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The 9th annual conference of the National Shop Stewards Network (NSSN) is being held against a backdrop of new government threats facing working class people and our movement.
The proposed new Tory anti-union laws would outlaw strikes if less than 50% of members voted in a ballot, with an even stricter threshold for workers in 'essential' services. The government also plans to make it legal to use agency staff to do the jobs of striking workers. If these laws come in unchallenged, it will be a green light for employers to ride roughshod over workplace agreements and victimise union reps.
It is no accident these plans were announced six weeks before Osborne's July budget. The Tories - elected by just 24% of the electorate - fully understand that the unions, with over six million members, can defeat another wave of vicious cuts, if they take decisive mass action.
The NSSN has a proud record of campaigning for the mass action that can defeat the government's attacks. The National Shop Stewards Network (NSSN) believes the trade unions leading the anti-cuts movement can defeat Tory austerity plans and block their anti-union laws.
We call on the TUC to organise a national demonstration in London when the Trade Union Bill is debated in Parliament. If the Bill is passed, the TUC and the unions must prepare for mass coordinated strike action, including a 24-hour general strike, especially if any union is threatened with legal action because of the new laws.
We believe the left unions should draw up an emergency motion setting out such a strategy at the TUC Congress. The NSSN will organise a lobby and rally on this theme at Congress and approach unions to join with us.
If the TUC doesn't organise a national demonstration, we call on the left unions to do so. Ultimately, the NSSN will call a demonstration if one hasn't been organised.
We call for an emergency TUC General Council - a council of war - to organise a national campaign of public meetings and rallies on the theme of 'Strike together to fight the cuts and stop the union-busters!'
We encourage union branches and trades councils to call public meetings of affiliates to coordinate opposition to the plans. These could include local demonstrations to bring together all those fighting austerity, especially young people who can be attracted to the fight for a £10 an hour minimum wage and against zero-hour contracts.
In this way, workers can experience involvement in the struggle which will demonstrate the power ordinary people possess in resisting these vicious assaults. In turn, this can serve to put pressure on our trade union leaders to unite the movement and call the necessary action.
Eight weeks ago, we were coming to terms with the Tories gaining a wafer-thin majority at the general election.
Flushed with a victory that was as much about Labour losing than the Tories winning (even Cameron was shocked - he admitted to Miliband and Clegg that he was preparing his resignation speech) they have set about rolling out their full anti-working-class programme.
In the Queen's Speech on 27 May, elected by only 24% of the elctorate, Cameron spelt out his planned Trade Union Bill to extend Thatcher's anti-union laws - shamefully left on the statute book by Blair and Brown.
Six weeks later in the emergency Budget, Osborne will confirm another £12 billion of cuts to rain down on the poorest in society - working or not - on top of the £80 billion unleashed by the Con-Dems.
It is no accident that these are the two main planks of the new Tory regime.
For all the propaganda spouted by the Tories and their media - they know full well that there is a power in the land that can defeat them and their austerity offensive.
They know that the still 6.5 million workers organised in the trade unions are potentially the most powerful force in society in this country.
This is the main lesson of the last five years that we have to defend against those pessimists and cynics in our movement who would like to re-write history.
We have been proud to work with and support the unions represented on the platform at this conference [RMT, PCS, FBU, BFAWU and POA].
We have looked to act as a lever on the big unions in the same way as they often have.
We have a simple motto: "Say what needs to be said, do what needs to be done!"
So alongside our day to day work of supporting workers in struggle and building solidarity - many of whom you will hear from today - in this period of a generalised attack on our class, the NSSN has carved out a niche in articulating the needs and demands necessary to face down the Tory attacks.
We marched with the students in the autumn of 2010 - when one of our banners was burnt to keep everyone warm in the police kettle! - we've lost a couple of banners since.
We called for the TUC and the unions to organise a demo to support what was a youth mass movement.
They acted too late for that but on 26th March 2011 the full force of the trade unions was demonstrated as three quarters of a million marched together.
We lobbied the TUC just along from here at Congress House that September for joint strike action to defend public sector pensions.
And the 2 million-strong N30 strike was the moment when the Con-Dems could have been defeated but for the role of the TUC and the leaders of Unison and the GMB - the latter has now been knighted!
We actively supported PCS Left Unity when they called a conference of the left in the trade unions in January 2012 to retrieve the strike.
And we lobbied the TUC Congress with 1,000 union activists in 2012 to support the POA motion [calling for a general strike] so that the idea of a general strike is official TUC policy. Putting it into practice has been much more difficult.
Even as late as last autumn, we had the possibility of mass coordinated strikes on pay but this again fell apart - wrongly in our opinion - to keep the road clear for Labour in the run-up to the election.
Labour losing the election and the resulting Blairite scramble for the leadership is putting the issue of working class political representation on the agenda, as no doubt we will hear throughout today.
The incredible developments in Greece show that the industrial and political are inextricably bound together.
No doubt all of us here wish Jeremy Corbyn well; though the experience of many in the hall today battling against Labour councils passing on brutal Tory cuts have led them to believe that a new political formation must be built.
If Jeremy was to become leader, he should tell Labour councillors to stop implementing cuts.
Comrades, the pensions setback of 2011 must be a warning to the whole movement now.
We are in a different period and when you have a generalised attack, your starting point must be to have a generalised defence.
That's why all four London Underground unions are striking together on Budget Day next Wednesday and if they are still in dispute in August they could be joined by 23,000 London busworkers and an increasing number of workers on strike in other disputes.
30 years ago the heroic miners were left isolated and not only they but all of us are still paying the price because it opened the door to the neoliberal counter-revolution of cuts and privatisation carried out by successive governments.
We don't share the fatalistic view that if the anti-union laws are passed our movement is finished but it will be a serious blow.
We have to sound the alarm - it is not only the next round of cuts that will be unleashed but there will be far more to come.
If last week's Sunday Times is to be believed, the Tories are planning a modern day version of Baldwin's 'Organisation for the Maintenance of Supplies' scab army that was used against the 1926 general strike.
We support the TUC demo outside the Tory Party conference this autumn but it's not enough.
That is why we have been calling on the TUC and the unions to organise a midweek demonstration in London in Westminster on the day that Cameron brings his anti-union bill to Parliament.
We now hear that the TUC General Council has called a lobby of Parliament on that day. We welcome it and hope that us raising it has played some role in it.
But that lobby has to be a real demonstration and has to have a clear demand: If your anti-union laws are passed and if you don't back down from your brutal cuts, there will be a 24-hour general strike.
To seriously prepare for this the unions should organise rallies and public meetings in every town and city.
With your endorsement we will lobby TUC Congress in Brighton on Sunday 13th September for the TUC to take this course of action.
I was privileged to watch 4,000 firefighters virtually occupy Parliament Square in February - to feel the power of workers on the march under their own banner.
The massive numbers who filled out the People's Assembly march against austerity two weeks ago along with the many other protests since election day have shown that people want to fight.
With the Tory victory, people know that there is no one but ourselves for the moment to rely on.
We've already seen workers force concessions from Tata Steel and National Rail with just the threat of action, on huge ballot Yes votes.
A thousand came to the Youth Fight for Jobs Leeds protest on the night of the Queens Speech.
We encourage everyone to go to their protests all round the country next Wednesday on Budget Day and many others like them and of course any picket lines.
The unions don't need to subcontract out the fight to anyone. If they act - if they strike together - it will be the most popular thing they could do.
It would attract around the union movement the millions who are suffering from the vicious cuts.
It would also open the union door to the too many workers who are unorganised.
But most of all it would offer the chance to push this government back, to expose its weaknesses and win a famous victory.
We are at a crossroads. This Network, this conference, along with the most militant unions, cannot, will not, allow the wrong road to be taken.
Let's have a great conference - debate these vital issues, listen from the whole number of disputes that are going on, learn from each other and move forward to face down the Tories!
Trade Union keywords:
National Education Union (96)
National Shop Stewards Network (454)
New Education Union (1)
Society of Radiographers (1)
Wales Shop Stewards Network (1)
Wales TUC (8)
Article dated 6 July 2015
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