By Philip Stott. Posted 31st October 2012
The National Shop Stewards Network (NSSN) conference in Glasgow on 27th October heard uplifting reports from an array of trade unionists from the public and private sector on the theme of fighting the austerity onslaught and building towards a 24-hour general strike. Shop stewards and trade union activists from Unison, Unite, EIS, Usdaw and PCS attended from a range of sectors including local government, the NHS, education, construction, retail and the civil service.
Chaired by Leah Ganely, a PCS rep from Dundee and one of the Youth Fight For Jobs members who recently marched from Stirling to Glasgow, the conference began with NSSN video footage of the recent TUC demo with trade union leaders like Bob Crow and Mark Sewotka calling for a 24 hour general strike.
Brian Smith, secretary of Glasgow City Unison and speaking on a personal capacity, reported that the branch committee meeting of 50 shop stewards unanimously supported a resolution backing a one-day strike across the economy and which called on the STUC to coordinate this action. This motion will now be debated by the Unison Scottish council on December 1st. Hundreds of Unison members in workplaces across the council debated, discussed and overwhelmingly supported the motion.
Janice Godrich, PCS national president, gave an inspiring account of the battles the union were involved in as part of the struggle to defend jobs, pensions and pay. A national ballot of PCS members is likely for action in the early part of 2013. Janice also highlighted the shocking role played by the leadership of the TUC and the tope of some of its major affiliates in undermining the pensions battle following the hugely successful November 30th 2011 strike. The NSSN, she argued, plays a crucial role in adding pressure on the trade union leadership to act. The need to build and strengthen the work of the NSSN in Scotland will be vitally important in the months ahead.
The decision of the TUC congress in September this year to back a motion, moved by the Prison Officers Association and seconded by the RMT transport union, for the TUC to consider the practicalities of a general strike was historic, argued NSSN national chair Rob Williams. It reflects the enormous pressure from workers in unions across the country for organised and coordinated action. The speakers who called for a general strike at the recent October 20th TUC demonstration in London got huge support, they included Len McClusky of Unite, Mark Sewotka of the PCS and RMT leader Bob Crow. Rob also highlighted the role that the NSSN has played in building support for workers in struggle, including working alongside the construction electricians over the Besna battle, among others. Rob asked for as many union branches as possible to pass resolutions calling for the TUC a 24-hour general strike. The NSSN has drafted a model resolution for use in trade union organisations.
Angela McCormick, a member of the EIS and a FE lecturer, explained the reality of the cuts in the college sector, with huge reductions in budgets administered by the SNP Scottish government.
The meeting also heard an excellent contribution from Arthur Whitehead, a construction electrician and a member of Unite and the electrician’s Scottish rank and file organisation. Arthur outlined the work that Unite and the electricians are doing in Scotland, following the victory over the Besna. They are spearheading a major unionisation drive in some of the big construction sites in Glasgow. Arthur also reported on the success of the campaign to defend Stewart Hume, a young electrician who was victimised by the employers at Grangemouth and was faced with losing his job. The threat of a strike and walkout of the Grangemouth oil refinery workers forced the bosses to back down and Stewart, who also attended Saturday’s conference, kept his job.
A series of powerful contributions from the floor then followed. Among them included Alan Manley, Chair of Tayside Healthcare Unison branch with 4,000 members gave a vivid account of the real situation facing NHS workers in Scotland. Reductions in funding are leading to major job losses, increased workloads and a worsening service across Scotland. Diane Harvey, Unison branch secretary of the Children Reporters branch welcomed the opportunity to push ahead with the building of the NSSN in Scotland. Richard Neville, an Usdaw shop steward in the retail sector explained the importance of involving young people in the trade union movement.
Jim McFarlane, chair of Dundee City Unison, proposed the setting up of Scottish steering committee for the NSSN and this was enthusiastically welcomed.
As well as taking the call for a 24-hour general strike into the trade union movement at all levels, the NSSN in Scotland will also be working to support the construction electricians in their campaign on unionisation and supporting workers in struggle.
All who attended agreed that the NSSN has a crucial role to play in the major battles impending against cuts and austerity in Scotland.