Link to this page: https://www.socialistparty.org.uk/articles/15587
North-West Shop Stewards Network discusses how to prepare for a general strike
An excellent meeting of the North-West Shop Stewards Network in Manchester on Saturday brought together trade union stewards and members across Greater Manchester and Lancashire from Unite, UCU, NUM, Unison and BFAWU.
The main discussion on "next steps towards a one-day general strike" affirmed widespread support for the demand that the TUC name the date now for a well-prepared 24-hour strike.
The meeting agreed that the north-west network would meet monthly, and it unanimously agreed a resolution on the next steps towards a general strike, see below.
We face a colossal assault from the employers and government. As Steve Acheson of Unite construction and Rank & File explained, "we've got an obligation to fight to defend what was won, to our predecessors and to our youth to give them a future".
Steve explained how the Besna contract was beaten through organising from below when the union leadership was found wanting.
Blacklisting of union activists continues, and may cover tens of thousands more than the 3,000 individuals previously thought.
Electricians now face 'Besna 2', with the construction companies trying to re-introduce pay-cuts and deskilling.
This is one example, said Steve, of why we need a one-day general strike, "we've done the marching and now it's time to do the fighting".
Alex Davidson, PCS north-west vice-chair, showed how the momentum generated by huge demonstrations and strikes of the public sector last year was "deliberately trainwrecked" by a handful of right-wing union leaders, and "the effects of this setback have been felt throughout this year".
Alex explained that although "we are in a worse position than 18 months ago", on the other hand "in the minds of activists across the trade unions it's also more clear.
"As Steve Gillan of the POA said, 'the Tories will only stop chasing us when we stop running away from them'."
Alex pointed to the 14th November coordinated general strikes across several south European countries, and how general strike action here would galvanise the movement, panic the government and make our class "aware of the power at our disposal".
Preparation for a general strike
The discussion covered practical preparation for a general strike including making the 14th November in Britain a day of protests and industrial action where possible; numerous tactical issues around rank and file organisation; fighting the closure of Fords and the issue of factory occupations; huge cuts in the health service; the role of unofficial action in relation to official action and the official movement; the closures of public services; and local disputes in which we should raise the 24-hour general strike demand.
Des from the BFAWU bakers' union at Warburtons in Bolton explained how they successfully defended workers' terms and conditions against 25 separate threats from the employers, and forced an improved pay offer, through the threat of strike action.
Des pointed to the "groundswell" of support for industrial action when the union stood up to the employer, and said "the mood is changing" across industry, which is why "a tipping point" towards a general strike is coming soon.
Concluding the discussion, Steve congratulated the NSSN on a "brilliant job" of lobbying the TUC in October and commented that the NSSN is like "a massive extension" of the rank and file built by the sparks. "It's well overdue," concluded Steve, "that we challenge these anti-union laws, and if the officials won't do it then the rank and file will.
"We need a concerted movement from the working class, with a general strike becoming inevitable, and now's the time to do it, one after the other until we win!" Alex's closing remarks showed the potential support for a one-day general strike by reporting that when he had put the NSSN model motion to his union branch, "the only debate was about when we do it!"
George Tapp reported on the attacks faced by pensioners and the refusal of New Labour leaders to offer any firm commitments to the pensioners' organisations.
George explained that if we link pensioners taking direct action together with young people and the unemployed "then we'll have an unstoppable force once we get moving".
The meeting took two resolutions, firstly to meet monthly with a speaker from a current dispute and time for taking reports.
The next meeting will be on Saturday 24 November, 1-3pm, again at the Town Hall Tavern (venue TBC).
Resolution on the next steps towards a general strike
- notes the call for a 24-hour general strike by Bob Crow, Len McCluskey, Mark Serwotka and others on the 20th October demonstration, and commends the NSSN and NSSN-affiliated unions for spearheading this demand
- notes that many national unions face battles with the employers which could lead to national strike action in the next few months
- agrees therefore that the unions, TUC and NSSN should now:
i) step up the argument for a strong, well-prepared 24-hour general strike in the next few months
ii) identify which disputes and potential disputes could lead to action in the next few months, and to take all appropriate measures to ensure that these are fully-prepared, coordinated and strike on the same day, including the national unions swiftly starting the legally-necessary preparation
iii) urge the widest possible participation in protest/strike action on the day of a general strike, by all workers and others suffering under this government such as the unemployed, claimants, students, pensioners, etc
iv) as a step towards this, on 14th November when Spain, Portugal, Greece and elsewhere have a coordinated general strike, to hold a national day of action in Britain with widespread protests together with industrial action where possible, and to support similar initiatives by individual unions
- agrees to raise the points above as widely as possible in the labour movement
- agrees to discuss this at every future meeting of Shop Stewards Network supporters
Forthcoming events in the North West mentioned at the meeting include:
- Saturday 3rd November 1-3pm, Living wage conference at Friends Meeting House, Manchester. Followed by GMATUC open meeting to discuss opposing universal credit and other attacks on benefits.
- Saturday 10th November, National Childcare conference at Mechanics Institute, Manchester and North-West anti-cuts conference in Liverpool
- Wednesday 14th November, midday protest, Manchester city centre, in solidarity with 14th November general strikes, called by GMATUC
- Saturday 24 November 1-3pm, next Manchester/NW shop stewards network meeting