The steering committee of the National Shop Stewards Network (NSSN) met recently and discussed a number of important issues, including preparing for the national conference on 26 June.
It also discussed a resolution proposed by Rob Williams, the convenor of the Linamar shop stewards in Swansea. The resolution concerned the Right to Work (RTW) organisation which had recently had its conference in Manchester.
Rob made the point that RTW had been initiated by the Socialist Workers Party (SWP) and its allies and inevitably it would be seen as a rival to the NSSN. He said that even though NSSN had been in operation for at least three years, no one had come to it and said that there was a need for another rank and file organisation.
The SWP have never raised the idea in the NSSN of setting up RTW, even though they have ten members on the steering committee and two out of the nine officers.
The NSSN was set up in 2006 by the RMT, one of the most militant unions in Britain. It had its founding conference in 2007. Since then it has attempted to bring together workers at national, regional and local level facing attacks from the bosses.
It has assisted Ford workers in Southampton and GSK workers in Stevenage, both of whom were facing redundancies. It organised a national conference of workers in the car industry and recently organised a meeting in Teesside of Corus workers whose steel mill is facing closure.
As the resolution said: "The NSSN conferences attracted hundreds of shop stewards and workplace representatives as well as ordinary trade union members, and involved those leading from the front in serious battles with the bosses eg Lindsey, Linamar and Visteon. Workshop sessions involved migrant workers, young workers and students, women workers, and discussed fighting racism in the workplace.
"All were welcomed to participate, with a focus on shop stewards/workplace reps to establish some real weight to the organisation. This includes workers made unemployed, and youngsters in part-time jobs, a growing force, which will increasingly have to be taken up by the trade union movement generally and the NSSN in particular".
As other steering committee members said at the steering committee, if the SWP had at any time in the last three years proposed that the NSSN should widen its brief then this would not have fallen on deaf ears, but this has not happened.
Instead what has happened and will increasingly happen, is that the RTW organisation will look for support from the same trade union branches and workplace bodies that now give support to the NSSN.
The resolution made the point that: "This will only confuse the situation in the eyes of workers and has the potential to fragment the fight-back. We note that previous attempts of this character have failed, because, unlike the NSSN they have not been firmly rooted in the unions and workplaces, and have not been seen as an open unifying force."
This was referring to the SWP, in particular, setting up 'rank and file' bodies which have disappeared without a trace after a short time. One example of this was Organising for Fighting Unions, set up on the back of Respect, the electoral initiative.
The real reason behind the SWP's launch of RTW was given in their pre-conference bulletin in November 2009. They said: "We want to create and unite networks of resistance and solidarity".
In passing they dismiss the NSSN: "A welter of other initiatives exist... [including] the NSSN (launched in July 2007 by the RMT but now dominated by the Socialist Party, with the RMT's blessing)".
They later say that RTW "will not immediately knock aside every other campaign that is attempting to organise opposition to the recession".
The SWP have a track record of trying to dominate organisations and when they can't, they do their best to push them aside.
Socialist Party members in NSSN, which includes some of the best fighters in the trade union movement, will not let this happen. The NSSN should be allowed to develop as somewhere that ordinary workers, young or old, can come to get the support they need in the future battles against cuts, job losses and attacks.
The resolution moved by Rob ended by saying "this NSSN Steering Committee declines to accept the invitation of the offer of two seats on the RTW Steering Committee and urge all to channel their energies into the building of NSSN." It was carried by the NSSN steering committee by 19 votes to 10, with three abstentions. The 19 included someone - not in the Socialist Party - who reported that he went to the RTW conference in Manchester and found it to be a 'top down' organisation.
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