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NSSN lobby of TUC: Upbeat meeting calls for trade union lead to boot out Tories
Julia Leonard, Hillingdon Socialist Party
A packed and enthusiastic National Shop Stewards Network (NSSN) rally took place at Trade Union Congress (TUC) conference in Brighton on 8 September, the tenth year that the rally has taken place.
Linda Taaffe, NSSN secretary, opened the meeting saying: "If we thought the political situation was confusing when the NSSN annual conference took place in July, there are no words to describe the mess that the ruling class are in at the present time!"
A group of strikers representing the 62 on indefinite strike at Bromley libraries (now in its 13th week) addressed the meeting with an inspiring speech about their struggle and a medley of songs that they are using on the picket line to keep spirits up - a good way to get across serious issues. One, to the tune of the Addams Family theme tune started off: "They're underhand and sneaky, their promises are leaky, they're letting us down weekly".
The strikers paid tribute to support from the NSSN and Socialist Party members on their picket lines and also to the RMT transport union for money donated to their strike fund at a time when the RMT themselves are involved in strike action.
Rob Williams, NSSN chair, said he wanted to be the first to say that with the previous night's resignation of the Work and Pensions Minister the Tories are now "Rudderless". He described the TUC as "our parliament" and that it needed to show clarity and a way forward for workers to be unified. The labour and trade union movement has more than six million members - this is the real 'rebel alliance'.
A much talked about government of national unity will only serve the interests of the bosses. It would include Liberal Democrat MPs whose part in the coalition government enabled David Cameron and George Osborne to push through their austerity programme and lead to years of attacks on the working class.
A common theme from many of the speakers was that we need maximum unity of our class - too many divisions have been sown between Remain and Leave supporters and the Tories are only too happy to divide the working class, as they do through racism, xenophobia, homophobia and islamophobia.
Everyone agreed that this TUC conference is taking place at a crucial time. We have to put pressure on the Labour Party for a Corbyn-led government with socialist policies that supports workers' rights and ends austerity, stops zero-hour contracts and reverses all outsourcing of contracts.
Any delay or dithering will just give the Blairites in the Labour Party more confidence and lead to more attacks on Jeremy Corbyn's leadership. It was noted that some Blairite ex-Labour MPs have been in three different parties in recent months. They have no loyalty to those who elected them and are only interested in their own careers.
Speeches included comments about the debates taking place at the TUC and how delegates seek to influence decisions made during the conference.
The meeting had a good mixture of experienced trade union members, young workers, students and workers newly involved in struggle to protect their jobs and services.
The number of trade union leaders who addressed the meeting is an indication of the importance attached to the NSSN with its union affiliates and representatives of rank-and-file trade unionists.
Amy Murphy, president of Usdaw shop workers' union and Socialist Party member, highlighted the struggle against Sainsbury's where workers at Waltham Point distribution centre are being told that any sick leave after two weeks is at the discretion of their manger - a change from the previous limit of 26 weeks! A policy she described as "starving sick people back to work".
Dave Ward, Communication Workers' Union general secretary, described his members being "tagged" so managers can check on their whereabouts. He called for more co-operation between unions, and to find ways to deal with new technology - to restrict how its introduction affects workers. Unchecked use of new technology can result in the intensification of the working day.
New people attending found the meeting really inspiring, to hear directly from those involved what is going on in the trade union movement and what can be achieved by the struggle and solidarity of workers - news that is very hard to come by in the mainstream media. Shop stewards described the actions they are involved with and how workers are becoming emboldened to take indefinite strike action.
In turn, more experienced trade union members said how inspired they have been by the struggles of young people in the climate change demonstrations and their determination to fight. Three young school students from Guildford described how they have protested and spread the word locally. Trade unions have a vital role to play in supporting the climate strikes and encouraging their members to take part.
The meeting ended on a very upbeat mood. Calls were made for those present to take every opportunity to recruit workers to trade unions, and to use the NSSN to support workers in struggle.
A demonstration with trade union banners and placards along the seafront followed the rally to make our presence felt outside the TUC conference.
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