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MORE than 1,000 trade unionists tuned in to Saturday’s “fast and furious” online meeting — the first of a two-parter — to discuss ways of organising an unemployment fightback.
In addition to those inside the Zoom room, hundreds took part as the event was beamed live on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. The film of the event will also appear on the Communist Party’s website: www.communistparty.org.uk.
Chaired by trades council activist Moz Greenshields, the meeting hit the ground running with an opening exchange between event co-organisers Mollie Brown and Bill Greenshields. They set the scene with a thoughtful but militant tone.
The “battle was on” — workers were on one side of this class struggle and could make a choice and could make change happen.
Young activists, but already veteran in their experience of organising, followed.
Jonny Butcher of Sheffield Needs a Pay Rise called for unions to follow the BFAWU/Community/trades council initiative to organise against precarious working by taking the initiative to other cities. Leeds was planned to follow Sheffield. Where next?
Young Communist leader Johnnie Hunter, recently a candidate in the Scottish parliamentary elections, called for trade unionists to follow the lead contained in the YCL Youth Charter, to organise young workers to fight for their rights and especially for access to housing.
GMB southern region organiser Helen O’Connor made an impassioned case for justice for our front-line workers, warned of the impact on all if government plans for privatisation of the NHS go through and called for solidarity at a protest next week against the non-payment of wages due to staff.
As you would expect with a Communist Party event, the need for international solidarity was to the fore.
Jackie Simpkins, union officer for War on Want, spoke alongside Rickard Juan Escrich, leader of the Communist Party of Spain and general secretary of the union for workers at car manufacturer Seat.
They discussed international solidarity, the use of the law against the so-called gig economy and effective campaigning, which Simpkins said was at its most effective when workers organise themselves for action and change.
The meeting heard from Steve Turner, assistant general secretary of Unite and candidate to become its next general secretary.
Turner was characteristically combative and called on unions to press for a review of the events leading up to the pandemic and how it has been mishandled. He said this should be done immediately rather than in September 2022, when the government hopes the embers will have gone cold.
Unions are strong where workers organise themselves, said Turner, and where they do, they need real back-up from the labour movement.
Turner is a leading voice for industrial regeneration in Britain. He is in the forefont of forging a worker-led industrial strategy that greens existing jobs and communities while creating high-skill employment in the green-collar sector and through mass housebuilding.
Newly elected RMT general secretary Mick Lynch was certainly in the “backing-up” mood, and he explained that “the best way to fight unemployment is to fight against job loss.”
Lynch went on to illustrate how his union is gearing up to take on an industrial struggle against funding cuts that could result in thousands of jobs lost and he called on the TUC to play a greater role in pressing the case for workers’ livelihoods, employment rights and job protection.
Communist Party general secretary Robert Griffiths was in the audience and reflected on the importance of the event.
“The CP has been aware for a while that Covid has resulted, in some ways, in more meetings but less strategic discussion.
“Our aim was to create an event where union leaders, activists and those wanting to get more involved in organising could exchange ideas and plans. I want to thank those who spoke and those who attended: a thousand participants in such an event is a real achievement.
“It was organised by the Communist Party, but what is important is that activists with a broad range of views and affiliations felt able to participate in an atmosphere of solidarity.
“The communists assert there is now a pressing case now to bring together an expanded meeting of the TUC general council, including union executives, to discuss protecting those who have kept Britain going and the rights of those returning to work.
“Of special concern is what to do to protect those who have not been able to return as a result of the capitalist-class policy of shedding labour, through ‘fire and rehire’ and other means.
“Our unions are the way we can fight against unemployment, precarious working and for a future of work which is sustainable, well-paid, highly skilled and based on shorter working time.
“The TUC could give a really powerful push to this, and the Communist Party will do everything in its power to help build the movement behind such policies and action.”
On June 5, from 11am to 1pm, we meet again to take the ideas, campaigns and action from Saturday’s event and shape them into a strategy to build the movement needed to win the future that the people of Britain need.
The emphasis will be on organising — on the web, in workplaces, unions and communities.
We have leading organisers of our movement who will introduce their work, and lead an hour of discussions in Zoom rooms:
Pete Middleman from the NEU and regional TUC, Henry Fowler from StrikeMap, Jo Rust on community organising and local councils, Tam Kirby on trades councils and the People’s Assembly, Rohan Kon of Sheffield Needs a Pay Rise, who is sending in a video presentation with young TUC award-winner Daragh O'Neill, CWU executive member Ian Taylor will focus on combating racism at work, NEU executive member Gawain Little on developing power in the workplace, and Jordi Lopez-Botey from the IWGB on organising precarious workers.
All are welcome. Register at tinyurl.com/UF-5June.
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