28 June 2012
More than 500 trade unionists and activists packed out the Unite the Resistance conference in London last Saturday to discuss the fight against austerity.
The conference was called to debate the way forward in the public sector pensions dispute and other key battles against austerity measures – including the coming pay round.
PCS leader Mark Serwotka and speakers from the national executives of the Unite, Unison, NUT and UCU unions were all there, along with John McDonnell MP.
But as the conference opened it became clear that the fight against austerity is opening up on many other fronts as well, both here and abroad.
The conference heard speakers from a range of public and private sector disputes, including a Coryton oil refinery worker, a London bus striker and a GMB member from the Veolia recycling plants in Sheffield, who announced that he and his workmates had begun an al-out strike that morning.
An electrifying speech from Segundo Menendez Collar (see photo, right), a striking miner from the Asturias region in Spain, set the conference alight.
Delegates stood and cheered as he told how 8,000 miners had been on strike for over a montgh, occupying the mines and town hall buildings – and using very militant tactics in a battle for the livelihoods of the whole region.
Other international spekers came from Greece, from Spain’s indignados movement and from the Quebec student movement.
But as well as inspirational speeches, the conference was also a forum for a very serious and honest discussion about the strengths and weaknesses of the pensions dispute, and how we take forward the anti-austerity fight into the autumn when the TUC has called a national demonstration.
Delegates discussed how the brilliant mood to fight shown in the huge strike of 30 November last year had been dealt a terrible blow just weeks later when Unison leader Dave Prentis accepted the Tories ‘heads of agreement’ on pensions on 19 December.
In a very frank speech, Mark Serwotka noted that as well as addressing the weaknesses that allowed the right-wing union leaders to block further joint action after 30 November, it was also important to look at where the left had also fallen down in coordinating its response. ‘If we don’t learn, we’ll repeat the mistake again in the autumn,’ he warned.
>> See the opening speeches and more debate from the conference here
Many speakers looked at the potential for struggle ahead. NUT executive member Alex Kenny told how his union and the NASUWT were set to ballot jointly over a string of austerity attacks.
This will come as other unions continue to fight over pensions, or start a new round of the battle over pay – Unison’s Dave Prentis promised his union conference the week before the UtR meeting that he would support strike action across public services on pay.
PCS activist Jane Aitchison summed up the determination of activists to ramp up the struggle again, saying: ‘Let’s build a huge demo against austerity on 20 October and an unstoppable programme of industrial action. We can win.’
Delegates at the UtR conference were resolved to build the biggest possible mobilisation for the TUC demo.
And there will be a major national UtR conference on 17 November to bring activists together again to discuss how best to take the fight forward after the demo.
UCU NEC member Sean Vernell told delegates that the struggle against austerity was a battle bettween hope and despair. ‘We are the hope – no one is going to do this for us,’ he said.
Activists were also keen to deliver solidarity to the many groups of workers taking strike action now and over the next few months. We will post details of disputes and how you can send messages of support and solidaity on this website regularly.
Pic by: Robert Goddard