Report back: Merseyside TUC “General Strike” Conference

Bootle Taxes Branch Environmental Officer Margi Henderson offers her impressions of the conference that took place in the Adelphi hotel on Saturday 26 January.

26thjanconfThis event was organised by Merseyside TUC to discuss the practicalities of organising for a general strike. It followed the motion passed at TUC Congress in October 2012, instructing the TUC to look at “coordinated action where possible with far reaching campaigns including the consideration and practicalities of a general strike.”

The Merseyside conference was organised around a motion moved with good humour by Mark Hoskisson, secretary of Liverpool Trades Council. Tellingly, once the national TUC had seen the Merseyside motion on a general strike, funding for the event was refused.

A good contribution was heard from John Hendy QC, who advised the unions on strike laws and the use of human rights laws to possibly overcome the problem. Workshops took place with international speakers from Portugal and Spain, and a stark warning not to allow what has happened in Europe to happen here. The dreadful attacks on the working class there due to austerity measures demonstrating that “we are paying for the banksters’ mess.”

Some desperate stories emerged. A woman in Greece had given birth in the street as she didn’t have the 800 Euros needed to pay for health care, reminding us that we let our NHS be destroyed at our peril. Doctors and nurses who are giving medical care for free in Greece are doing so knowing it is illegal, a clear case of where individuals have chosen to put the law second to the needs of the people.

The rise of the far right was also discussed something we must stop in its tracks by challenging and educating at every opportunity.

There were also workshops on legal issues, the public sector (which of course I attended) and rank and file / trades council issues.

There was talk of demonstrations at town halls, as well as of unemployed and disabled groups joining pickets lines. There was a call from Unite general secretary Len McCluskey for trade unionists to pay a levy of maybe £2-5 a month towards a strike fund so we could call a section of the workforce out on strike who could paralyse the country and still get paid!

An insightful contribution was made regarding how women are being disproportionately affected by the cuts and a reminder to support International Women’s Day on March 8th.

The highlight of Conference was an extremely well received, cracking, passionate and committed speech from PCS assistant general secretary Chris Baugh, recognising the attacks on the working class for what they are – political attacks – and a call to action. We must build confidence amongst members and the working class to unite and take action. Strike, demonstrate, resist, challenge.

The overwhelming sense I got was of a definite shift towards direct action as a way of fighting back. The conference was a call to be braver, a call to take the kind of stand our forefathers and mothers took, a call to take action that can win.

The motion was unanimously carried.

The text of the motion, reproduced from here, is as follows:

1. This AGM of the North West TUC notes the decision of the 2012 full TUC congress to call on unions to begin a discussion on the practicalities of organising general strike action against the austerity policies of the current Conservative/Lib Dem Coalition government.

2. This AGM further notes the overwhelming popular support for the idea of holding a general strike expressed by the hundreds of thousands of demonstrators on the TUC’s March for the Alternative on 20 October 2012 in response to call for a show of hands in favour of such action by the General Secretary of Unite, Len McCluskey.

3. This AGM also notes the historic organisation of a Trans-European general strike against austerity on 14 November 2012. Millions of workers across Europe – and especially in Italy, Greece, Portugal and Spain – joined together in strikes and demonstrations to oppose the continent wide assault on public services, jobs, wages and working conditions.

4. This AGM believes that in the light of the above sentiments in favour of national and international general strike action – sentiments which will grow as the attacks become sharper in the year ahead – mean that it is time to turn words into action and begin the process or organising a general strike.

5. This AGM urges other regional TUCs and the national TUC to endorse the call from this meeting for the naming of a day in Britain for a general strike of all TUC affiliated unions.

This AGM proposes concretely that:

  • Each affiliated union sponsors a NW TUC leaflet and helps distribute it to every branch and workplace explaining the impact of the government’s austerity measures on the whole working class and the need for the whole working class to unite in strike action against these attacks
  • That the NW TUC through its press and publicity department launches a media wide publicity offensive calling for the day to be named — ideally we should aim for 1 May – International Workers Day
  • That the NW TUC press and publicity department starts a Facebook/Twitter/Youtube campaign putting the same basic message – name the day for a national general strike
  • That individual unions in the region convene emergency meetings of the appropriate bodies to plan a detailed campaign in their unions and major workplaces putting the case for a general strike with speakers enlisted to address branch meetings, workplace mass meetings and town/city wide public meetings in advance of co-ordinated ballots
  • Once the date has been named, each major town and city a convention of delegates from all affiliated unions should be called and hosted by the relevant Trades Councils ensuring that such action is co-ordinated and united. Action should consist not only of strikes, pickets and demonstrations but of a range of trade union and community cultural activities showcasing the alternative the unions offer to the policies of austerity
  • The Executive must also call for this action to be publicised across Europe so that the possibility of a second historic international general strike being organised can placed on the agenda of ETUC and the European Union Federations.
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