Report from Sheffield Unite the Resistance conference

18 March 2013

MORE than 200 people met in Sheffield for a South Yorkshire Unite the Resistance UtR Conference Sheffield 16 March 2013 closing session with Jane Aitchinsonconference on Saturday (Mar 16) to discuss co-ordinating a fightback, including support for this week’s PCS strike action.

PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka said his union was calling out 250,000 workers on budget day, followed by a half-day strike on April 5, the last day of the tax year, and two months of targeted strikes.

He added that George Osborne’s comprehensive spending review in May would “butcher public spending. We need mass strikes and mass protests uniting everyone across the country. That is possible. We did it once, we can do it again.
“We need every single trade unionist and campaigner to support what we’re doing.”

Martin Mayer from the NEC of Unite the Union (pc) and President of Sheffield Trades Council likened the approach of the Coalition government as akin to the 1930s solution which failed then and will fail again unless there is a drastic change of course.

Duncan Blackie, an NUT steward at Longley Park sixth form college in Sheffield, spoke about a victory in defending jobs at the college, which has transformed opportunities for black and ethnic minority students in the north of the city. The college faces a 20 per cent budget cut that threatened 25 per cent of jobs.
He said: “Through resistance and through activism it has been possible to keep people together and set an alternative.” Management conceded no compulsory redundancies and talks on renewing temporary contracts in the face of a strike threat during an Ofsted inspection.

Head of the bakers’ union, Ronnie Draper spoke next and summed up the attacks against workers as simply “a class war” against us.  He called for The Labour Party “to deliver what I and my friends, family want” rather than their weak approach in opposition at present and described the government’s private sector recovery plan as “a joke”.

Ronnie told the conference he was balloting members about a general strike.  He added: “I’m not saying a general strike is popular. It’s a difficult thing to achieve. If we don’t ask the question, we’ll never know the answer. If we thought and acted together, look how powerful we’d be.”

The libraries campaigner and writer Alan Gibbons amused the audience with a great comedy speech although rich in attacks on austerity: “We are fighting for the soul of this country and a better world” he told us and criticised all of three main political parties for implementing savage cuts.  He reminded us that “the problem is not working people”.

Speakers at the final session included Karen Grimaldi from Mid Yorks Hospitals, where staff are fighting pay cuts. She said: “Standing together produces results. Standing strong produces results. Refusing to back down produces results.
“Our fight is your fight. We are hoping the downbanding threat will be withdrawn this week. Our victory is your victory.”
She said that if the threat was not withdrawn, Unison would ballot 3,000 Mid Yorks staff.

Conference delegates, who also supported a lunchtime bedroom tax demonstration, broke into workshops. Activities agreed included combatting media lies on benefit attacks, organising to resist evictions and building for a regional defend the NHS demonstration in May. Sheila Coleman from the Hillsborough Justice Campaign and Barbara Jackson from the Orgreave Truth and Justice Campaign both gave impassioned contributions to the debate in the ‘Solidarity, protest and the law’ workshop

A South Yorkshire steering committee for Unite the Resistance was set up, representing 16 unions and campaigns.

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