National Shop Stewards Network meetings
"It took just six mobile phones and two hours to get 21,000 prison officers on strike!" National executive member Joe Simpson's account of how the Prison Officers Association (POA) organised their 'illegal' strike had an inspiring effect on the 40 union activists that attended Yorkshire's regional conference of the National Shop Stewards Network.
He said that the POA were now coming outside the prison walls to link up with other trade unionists and local communities. A new 'triple alliance' could be forged with the Fire Brigades Union and possibly the Police Federation.
The POA is considering running election candidates against New Labour in marginal constituencies with big prisons.
Two of the 'Burslem 12' victimised postal workers, Paul and Dave, gave a passionate report of their 13-month struggle against bullying Royal Mail management. Paul said that they had been accused of being militant but "being militant is only getting what you deserve."
Their six-week strike, backed by a 1,500-strong solidarity demonstration and rally has ended in a partial victory which will give confidence to other trade unionists fighting victimisation.
Marion Lloyd (PCS NEC) explained how years of broad left campaigning in her union had resulted in a left leadership prepared to lead action, which in turn had resulted in growing union membership and more reps coming forward.
Workshops were held on 'Building the Shop Stewards Network' and 'The Public Sector Pay Freeze' and a small steering committee was elected to co-ordinate future NSSN events in the region.
THIRTY FIVE trade unionists met in Bristol on 26 January for the founding South West regional conference of the National Shop Stewards Network (NSSN). The vast majority were union reps and stewards belonging to a broad range of unions including GMB, Unite, RMT, CWU, PCS, NUT and FBU.
Domenico Hill, Unite rep Bristol and Socialist Party
Don Wood, from the Prison Officers Association (POA) national committee and Sally, a POA rep at Dartmoor Prison, spoke about their dispute against the government's removal of the union's right to strike. The government's intransigent stance means that there may well be further action following the mass walkout of prison officers last year.
Rob Wotherspoon, a CWU rep at Royal Mail in Bristol, summed up the experiences of last year's strike and the lessons to be drawn for the future. He confirmed that Bristol posties had voted 'no' by a large majority to the union executive proposal to accept the deal made with management.
He agreed that the union leadership had let postal workers down by calling off industrial action at the last minute. But he added that he thought it was a good thing that postal workers had stood up for themselves rather than caving in and that this was only 'round one'.
Socialist Party members argued that the NSSN should campaign for a one-day public-sector strike to bring together the various disputes that have flared up recently, and to call for decisive action to break the anti-trade union laws designed to cripple any union fightback.
The conference broke up into three separate meetings to discuss union work among migrant workers, how to build in the workplace and how to organise industrial action.
The broad range of unions represented at the conference shows that there is a growing frustration amongst rank and file trade unionists at the, at best passive, stance taken by most union leaderships. The NSSN has the real potential, if built properly, to start the rebuilding of unions from the bottom up as organisations fighting for the rights of working people.
In The Socialist 30 January 2008:
Socialist Party news and analysis
International socialist news and analysis
Socialist Party NHS campaign
Debt and Housing Feature
Marxist analysis: history
Socialist Party workplace news