Rank-and-file control on N30

Submitted by Matthew on 16 November, 2011 - 2:04

By Patrick Murphy, Leeds National Union of Teachers (pc), and Ira Berkovic

It now looks as if events in Leeds on 30 November will be lively and big, but only after local trade unions decided they had to take control of organising for themselves in the face of an attempt by the regional TUC to shape the day without consulting us.

The Yorkshire Region TUC set up a small sub-committee which planned four rallies across the region (in Bradford, Sheffield, Leeds and Hull). The plan is for each of the ’bigwig’ speakers to be followed by a couple of ‘ordinary workers’, and to have the whole thing completed within 30-45 minutes.

The timings of these rallies were based on what was convenient for the imposed speakers and not what best suited the workers and unions actually taking the action.

The ‘ordinary worker’ speakers have been given a really tight remit too. They are there to talk about how much hardship they would suffer if these pension changes came in. No politics, no mentioning of what should be done next, just a couple of sob stories. The ‘bigwig’ would be entirely in control of setting the political tone.

It was obvious to those of us organising on the ground that we weren't going to be allowed much say in this.

It has also been revealed recently who the main speaker is to be in Leeds and Bradford and suffice to say there won't be many people coming specially to hear him. If this was all that happened we would manage the amazing feat of having a much bigger strike than 30 June but with a much less impressive public event.

In response the local trade unionists who had previously organised for 30 June have met together a number of times, invited the unions balloting to join the action and planned our own event.

All Leeds trade unionists and their supporters are asked to assemble at Woodhouse Moor (just north of the city centre and University) with flags, banners etc from 10am for a rally with local speakers organised by Leeds TUC starting at 10.30.

We won't be boycotting the regional event, in fact we expect to form by far the largest part of it.

We will be leaving Woodhouse Moor soon after 11am for a march into town to join the TUC rally which starts at Victoria Gardens at 12.

Various groups of workers and campaigners are hoping to organise feeder marches from picket lines, schools, colleges and offices to join us at 10am and create a mass march into town.

Nationally, more and more unions are returning ballots in favour of the strike.

Senior civil servants’ unions FDA and Prospect have returned large majorities in favour, on relatively high turnouts.

FDA members voted by 81% in favour of the strike on a 54% turnout, with Prospect voting by 75% on a 52% turnout.

Several specialist unions in healthcare have also voted by large margins to join the strike.

The Chartered Society of Physiotherapy (86% on a 66% turnout), The Society of Chiropodists and Podiatrists (85% on a 52% turnout) and The Society of Radiographers (84% on a 58% turnout) will all be joining the 30 November day of action.

The challenge for activists in the weeks remaining is to build the strike in workplaces.

We must ensure that even those who didn’t vote in ballots are given the confidence to take action.

Workplace meetings and local strike committees are essential to provide channels through which ordinary union members can take control of their own dispute and discuss the next steps after 30 November.

This battle is far too important to be left to the top union leaders.

Support in Sheffield

On 10 November, the DWP Sheffield (frontline workers) branch of the Public and Commercial Services union (PCS) passed a motion based on the AWL’s model motion on the N30 strikes with amendments regarding the formation of a cross-union Sheffield strike committee and an ongoing local strategy.

This motion was passed unanimously in the branch, which is an achievement in itself: although the branch's political line has largely been shaped by the Independent Left group (of which AWL comrades are a part), many of those on the current Branch Executive Committee are new, and some are relatively right-wing in PCS terms.

The solid support for the motion seemed to be due to the general agreement that the union leadership had failed to build on the energy and momentum around the 30 June strike, and develop it into a winning campaign. These thoughts were discussed by existing AWL, IL, and independent members alike.

What is more interesting is that this particular branch meeting was attended by PCS leader Mark Serwotka as guest speaker. Despite 40 minutes of explaining why the leadership thought selective action was “weak”, and that all action taken must now be based on unity with other unions, he didn’t even manage to persuade the members in the room of Left Unity (a grouping which is usually supportive of Serwotka’s leadership).

The motion passed without opposition.

Organising in Northampton

By a teacher activist

We started from a fairly healthy position because Northampton NUT took a lead in getting the Trades Council to set up a strike committee in the run-up to the June 30 strike.

The strike committee has been reactivated recently to prepare for N30, though we having to address the problem of the Regional TUC sending union bureaucrats down to run the show.

Fortunately, the Trades Council was able to convene a strike committee meeting this week at which the one nominated Unite bureaucrat present had to more or less behave himself.

The NUT meeting passed an amended version of the AWL motion. The paragraph on workers’ government was removed, but there was a good political discussion about what sort of strategy was necessary to win — now and in the longer term.

It now seems that the decisions agreed by the strike committee are to be subjected to a further meeting called by the nominated representative of the Regional TUC.

Quite why this meeting has been convened remains to be seen.