NEU strikers. Photo: Paul Mattsson
NEU strikers. Photo: Paul Mattsson

Come to NSSN conference

11am – 4.30pm, 24 June at Conway Hall, London. Registration fee £6

Confirmed speakers so far: NIPSA General Secretary Carmel Gates, BFAWU General Secretary Sarah Woolley, POA General Secretary Steve Gillan, NAPO National Official Annoesjka Valent, GMB Officer Gary Palmer from the victorious #GMBThree

On 21 June it will have been a year since the first national rail strike by RMT members took the already-developing strike wave to the next level. Twelve months on and over 3 million working days have been lost to strikes, according to the government’s own figures.

The strike wave has transformed things. Many workers, especially younger workers who have never seen strikes on this scale, are seeing for the first time a means to fight back – and it terrifies the Tories.

2016’s set of anti-trade union laws were designed to make nationwide strike action more difficult, some hesitant trade union leaders said near-impossible. But in their hundreds of thousands, rank-and-file union members have voted for strikes – smashing through the 50% turnout thresholds. Picket lines, supposedly limited by law to six people, in many cases have swelled to scores and hundreds.

The latest, very serious attack, Rishi Sunak’s Strikes (Minimum Service Levels) Bill, is another attempt by a desperate and divided Tory government to stop strikes. The law, which in a matter of weeks will be rubber stamped by the king, gives employers the power to serve a ‘work notice’ to identify people required to work to achieve a ‘minimum level of service’.  Failure to comply by a trade union or worker removes existing protections from being sued for damages or dismissal.

These laws can be resisted and defeated. There is no better time for rank-and-file trade union activists to get together, get organised and develop a fighting strategy to beat back the Tories. This year’s National Shop Stewards Network (NSSN) conference comes at a crucial time. Join the discussion in London on 24 June.

Why I’m coming to NSSN conference

“A vibrant organisation supporting the struggles of workers and debating the way forward”

Marion Lloyd, Group president of PCS BEIS group (personal capacity) and chair of the Broad Left Network

I will be attending the NSSN conference on 24 June to help build solidarity across the broader trade union movement, in the context of the biggest industrial battle in the last 15 years. My union, the civil service union PCS, is campaigning to improve pay, defend jobs and protect pensions. There is huge support for our strikes, demonstrated by massive picket lines, and a new young layer of members wanting to get stuck in and fight. They know this Tory government is weak and if we do our job properly we can deal them a hammer blow. 

Conferences such as this are inspiring – socialist and good left trade unionists coming together to discuss and debate the way forward, arming us with knowledge and ideas to take back to our unions, our workplaces and our workmates.

The NSSN consistently supports workers in struggle, including PCS members, and coordinates activity, action and ideas.  Disgracefully, the PCS leadership succeeded in getting the union to disaffiliate from the NSSN last year. Lies were told about the role this organisation plays in order to win that position at conference. Even so, the abstainers were many more than those who voted to disaffiliate and the vote was very close. 

Despite this, I will continue to explain the role of the NSSN and encourage people to attend the conference so they can see the truth for themselves: a vibrant, campaigning, socialist organisation building and supporting the struggle of workers UK-wide. Solidarity!

‘Support for action and debate about how we win – at the time when it counts most’

Suzanne Muna, Unite Executive Committee member

Organising a picket line is hard work, and you feel a lot of responsibility for the members making sacrifices to make a stand. One thing that makes it more manageable is being part of a much bigger collective of people, bigger even than your own union, who are fighting the same battles in their workplaces.

I’m likely to be out on strike again this year when pay negotiations restart at my college, and we’ll be drawing again on the support of the National Shop Stewards Network (NSSN) to get the word out about when and why we’re taking action. Being part of the NSSN means that at the time when it counts most, we can gather support from others in our region, we can get publicity for our action, gather messages of solidarity, and appeal for strike fund donations. This is part of the reason I’m attending the NSSN conference.

The other reason is a strategic one. Coordinating our action is essential over the coming year. Coordinating our strikes gives us the chance of making the maximum impact on the employers in return for the least sacrifice by our members. We need to unify our struggles within sectors and across sectors. The NSSN allows us to debate how to do that, to coordinate not just the days of action, but our demands too, like levels of pay increase, restoration of pensions, and safe staffing levels.

Over the last year, workers have been pushed by sky-high prices for food, gas, electricity, and travel, to get on picket lines and demand that employers start to pay enough to live on. The money is there, it’s just going to the wrong people, like the shareholders of the big oil, gas, and tech companies who have enjoyed record payouts but pay minimal tax. Some of our strikes have been very successful, but for many workers, particularly in the public sector, there is a lot more to be won.

“Getting ideas and spreading the word”

Garfield Hylton, GMB Coventry Amazon rep

Asked about the National Shop Stewards Network (NSSN) conference at the Amazon support public meeting in Coventry, Garfield said:

“I met a gentleman from that organisation in Swansea today and I’ve been given an invite to attend the 24 June conference. And I’m quite glad to be going there, firstly to get advice from them about supporting members, and secondly to try and establish relationships and spread the word. I’m looking forward to it. A gathering of shop stewards would be an excellent venue to get ideas from.”

Solidarity and coordination never been more important

Paul Reilly, former RMT NEC member

During this last 12 months, I have been heavily involved in organising and campaigning, both on a personal level as a worker affected by the dispute, and also as an RMT representative, branch secretary and activist.

This was the first time in my 30+ years as an RMT member that we have had a national rail strike with all sectors of the railway industry in dispute. Not only against the companies involved, but with the Tory government, hell-bent on pushing through with reforms to attack our terms and conditions, jobs and wages.

The NSSN was originally formed by the RMT back in 2006 when the late, great Bob Crow was at the helm, with the aim of bringing together grassroots trade union activists and reps from all industries and trade unions to work together in support of each other’s struggles.

If this last year has shown us anything, it’s that workers’ solidarity and coordination has never been more important. By supporting each other and encouraging workers, most of whom have never been involved in industrial disputes in their lives, never mind attending picket lines, we have reinvigorated working-class unity and trade union activism, making our movement stronger in the process.

This is exactly why I will be attending this year’s NSSN conference and why I’ll be encouraging many other trade union activists from across the rail industry and from other industries to do the same.

Let’s make this the biggest one yet!

‘It brings together some of the best fighters for our class’

Gareth Bromhall, Ambulance service worker and secretary Swansea trades council

The NSSN conference is one of the best places to talk about how we win it. I’m attending the NSSN conference this year because as an ambulance service worker who has taken strike action in the past six months, I know the importance of coordinated action and working-class unity within our trade unions. 

The tsunami of industrial action across health, transport, education, communication and the civil service shows the potential strength of our movement. An event that brings together some of the best fighters for our class is vital. 

On our own picket line, and on the many that I have visited over the past year, without exception the prevailing discussion was around the need for coordinated action, across sectors, and the need for a 24-hour general strike. The strikers have also shown, by turning out for strike rallies and pickets, and visiting pickets of other union branches, that solidarity and coordination are vital. 

I believe that the discussions that will take place, and the network itself, will strengthen the fight for these aims. So I will be encouraging my fellow NHS strikers to attend. And as the secretary of a trades council long-affiliated to the NSSN, I will be encouraging our affiliates and delegates to do the same. 

Looking for inspiration to transform our union branch

UCU member in FE

My college has been in formal intervention for five years thanks to appalling mismanagement by a series of CEOs, but equally to chronic underfunding. Never-ending staffing cuts, crumbling infrastructure, dying student support services, and so on – it’s a well-known story.

Staff morale is at an all-time low. Many members have listened to our employers’ mantra, ‘We’re broke, striking will get you nowhere!’ for so long, they have come to believe it. My UCU branch has not been active – two branch meetings only have been called in a year, with little more than 5% of members attending. On those occasions, the possibility of striking over pay (in FE amongst the lowest in the education sector) and over unsustainable workloads wasn’t even discussed. It feels like the wave of generalised strike action that has engulfed the UK over the last months has rolled past us almost unnoticed, as if in another country.

So I’m going to do something about it! As a UCU branch committee member, I am going to the NSSN conference on 24 June as one way of breaking out of the lack of action and isolation I feel we have fallen into. I want to connect up with the world of trade unionists ‘out there’, exchange experiences with them, get some ideas, be inspired to action.

I am also taking another branch member with me, so am hoping for two further outcomes. First, that together we can then trigger some lively discussion back in the branch. Second, that talk of the crucial importance of building networks of resistance and of coordinating action will rub off well on both of us. Two people on a same wavelength will surely have more leverage in branch decision-making than just one!

Come to NSSN conference

11am – 4.30pm, 24 June at Conway Hall, London. Registration fee £6

Confirmed speakers so far: NIPSA General Secretary Carmel Gates, BFAWU General Secretary Sarah Woolley, POA General Secretary Steve Gillan, NAPO National Official Annoesjka Valent, GMB Officer Gary Palmer from the victorious #GMBThree