20 November 2011
The Unite the Resistance convention brought together 1,200 trade unionists and activists on Saturday for a serious discussion about the 30 November strikes and the fight against austerity.
Speeches from the platform and the conference floor highlighted the great potential of the 30 November strikes – with around 3 million members of 29 unions already set to take action.
They conveyed the groundspring of anger against the Tories, not just over pensions but over cuts, job losses and other attacks as well.
But there was also a very serious and measured discussion about what activists need to do to make sure the strike is successful – both in workplaces on the ground and at a national level – and an understanding of some of the challenges of the situation.
The walls of the huge conference hall were lined with trade union banners and the atmosphere was one of serious debate by activists rooted in the labour movement and the working class.
Mark Serwotka, general secretary of the PCS civil service union, drew applause when he said 30 November was the beginning, not the end of the fight and that his union was already pushing for further joint strikes in the new year.
He also noted that although the PCS and teaching unions had staged a successful strike on 30 June, it had taken a long time and been hard to get the TUC to act. It had taken three years of arguments to get the TUC to call the 500,000 strong demo against austerity last March, he noted.
The PCS wanted a TUC meeting a fortnight after N30 to discuss further action he said.
Kevin Courtney, deputy secretary of the NUT teachers’ union also said his executive would push for more action in the new year if the government did not make sufficient concessions after N30.
He pointed out that teachers had paid £46bn more into their pension scheme than had been taken out – the argument that there is no money to pay for pensions is ridiculous.
Kevin also warned that because of the number of unions involved, there was a danger that activists might think the work of actually organising the strike day would be done “by someone else” and urged everyone to take responsibility for making the day a success.
His point was taken up from the floor by NUT rep Jess, who said she and local activists had realised the importance of putting the same level of organisation into N30 as they had into winning their original strike ballot more than six months ago – they could not assume that things would fall into place.
Community nurse Ann explained the real challenges of organising across small workplaces in the NHS – where there has not been much industrial action for decades and she was the only member of her branch to have been on strike before.
In a stirring speech, John McDonnell MP argued that it was important to link the enthusiasm and energy of the protests by the Occupy movement and UK Uncut with the real strength of the unions.
He emphasised the seriousness of the struggle against austerity, and warned that it was “time to remove” union leaders who betrayed the movement.
The convention also heard well received contributions from Unison NEC member Paul Holmes, Unite NEC member and Southampton council strike leader Mark Wood, Birmingham Unison assistant branch secretary Caroline Johnson and Zita Holbourne of Black Activists Rising Against Cuts, among many others.
Ian Bradley and Steve Kelly, speaking about the sparks’ dispute that has rattled the big construction firms, argued for solidarity between public and private sector workers – it was the same battle, they emphasised.
And there were standing ovations for the inspiring speech by Occupy Wall Street activist Leia Petty and a representative of the Greek power workers’ union who explained how members had refused to cut off the electricity of people who couldn’t afford to pay their bills.
The convention sent a message of solidarity to those protesting in Tahrir Square, after hearing a powerful message of support for the N30 strike from hospital workers’ union leader Mohammed Shafiq who had been prevented from attending because the British Embassy in Cairo refused his visa application.
There were useful and inspiring contributions from many other speakers from the platform and the floor, with a particularly lively discussion at the packed workshop on resisting austerity in our communities.
We would like to thank all 1,187 people who attended – many after travelling long distances – and all the speakers, session chairs and members of the conference arrangements committee who helped to make the event a great success.
Now the task for activists is to put into practice the lessons from the day and build the biggest and most active strike possible on 30 November – let’s show our strength!
We will have photos and videos from the convention on the website shortly – for a flavour of the day as it happened, see our Twitter feed.