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Posted on 12 January 2012 at 16:53 GMT

Successful Merseyside Shop Stewards Network meeting

Hugh Caffrey, North West Socialist Party

Merseyside Shop Stewards Network held a successful meeting on 11 January, with 18 attending from unions including PCS, Unison, Unite and ASU/GMB.

The meeting reviewed the pensions dispute, discussed coordinated action and a local way forwards.

Guest speaker Martin Kelsey, north-west regional chair of PCS opened on an optimistic note. Looking at the success of the strike action by over two million public sector workers in defence of pensions on 30 November (N30) and a number of unions still rejecting the government's "offer", Martin said: "If someone had said to me a year ago that we'd have two million out in November and could have one million out in early 2012, I'd have bitten their hand off!"

The struggle is certainly not over and unions such as Unison could rejoin the fight; their current acceptance of further negotiation without strike action is, said Martin, "a setback but not the end of the world".

The first contribution from the floor was by Roger Bannister, Unison national executive (NEC) member, in a personal capacity.

Roger explained the Unison leadership claims they are merely continuing negotiations. "Although it's a setback, especially in Unison, it's not the end of the world, there's still a war to be won".

The votes on the health and local government service group executives in favour of the government's offer fly in the face of what the overwhelming majority of branch activists have made clear.

Roger explained: "What we're concentrating on now in Local Government is to launch a campaign for a special conference of the Local Government Service Group to overturn the decision.

"The second thing is this sell-out is before the election of the leadership of Service Groups, we will make them a referendum on this pensions deal, to clear out the right-wing who do anything [Unison general secretary] Prentis asks and replace them with fighters whose heads are pointing in the right direction."

Several contributions expressed the anger of union reps at the national decisions. All made it clear there should be no turn away from reclaiming Unison and other unions to a fighting position. "There's still time to put the pressure on and get these creatures out!" as one said.

An ambulance drivers steward pointed to the looming threat of privatisation of the service, "and then no one will have pensions!"

Replying, Martin Kelsey emphasised that the pensions fight continues. The government's "offer" includes an "affordability clause" which means that in two years there could be further attacks made - yet another reason to not sign up to the deal!

Martin also pointed to disputes and threats in the private sector over pension schemes, including Unilever and Shell.

Echoing Roger's point that the Tories will seek "to make hay" if the unions retreat over pensions, Martin pointed to the threat of regional pay which the Tories will use to drive down pay, "anywhere where there is mass unemployment, they will try to depress wages because people are desperate for work".

Moving a motion (below) which was unanimously passed after discussion, PCS member Tony Mulhearn explained we need to get the tactics right, and to "stand back, take stock of the position, and take the correct tactical decisions as the situation unfolds".

We then heard from Sid Graves of Unite at the "scurrilous employer" Liverpool Mutual Homes (LMH), where the unions have been in dispute for months over unjust treatment over transfer from one employer to another, unfair dismissal, bullying and harassment of members, and imposition of new contracts.

As well as the proposals in the motion, the meeting also agreed support for the LMH demonstration on Friday, Steve Acheson's on-going anti-blacklisting protest at Fiddlers' Ferry, PCS Revenue & Customs strike action on Monday, Unilever strike action from next week, and for the electricians' ongoing dispute against 35% pay cuts and deskilling.

The meeting urged NSSN supporters to get involved in Liverpool Against Cuts and attend the anti-cuts lobby of Liverpool city council on Weds 18 January, 4pm Liverpool town hall.


Proposal unanimously adopted by Merseyside Shop Stewards Network meeting:

That we adopt the principles of the statement agreed at the 7 January Left Unity open organising conference, with the exception of the third and final bullet-point which relates to the national situation [the establishment of a temporary co-ordinating committee between left organisations in the unions], and resolve as following:

"This meeting agrees to contact Left organisations in the trade union movement, relevant union bodies and groups of workers in dispute, with a view to re-convening a further meeting to discuss coordination of and solidarity for industrial action, in early February.

"The precise date shall be confirmed by the Shop Stewards Network on the basis of these discussions and developments in the unions at a national level."

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