"The future of the National Shop Stewards' Network"

Submitted by martin on 14 December, 2010 - 9:37 Author: Dave Chapple and others; Linda Taaffe and others; Bob Crow
NSSN

National Shop Stewards Network committee members have objected to moves by the Socialist Party towards presenting the NSSN as the sole coordination of the anti-cuts battle, and maybe as an electoral vehicle.

We publish their statement (slightly abridged). For our part we support all the conferences and positive initiatives taken by NSSN, Coalition of Resistance, or Right to Work. If the anti-cuts movement is to grow and develop the frantic competition between different “fronts” has to stop and be replaced by realistic cooperation. Below, as "comments", we add the reply from the SP and subsequent exchanges, including from Bob Crow of the RMT.


A statement from NSSN Officers and Steering Committee members

We are drawing attention to the disastrous outcome of the Steering Committee of the National Shop Stewards’ Network (NSSN) meeting on Saturday 4th December.

The majority in the meeting, who were Socialist Party (SP) members, voted through a series of decisions despite the opposition of absolutely everyone else, of various political affiliations and none.

The meeting decided to propose that the anti-cuts conference being organised by the NSSN on January 22nd should set up an “NSSN All-Britain Anti-Cuts campaign” and the election of a committee at the conference, which would be separate from the existing NSSN structures.

As supporters of the NSSN, we are aware that the NSSN and its supporters are already working, locally, regionally and nationally in opposition to the government’s attacks on our public services and jobs. The NSSN has an immense task in helping to build for effective action which can begin to beat back these attacks, although it is noteworthy that the original proposal put forward by the Socialist Party omitted any mention of the NSSN working to organise industrial action against the public sector attacks.

However, to agree that the NSSN has an important contribution to make to the anti-cuts movement is a long way from agreeing to the need for it to launch yet another national anti-cuts campaign. At a time when there is pressure for anti-cuts campaigns to work together – witness the protocol agreed between the Coalition Of Resistance and the Right To Work campaign; the forum on December 5th organised by Right To Work on working together; and the pending meeting called by the Trade Union Coordinating Group on December 14th – the creation of yet another group can only be seen as counterproductive. That the NSSN participated in the forum on December 5th and intend to take part in the meeting on December 14th stands in stark contrast to this move.

Attempts by non-SP officers of the Network to remove the most contentious aspects in advance of the Steering Committee meeting were unsuccessful. The proposals were the subject of a lengthy heated debate. Attempts to delete contentious parts of these proposals were defeated by the SP majority, with no wider support. Attempts to make positive proposals to work constructively with other anti-cuts organisations were defeated in the same way.

The only real progress was the removal of a proposal that the NSSN should support anti-cuts candidates in local elections in May, a proposal which would have immediately wrecked the non-party and cross-party nature of the NSSN.

Launching a further national anti-cuts campaign, while obstructing cooperation with other organisations, would be a retrograde step, as well as changing the nature and direction of the NSSN. If the NSSN becomes controlled by one political party which is unwilling to work constructively with any other shop stewards in the network, we would see no point in further participation. Confirmation that this is the way the the SP intends to proceed seems to be borne out by events since the meeting of the Steering Committee – the secretary has unilaterally announced that only SP members will represent the NSSN at 2 forthcoming meetings discussing left/anti-cuts cooperation, with not even a pretence at consultation with non-SP officers .
We therefore urge the Socialist Party to pull back.

NB: A personal request from Dave Chapple, NSSN Chair: "We are circulating this statement throughout the trade union movement, especially activists in NSSN affiliated or supportive unions, to which, ultimately, the NSSN should be responsible. Please discuss it at your trade union branch or other union meetings. We need messages of support for this statement, but would also welcome questions and comments, sent to the address below. NSSN Officers and steering committee members listed are willing to attend trade union meetings to put our case, so please consider inviting us.

Finally, friends, our London conference on 22nd January gives us a chance to return the NSSN to a sensible consensus-based policy: please do your best to attend: a substantial turnout of mainstream trades union activists can ensure that the NSSN has a future: the Socialist Party alternative, as the 'trade union wing' of a small left group, has no future at all".

Dave Chapple, CWU, Chair, NSSN Steering Committee;
1 Blake Place, Bridgwater, Somerset, TA6 5AU; 01278 450562; davechapple@btinternet.com

Jane Bassett, NUT, vice-Chair, NSSN Steering Committee;
Bob Archer, NUT, NSSN Website/Press Officer;
George Binette, Unison, NSSN treasurer;
Ray Morell, Unite, NSSN National Organiser;
Becca Kirkpatrick, Unison, NSSN Affiliations/Fund-raising Officer

plus the following members of the NSSN Steering Committee:

Brian Bamford, Unite;
Andy Reid, PCS;
Stuart Melvin, USDAW;
Glyn Harries, Unison
Ian Allinson, Unite,
Gerry Downing, Unite,
Jeremy Drinkall,Unison;
Helen Steel, Unison
Pete Firmin, CWU,
Steve Ballard, NUT
Paul Turnbull, CWU

Comments

Submitted by martin on Wed, 15/12/2010 - 22:08

Reply to Dave Chapple from NSSN officers

Dave Chapple has circulated a critical email about the decision of the NSSN Steering Committee to launch an Anti-Cuts Campaign at its Conference on January 22nd.

The real facts of what happened are the following. After a debate in the Steering Committee lasting around three hours and 39 attending, where all those wanting to speak did speak, a vote was taken. On a show of hands Dave’s view did not prevail. Behind the disparate opposition to the NSSN majority is a clear difference on programme, strategy, and tactics and this will now go to the Conference for debate. This isn't a crime but normal democratic trade union procedure.

The decision of the NSSN Steering Committee was taken 10 days ago. Only now,on the eve of a meeting of the Trade Union Coordinating Group (TUCG) of the left unions in the TUC, did he choose to attack this decision. In an unholy alliance with the SWP and their front organisation the Right to Work (RTW)he hoped to put the NSSN in the dock before fellow trade unionists as unprincipled splitters and sectarians. This completely failed, not least because the accusers are, themselves, guilty of the "crimes" they impute to the NSSN majority, and particularly to the Socialist Party.

It is enough to remind ourselves that it was the SWP who launched the sectarian attack on the fire-fighters at the end of their recent dispute. As RTW, they also invaded the ACAS talks in the BA dispute, and were widely criticised by rank and file Unite members. In a similar sectarian fashion they attacked the Lindsey strikers, as well as the left-led PCS leadership -particularly its general secretary Mark Serwotka over the alleged pension "sell-out" (in 2005). It is they who set up RTW 18 months ago as a rival to the NSSN. In the London Student Assembly this week, they actually voted against supporting the January NSSN Conference but now say they want to build for it to 'save' the NSSN!

Those who voted in favour of an Anti-Cuts Campaign recognise that trade unions are already located in fighting cuts in the workplace, but that there are other aspects to the struggle. Community campaigns to save services are springing up everywhere. Witness the marvellous student rebellion of recent weeks. Those against these proposals believe that NSSN should step back, and leave leadership matters to other organisations, particularly like RTW.

The NSSN Conference statement in June declared that NSSN should take our work into the wider community. Dave Chapple did not disagree. The October Steering Committee, which Dave Chapple chaired, built on this by agreeing,with only one vote against, to call an Anti-Cuts Conference.

Dave Chapple also accuses us of not wanting unity. This is a lie. It was RTW that split away from the NSSN last year, and then not clearly as an anti-cuts campaign. Actually, the NSSN was formed four years ago -originally as an initiative of the RMT transport workers union, well before either COR or RTW. Yet now he implies we are the splitters. We want unity in action, and will do our utmost to get that action. It was us who suggested at an Officers meeting recently that we send invitations to RTW and Coalition of Resistance to convene a meeting to iron out practical problems,initially. Both have agreed, though with all the activity no date has yet been fixed. We did send people to the RTW Forum. Dave Chapple attended this, denounced the NSSN decision and promptly left without hearing further discussion. Rob Williams attended the Trade Union Coordinating Group on behalf of NSSN on Tuesday. His explanation of the NSSN majority position was not criticised. In fact he received support when he criticised the SWP in particular for their continued support of Labour councillors intent on carrying through cuts. As this criticism of the SWP grows, they will undoubtedly try to do another somersault. To even attempt to forge a genuine unity in action with such people requires, above all, an open recognition of their history and record.

What workers are interested in is a fighting programme to defend ALL jobs and services. No other campaign other than NSSN has such a programme. That is why we are getting such a good response to the Conference. Moreover, Matt Wrack General Secretary FBU pointed out that campaigns like NSSN, freed from any bureaucratic obstacles, are well placed to react quickly and effectively in conjunction with fighting trade unions to fight the cuts. An Anti-Cuts Committee, democratically elected at the Conference but linked to our NSSN Steering Committee, will make us even more able to intervene effectively in this movement at this volatile time.

We hope all supporters are building for the Conference, where Dave Chapple and others, will be able to put their case. We believe that the active fighting campaign of NSSN - shown in action on the TUC lobby, and on the October 23rd demos - will be supported.

For a principled active intervention in the coming battles!

Linda Taaffe
Rob Williams
Bill Mullins
NSSN Officers, representing the majority of the Steering Committee

Submitted by martin on Tue, 11/01/2011 - 08:59

Statement by NSSN officers, 9 January 2011

The combination of £81bn in spending cuts and so-called reforms pursued by this Con-Dem coalition amounts to an unprecedented attack on the public sector and its workforce. The cuts, which are being implemented under the guise of deficit reduction, are ideological, motivated by a political desire to destroy the welfare state as we know it. Across our movement, trade unionists and service users are coming together to co-ordinate local campaigns of resistance against these cuts.
 
The recent demonstrations and occupations by students against the 300% increase in tuition fees and removal of the Education Maintenance Allowance (EMA) have shaken the government, exposing the coalition as weak and vulnerable to effective action. The students' demonstrations and occupations have been an inspiration to the emerging movement and could mark a turning point in the resistance to the cuts.
 
One of the problems we face today is the plethora of organisations that exist to defend services and oppose the cuts. We urgently need a united response to the Con-Dem austerity package that brings together trade unionists and service users in a single united campaigning group. In addition, we have seen very little in the way of industrial resistance to the cuts thus far, despite the fact that thousands upon thousands of jobs are set to go before this April from local government alone. The NSSN has a unique role in the labour movement as it brings together trade unionists in a network that can strengthen the vital labour movement component in the resistance and give confidence and practical solidarity to workers as they struggle against the cuts, whether the employer is central government, an NHS Trust or a local authority, whatever its political complexion.
 
The NSSN Conference on 22nd January will feature an important debate about the network's role in the anti-cuts movement, which is likely to be decisive in determining the organisation's future. The meeting of the majority of current NSSN Officers held on 5th January unanimously agreed that the NSSN should seek to build unity between the existing anti-cuts bodies and to oppose any attempt to further fragment the developing but still fragile anti-cuts movement. We urge all NSSN supporters and like minded trade unionists to attend our conference to help ensure that the NSSN plays a positive role in unifying the emerging anti-cuts movement and in building support for the sort of industrial action that will be crucial to beating back the coalition's attacks.
 
Statement agreed by majority of NSSN Officers, 9 January


Response by Linda Taaffe, 9 January

RESPONSE TO RECENT STATEMENT ON ANTI-CUTS CONFERENCE

You will have received a statement allegedly coming from a “majority of NSSN Officers”. The truth is that this statement came from an unrepresentative small group of people at just one meeting. Not all national officers could attend the meeting, and this was made clear prior to it taking place.  Over several years all meetings, both of Officers and the full Steering Committee, have been arranged by consensus. Usually I, as secretary, in consultation with others, convene meetings and arrange the agenda. On this occasion this did not happen. Due to their defeat in an open and democratic meeting of the Steering Committee on December 4th, Dave Chapple hastily convened an “Officers” meeting in collaboration with his supporters - thereby avoiding discussion on views they did not agree with.

They have now issued a completely misleading statement about what the purpose of the Conference on 22nd January actually is. The purpose of this Conference is to put before shop stewards and workplace reps a proposal to set up a working class trade union based campaign that is able to intervene on a clear no-cuts programme in the forthcoming battles. The opponents of this idea want the NSSN to tail-end other organisations which do not have a consistent no-cuts policy. Moreover, these organisations do not allow democratic discussion and debate, as the NSSN has been able to do.

We are in favour of collaboration of all campaigns and the possibility of a unified struggle, but the authors of this statement do not. The NSSN was set up four years ago. Yet this did not stop the SWP from organising the separatist splitting Right to Work. Amazingly, these are the people who are now the apostles of unity alongside Dave Chapple.

We urge all shop stewards and reps to come to the Conference to judge for themselves on these issues.

Linda Taaffe (Secretary)

Submitted by edwardm on Tue, 11/01/2011 - 11:42

AN OPEN LETTER IN A PERSONAL CAPACITY FROM RMT GENERAL SECRETARY BOB CROW TO THE NATIONAL SHOP STEWARDS NETWORK AND SOCIALIST PARTY

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

I am writing to urge maximum unity in the struggle against the Coalition government’s austerity programme.

Such is the scale of the onslaught against our class that no one should be in any doubt of the need for such unity.

There can be no question of any political party or organisation seeking to assume leadership of this struggle or setting up new national organisations that would create disunity.

Instead all our efforts should be devoted to mobilising all progressive forces and building the biggest and broadest possible movement against the cuts.

I would urge all comrades to take a step back and consider how we can best act in a way which helps achieve these aims.

Yours in unity

Bob Crow

RMT General Secretary

Submitted by martin on Tue, 11/01/2011 - 23:39

Dear Bob,

We welcome your letter as it gives us a chance to discuss the strategy and tactics for the anti-cuts movement with you, which has not been possible up until now. Such an exchange, even if there are differences, can help to clarify these vital issues. We make some initial comments on your letter below, but are looking forward to the meeting that has been arranged between us to further develop the discussion.

What was agreed at the December meeting of the NSSN steering committee to go to the NSSN anti-cuts conference on January 22nd? The proposal is quite simple: to establish an NSSN Anti-Cuts Campaign, with the explanatory sub-heading, ‘unions and communities together to fight all cuts in jobs and services’, and, if that proposal is agreed by NSSN supporters (ie workplace reps) at the conference, to elect a committee (of six trade unionists, four representatives of community campaigns plus the NSSN chair and secretary) to run the campaign.

The myth has been put around that this means ‘changing the character’ of the NSSN, even its ‘dissolution’, but when the proposal is looked at soberly this is clearly not the case. Whatever the outcome of the conference concerning the proposal to set up an anti-cuts campaign, the NSSN will continue to exist with its current constitution, remit, and independent activity. But the proposal to establish an anti-cuts campaign would enable unity to be built between trade unionists and community campaigners in a way the NSSN cannot currently do. Our hope is that this campaign will bring a new element to the anti-cuts movement in being clearly committed to opposing all cuts to jobs and services including, as the steering committee proposal states, “relentless lobbying of councils and other bodies to persuade them not to vote for cuts”.

The Socialist Party has consistently argued for co-operation between the different anti-cuts organisations and we welcome your call for unity, which we share. Aswith us, we are sure you have a principled approach to this crucial struggle to defend the working class against the government’s onslaught.

Not everyone involved in the anti-cuts movement, however, has the same approach that the Socialist Party and the RMT do. The RMT leadership would rightly oppose calls for ‘limited’ cuts in rail jobs and services. On the general issue of cuts this principled approach is unfortunately not that adopted by the leadership of the TUC. You rightly criticise them and as a result are sometimes accused of being too intransigent.

We are facing criticism for the same reason. Regrettably, many in the leadership of other anti-cuts campaigns, such as the Coalition of Resistance (CoR), do not oppose all cuts in jobs and services. While this is their formal position it was clear at their conference that many in the CoR believed that Labour and Greencouncillors have no choice but to ‘reluctantly’ carry out massive cuts in workers’ jobs and vital public services. It is not a coincidence that neither Tony Mulhearn, leader of the struggle of Liverpool city council in the 1980s, nor Ted Knight, leader of Lambeth council, were invited to speak – yet Green councillors who had voted for cuts were. Ted Knight attended the conference and was only allowed to speak from the floor of a workshop.

You state that “there can be no question of any political party or organisation seeking to assume leadership of this struggle or setting up new national organisations that would create disunity”. We agree that no organisation can automatically assume leadership – organisations and programmes will be tested out in the struggle, as is the case in the trade union movement. However, this isunfortunately not the approach of CoR and Right to Work who have attempted topresent themselves as the leadership of the struggle. From our point of view, if anational anti-cuts organisation existed that was determined to fight against all cuts to the end and had a democratic structure which allowed full participation we would happily support it.

This, however, is not the case. At the CoR founding conference, for example,there were 21 platform speakers in the plenary sessions with no opportunity for discussion from the floor. The workshops were also dominated with platform speakers, with over 60 of them speaking in the course of the day. Contrast this with the democracy of the RMT conference or of the NSSN conference which, in the four years of its existence, has always allowed the majority of the time for discussion from the floor.

We agree that one national anti-cuts organisation is desirable if possible, but not if it is dominated by a self-appointed leadership. The NSSN – which the RMT-initiated – is not top-down but has a proud record of democratic discussion which we will strive to continue at the anti-cuts conference on 22nd January. Whatever the outcome of the conference the Socialist Party remains fully committed to the NSSN and will continue to work to develop it.

We are very willing to discuss the best way forward, and even to seek an accommodation on the basis of a clear programme and organisational perspective for fighting the cuts. However, the political leadership of the anti-cuts strugglecan not be ceded to people who are acting as a left cover for Labour and others that want to carry out cuts at local level, something that you have always opposed. We believe it is essential that a national anti-cuts body exists which is based on a clear working-class programme, including opposition to all cuts and services. We are very happy to discuss with you how this can best be created.

The Socialist Party executive committee

Submitted by martin on Wed, 12/01/2011 - 18:27

Statement on meeting between Bob Crow (RMT general secretary), Alex Gordon (RMT president), Bill Mullins (Socialist Party and co-organiser of the NSSN) and Linda Taaffe (Socialist Party and secretary of the NSSN).


A successful meeting was held which illuminated our agreement on a number of issues, including the vital importance of striving to convince the whole trade union movement to mobilise in a broad, united campaign against austerity cuts around the slogan of ‘No to all cuts in jobs and services’.Bob Crow and Alex Gordon agree with the proposal of the NSSN steering committee of 4 December 2010 to launch an anti-cuts campaign around that slogan.We also agree with the recent proposal made by Matt Wrack (FBU, General Secretary) that fighting trade unions can and should take a leading role in this debate by initiating a broad based anti-cuts conference and inviting the various campaigns and organisations to participate in building a genuine and democratic campaign which could establish itself as an important focus of leadership in the coming period.

A number of misunderstandings were clarified. Linda Taaffe and Bill Mullins explained that the steering committee was not proposing to change the constitution of the NSSN in any way, but was only arguing for an additional campaigning anti-cuts committee to be founded in order that the NSSN can play a full part alongside community organisations and political parties in building a united movement against austerity cuts.They also explained that the steering committee was not proposing that the NSSN, nor the anti-cuts campaign (were it to be set up by the conference on 22nd January), would stand candidates in elections.

The meeting agreed to urge all opponents of the cuts to attend the anti-cuts conference on 22nd January in order to take part in the discussion on what the NSSN steering committee is actually proposing.

Wednesday 12 January 2011

Submitted by martin on Tue, 18/01/2011 - 08:27

ANTI-CUTS CONFERENCE

The NSSN believes that, given the pace of attacks on living standards by the ConDem government, it is now time to give form to our commitment made at the June conference, to take our work “out to the wider community”. We believe that the way to continue carrying out our founding aim “to support trade unions in their campaigns and disputes” is now clearly centred on the fight to STOP ALL CUTS whether through redundancy, reorganisation or privatisation.

We believe that two sections are key to stopping cuts

1) Trade unions at local, regional and national level (and trades councils) with the potential power of 6 million organised workers, who can organise mass strikes and coordinated joint action.

2) Anti-cuts campaigns against cuts in services, and including students unions, tenants and pensioners organisations, welfare claimants and disability groups, which can all initiate demonstrations, occupations and other direct action without being bound by legal ballots and other restrictions (as shown graphically by the recent student events); or they can organise support to back up trade union actions to stop job cuts and save services.

We therefore propose to

a) Launch an “NSSN Anti-Cuts Campaign, bringing trade unions and communities together to save all jobs and services”.

b) Elect a committee of 10, comprised of 6 from trade unions and 4 from anti-cuts campaigns – to be elected at the Conference – plus NSSN Chair and Secretary. This committee could also co-opt pro-tem representatives from national/regional unions, and could respond quickly and flexibly to events as they unfold.

Amongst its first tasks would be assisting in

• Relentless lobbying of councils and councillors, and other bodies, to persuade them NOT to vote for cuts

• Organise a strong contingent for TUC demo in March

• Campaign for united industrial action by the unions against the cuts

• Produce a regular email organiser to assist and inform

• Use all forms of electronic communication including email, face book and the web site to promote the anti cuts campaign


Motion 2

The NSSN calls upon all its trade union supporters and affiliates to ensure the largest possible turnout for our national anti-cuts conference on January 22nd.

We re-affirm our commitment, as trades unionists, to work to build and strengthen the local, regional and national anti-cuts movement, between now and January 22nd.

Given our basis as an industrial organisation, the January Conference should concentrate on providing the widest possible debate on the tactics and strategy needed to ensure that trade union strike action against the cuts begins sooner rather than later, that it is co-ordinated at local and national level, and that if possible it is sustained rather than restricted to token efforts.

It follows from this that this conference should NOT declare the NSSN as THE lead organisation of a national anti-cuts movement: rather, that the NSSN Officers and Steering Committee do everything constructive, through discussions with Coalition of Resistance, Right To Work and other groups, to build and launch a single national anti-cuts organisation early in 2011.

Whilst Conference should allow time for a full and necessary debate concerning trade union bodies supporting anti-cuts candidates in 2011 elections, the NSSN will leave decisions as to whether to stand such candidates to our local and national affiliates.


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