Link to this page: http://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/630/9867
National Shop Stewards Network (NSSN)
The role of the NSSN in the battle to defend public sector jobs and services
National Shop Stewards Network conference 2009, photo Suzanne Beishon
The CBI is calling on the government to introduce even more anti trade union laws. The bosses' union is demanding that in a strike ballot, 40% of all those in a workplace who are entitled to vote should have voted 'yes' for the vote to be carried. So this means that all those who don't bother voting are deemed to have voted 'no' to strike action.
Bill Mullins, Socialist Party Industrial Organiser
If that applied to the recent general election then there would be no government, given that only 38% of the total electorate voted for the Tories and Liberal Democrats.
The CBI is also demanding that the 90 day notice, required at the moment for redundancies to be made, be reduced to 30 days "to reduce uncertainty to the staff".
TUC general secretary Brendan Barber said in response to both suggestions that the attack represented a "demolition job on the rights at work of their members' staff" (ie much of the national workforce). He said "while we expect the CBI to lobby against rights at work, please spare us the hypocrisy of pretending that a cut in the period of consultation over redundancy is for the benefit of employees".
Barber also said that strikes in Britain are at low ebb and therefore there was no need to curb them. But the bosses, who have a bit more perspective than the TUC leader, are preparing for the future. They don't expect this low level of struggle to last much longer.
They already have on their side all the panoply of the legal system, including the judges. The judges have proved over and over again - in the BA dispute and many rail disputes - that they will generally try to come down on the side of the bosses.
Recent strike figures released by the government show that the level of strikes in April (the latest figures available) was no more than 2,000 days lost. The commentators in the press who noticed this said that it was an indication that British workers had accepted the logic of the crisis facing British capitalism.
Such a low level of strikes, we were told, is an indication that a large number of workers are prepared to keep their heads down and hope that things will get better soon. One indication of that was that job losses have been lower than they might otherwise have been, because workers were accepting pay cuts by working less hours. Therefore the employers haven't had to lay off so many workers.
But you can only kick a dog for so long, eventually it will bite back. Cuts in the public sector and the threat to services and thousands of jobs are already affecting large numbers of workers up and down Britain.
The NSSN conference this week is an opportunity to begin the process of putting in place a rank and file organisation that will seek to bring together those in struggle or preparing to go into struggle, maybe for the first time. The struggle will not be wholly restricted to the organised trade union movement. But undoubtedly workers will be looking to the unions for support and guidance, as they seek to defend their jobs and those in the community who depend on their services.
Workers are facing a brutal period of cuts and job losses. One of the most recent attacks is in the Refugee and Migrant Justice organisation (RMJ) whose 340 staff were told last week they are to be made redundant. This is a direct consequence of government funding being squeezed.
The cuts in the public sector will also have a direct effect upon the private sector as the economy contracts and workers have less money to spend.
The NSSN is made up of shop stewards and other trade unionists from a broad swathe of the public and private sectors. It has developed deep roots at national and local level that can give leadership and help to those in struggle.
It can act as a catalyst, particularly at local level to draw together trade union activists and workers involved in disputes, across trade union branches, trades councils and workplaces. Also community organisations are beginning to spring up as services are cut. As the statement (left) makes clear, NSSN supporters should contact their local trade union branches, trades councils and workplaces and also local community organisations and prepare to work together to defend jobs and services.
The NSSN can act as a focus to unite struggles from below and demand that the national union leaders act. British workers can see that across Europe general strikes and massive demonstrations are taking place but nothing on a national level seems to be happening yet in Britain.
The recent TUC general council heard a plea from the PCS, reported by Janice Godrich, the president of the union, to organise a national demonstration against the cuts. What is needed now is for the TUC to name a day for the demonstration so that work can begin, to ensure a massive turnout for the demo.
The general council has asked the Public Services Liaison Group (PSLG), a subcommittee of the TUC, to report back to the next general council meeting on 22 July on campaign plans to defend the public sector.
It was the PSLG, under the pressure of the PCS, that negotiated with the Labour government in 2005 over the threat to public sector pensions. Then, the threat of a near public sector general strike forced the government into retreat and it guaranteed to keep the pension rights of existing public sector workers intact. At the time the Financial Times called it "abject surrender" and Digby Jones, the then leader of the CBI, called the retreat a return to the 1970s, "with the unions calling the shots".
The minister who led the negotiations with the unions at the time was Alan Johnson, who was eventually replaced by John Hutton, who has now been taken on by the Tories as their 'advisor' in attacking public sector pensions.
With the TUC's present schedule of meetings, the earliest feasible date for a demonstration would be in September, perhaps 11 September, the Saturday before the TUC conference.
In truth the demo should be soon after the crisis budget on 22 June but given the ponderous nature of the British union leadership, September is more likely. But it will take a mighty effort to mobilise the mass ranks of the British trade union movement - something unfortunately the TUC is lacking.
That is why the left-led unions in a 'coalition of the willing' should meet as soon as possible to prepare their own plans for a demo if the TUC drags its feet.
We are entering a stormy period where the seeming inertia of the trade union movement can be swept aside in mighty battles, laws or no laws.
Now is the time to act.
This statement may be amended prior to the conference, as it was drafted before the 22 June budget. For the latest version see www.shopstewards.net
A guide to action for delegates and visitors
This conference is taking place a few days after the Tory/Liberal Democrat government has announced in its 'special' budget the biggest cuts in public expenditure since the 1930s. True to his election promises Cameron is driving through "painful cuts" and "difficult decisions on pay, pensions and benefits" which will affect "our whole way of life".
These cuts will axe jobs and reduce services. They will impact upon the lives of millions of ordinary people in every community and workplace up and down the country.
We say the working class should not accept these cuts, and we the NSSN will organise to assist in the fightback. The working class will not pay for a crisis caused by the bankers and the capitalist system.
We appeal for the maximum unity of the trade union movement in defence of the public sector and the welfare state, and support the call by the PCS and others for the TUC to organise a national demonstration preferably before the TUC conference in September 2010.
As soon as the date of a demonstration is announced our central priority will be to build for the maximum possible turnout on it. If a demo is not called, the NSSN will call a mass lobby of the TUC conference in Manchester, urging the TUC to organise a united national demonstration with a view to further organising a one-day public sector strike, as the beginning of a serious fightback against these vicious cuts.
We call on NSSN in the regions to:
- Support all action by unions and anti cuts organisations in defence of public services, including individual strikes at local or national level.
- Take the campaign to the wider trade union movement and the community at large at local level.
- Organise meetings and activities to work with trades councils, local trade union branches and anti cuts organisations as soon as possible.
- Lobby councils, health boards and other employer organisations responsible for carrying through government cuts.
- Get the biggest possible turnout on the national demonstration and, if necessary, on the TUC lobby. Encourage trade union branches, trades councils and anti cuts organisations to get their members to the national demonstration/lobby of the TUC by asking them to sponsor transport arrangements once the venue of the activity is known.
NSSN conference 2010
Saturday 26 June, 11am-4.30pm. South Camden Community School, Charrington Street, London NW1 1RG (near Kings Cross/St Pancras).
To register send £5 to NSSN, PO Box 58262, London N1P 1ET, with your details, including workplace and trade union.
Encourage your trade union branch or workplace to sponsor the conference - suggested minimum £20.
For more details see www.shopstewards.net or email email@example.com
In The Socialist 23 June 2010:
Youth fight for jobs
National Shop Stewards Network
Workplace news and analysis
Socialist Party news and analysis
Socialist Party feature
International socialist news and analysis