade from the NUT complained of a leadership that ‘talks a good fight but does not deliver’ and another from the RMT complained that there was ‘very little political culture in the union’. An activist from Unite reported that he had ‘more chance of contacting the dead than his regional industrial organiser’. A contributor from Scotland stated that the National Shop Stewards Network was a ‘chance to bring workers in Scotland back to politics’. A comrade from the PCS said that it was important to take a clear position as to what organising means and to the party’s view on organising. An activist from Unison in Salford reported that the Manchester Unity Stewards group was reaching out to people in the PCS, NUT and CWU and were hoping to link into the regional Shop Stewards Network. A comrade from the PCS in Wales said that the biggest problem was ‘the bureaucracy in post’.

We then took a break for lunch and on our return Bill Mullins spoke a little about anti-union laws and (if my memory serves me correct) suggested that recent events in the POA dispute showed that the law is not as effective as is sometimes feared. Bill also warned that the provisions in the so-called Trade Union Freedom Bill are very limited. He also highlighted the recent successes of sacked strikers at Belfast Airport through Employment Tribunals.Jane James then spoke of the role of the Party in the unions after stressing the importance of both youth work and union work. She described workplace disputes as ‘natural territory’. She highlighted the Party’s achievement in getting 22 comrades elected onto union executives (including 11 in the PCS). The discussions then moved back to the floor. A comrade from Unite stated ‘if we do not organise, the trade union movement will die’. Another from USDAW warned that ‘bureaucrats will pull back from organising if they feel that new reps are threatening their position’.Keith Dickinson made the final contribution when he stressed the need for comrades not to lose sight of the importance of keeping engaged with your local Party branch.

All in all, I enjoyed this meeting. Possibly, for me, discussions on strategy came a bit late in the day, but I realise there is only so much you can fit into five hours. It is good to hear comrades talking about the struggles at their workplaces, and maybe this could provide a basis for more focused discussions on strategy later. If I have made any major errors or omissions, it is down to sloppy note-taking or the occasional need to go outside for a cigarette, and I apologise.