From Rebecca Allen and Jeremy Drinkall, candidates for the new steering committee to be elected on 17 November, on behalf of Workers Power
Dear Brothers, Sisters and Comrades,
We welcome the Unite the Resistance conference on 17 November as a chance to bring together the different struggles and disputes sparked by Tory austerity and the years-long crisis.
It’s great that Unite the Resistance (UTR) is trying to connect this to the huge opportunity opened up by the TUC decision to consider a general strike.
It’s also a positive step UTR Steering committee is preparing a motion for the conference to debate and pass, as a platform for a united anti-cuts resistance. That will be an important outcome of the conference, along with whatever action and networks are built. Contributions are no doubt welcome as part of this process, so this open letter is Workers Power’s contribution to that discussion.
We hope to be delegates on the incoming steering committee and whatever the motion that comes out, any proposals we feel necessary to put to the draft motion will be friendly amendments aimed at strengthening it. Here are our thoughts on what the final platform for Unite the Resistance should include.
Rank and file democracy and independence
Mark Serwotka stated on 20 October that it was necessary to keep up the pressure on all the union leaders, including himself, for coordinated action and a general strike. That’s absolutely right. After November 30 strike (N30) the right union leaders (Unison, GMB) betrayed the coordinated action plans and settled for peanuts. But the left union leaders did not immediately criticize them openly and harshly and call on the members of these unions to rebel against the sell out. Then the lefts, dropped strikes and ultimately abandoned the pension struggle. The whole campaign came to an inglorious end that set the movement back a long way. It is now recovering but we can’t afford another surrender like that. The TUC will certainly not call a general strike without massive pressure from below.
The best form of pressure is a democratic rank and file movement in every union, including the PCS, that would bring together all those who wanted to campaign for the general strike. Unite the Resistance could take the first steps by calling meetings of trade unionists and activists in every city to campaign for the general strike, and call on all those left leaders who back it like Serwotka, Bob Crow, and Len McCluskey to join in a high-profile speakers’ tour to launch a movement.
Seize the initiative from the rights
We should apply our experience after N30 and the spirit of earlier Unite the Resistance conference motions[i], demanding the leaders of every union especially the big three (Unison, GMB, Unite) take part and – whether they do so or not – call publicly on their members at workplace level to join in the movement. If Mark Serwotka, Bob Crow, Len McCluskey did the same this would have tremendous leverage at the grassroots of the unions. Such a direct and active appeal is the only way to break the grip of the right-wing union leaders on their members and either force them to act in their interests or encourage their replacement.
Tens of thousands of their members would support us if we did this and it would put enormous pressure on those union leaderships that sabotaged coordinated action over pensions, and will do so again in every struggle including pay. The left-wing union leaders have shrunk from publicly standing up to the rights so far, but we must in Mark Serwotka’s own words “keep up the pressure on them” to do so. Their support would certainly boost a grassroots campaign for mass coordinated action and for the TUC to call a general strike. If they will not then at least we will know where we stand and not be taken by surprise if they repeat their retreat after November 30.
If we take such an proactive stance towards the whole trade union movement, not just uniting the existing active and militant sections, we can not only win the fight for the general strike but would be in poll position to develop committees and assemblies that we should from to wage such a campaign into real, authoritative councils of action like those that began to develop in the General Strike of 1926 in Britain. These would have the authority and roots in the working class to organise an effective general strike, ensure workers control of transport, food and supplies, emergency cover of hospitals, etc, organize defence of picketlines and supply, and lead it to victory. Such base organisations could ensure the union leaders would not be in a position to hold it back or call it off prematurely as in 1926.
At every step, from local initial meetings through to winning the unions to a General strike itself, our action should be guided by the historic motto of rank and file movements in Britain: With the union leaders wherever possible, without them wherever necessary. We should make this a key slogan in Unite the Resistance’s materials.
Uniting the Resistance
Such a campaign will take a major leap forward if Unite the Resistance openly proposes to the Shop Stewards Network – who support the call for a one day general strike and the Coalition of Resistance which ”welcomes the TUC resolution” but still hesitates over the call for a general strike. We should also appeal to the hundreds of anti-cuts groups and union lefts not affiliated to any of the above campaigns, that they come on board and build such local committees.
Let’s really unite the resistance – in deeds not just in name – and put an end the divisions that have so far stymied the building of a mass movement against austerity, one on the scale of the historic Poll Tax and Anti-War movements of the last two decades. Otherwise UTR will be seen as a front of the Socialist Workers Party, regardless of the breadth of its steering committee, and this will limit its appeal.
Our next step after 17 November besides those raised above should be to call a unity conference, co-hosted by all anti-cuts groups, unions and left organisations to hammer out a strategy to defeat the cuts, to really take the initiative like we did in the anti-war movement, which set the agenda and called the mass demonstrations and actions which the union leaders had to join in. Let’s name the day for a broader, deeper conference that can transform the anticuts struggle in Britain and make us worthy partners of our brothers and sisters across Europe, mounting general strikes in 7 countries on 14 November, with no doubt more to come in further days of international action.
We hope these positive proposals are a useful addition to the present steering committee’s discussions, and of course are willing to discuss these at any time.
[i] “… this meeting commits Unite the Resistance over the coming period to support efforts to widen membership involvement and strengthen members’ democratic control over the conduct of the disputes, particularly through the creation of elected and accountable strike committees, and to build rank and file committees with the aim of delivering action without the consent of national or regional officers if necessary.
We cannot rely on the current trade union leadership to lead us to victory against the government. We need to build on the campaign of the Sparks, with grassroots coordination and rank and file conferences in every union and across the unions, prepared to take action in the event of a sell out.”
Statement for the Unite Resistance Emergency Meeting plus amendment (14 January 2012)