Alex Halligan from Salford Trades Council spoke to Solidarity about building up a trades council.
The trades council was defunct but we have been building it back up over the last year. We now have the highest amount of affiliations for a long time.
We have held a lot of public meetings in the community. It’s all about reaching out and getting your average worker involved in trade union struggle.
We have organised a number of actions — for example, we had a demonstration against the new Budget outside the local government buildings. We’ve organised shop stewards’ committees on a ward-by-ward basis.
How did you get affiliations?
It was about not just getting the more active unions to affiliate, but winning around the bigger unions to affiliate and actively participate. We did that by paying attention to all the local disputes, getting out there — that way people listened to us. If the trades council is seen to be in the thick of it, it will be supported by the unions. Even unions traditionally not so involved in Trades Councils in the North West can be turned round. There’s a lot of bureaucracy to wade through, but you get there in the end.
Tell us about the ward committees
They were inspired by the National Shop Stewards’ Network. But NSSN wasn’t localised enough. So we thought we’d take the meetings to the people. A ward is a small area, working-class people who aren’t used to meetings find it easy to get to. We’d try to put three people in a committee and they’d come up with some ideas for how to develop trade unionism in their ward, and they took it from there and developed power.
The other idea was to use the trades council to develop public sector unity. Often trade union branches in local public services don’t meet together because there is no forum to do that. So the trades council and the ward committees have been providing a great forum for that.
There haven’t been any major recent disputes to put this structrue to the test, but we expect big ones to come.
There was a national PCS dispute over redundancy and through the trades council and the ward committees we got Unison officials to show solidarity.
Following the vote at the Unison conference for strikes over pensions, we hope to do the same.
There is a current dispute involving Unite at a local tile factory and people are being brought down to support it from different wards, different unions, to offer help and advice.
Tell us about Salford...
The three biggest employers in Salford are the council, the hospital, and the university. Salford is a city that is heavily subsidised through public money. Regeneration has been led by public grants through the council. Massive swathes of the city are a building site, with demolished houses all over. Regeneration has been going on for 15 years and it’s all coming to a halt now. That’s not including the job cuts which we expect very shortly. We’ve had cuts recently in all those employers, but not yet on the scale we’re expecting from the Lib-Cons.
Also, Salford is an area heavily dependent upon welfare systems. There are a lot of sort of work-for-welfare schemes being tabled and we’re expecting Salford will be on the front line of that sort of thing.
One piece of advice for others who are trying to build up a trades council? Fight the good fight, keep your ear to the ground and make sure the struggles don’t pass you by. Unity is strength, and unity is the one thing the trades councils can offer to the movement. That cannot be underestimated.