UNISON backs Corbyn – comments from a member in the West Midlands

UNISON backs Corbyn – comments from a member in the West Midlands

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Jeremy Corbyn addressing UNISON conference – photo by Paul Mattson

The following article was written by a UNISON member in the West Midlands following the union’s decision to support Jeremy Corbyn for the Labour leadership. The comments were published in The Socialist newspaper several weeks ago. Although the ballot has now closed we are reproducing them here to further the debate within UNISON and the wider trade union movement on how Jeremy’s likely victory can be consolidated and the policies that we believe are needed to change society. There are also strong warning signs from some parts of UNISON who would rather see Jeremy defeated – and see the movement around him as a threat to their positions.


Many Unison members will be pleased that our union has officially backed Jeremy Corbyn for Labour leader. Jeremy is the only candidate, as was the case with the leadership election in 2015, who is fully supportive of the trade union movement and who is in line with the union’s anti-austerity policies.

The immense support and enthusiasm that he receives from activists was witnessed at our annual conference in Brighton in June. When Jeremy spoke he got a huge standing ovation and was mobbed by supporters when he finished speaking – the fact that we have a Labour leader who is unashamedly pro-trade union is a big step forward!

However make no bones about it, there are plenty in our union who would have liked to have ‘done a GMB’ and supported Owen Smith. General secretary Dave Prentis made a statement on 12 August which talks of Labour becoming the ‘nasty party’ with many veiled attacks on the Corbyn campaign.

Prentis fears a Corbyn-type movement in UNISON that could transform our union from top to bottom. Unison members would do well to remember that Prentis and his bureaucracy spent hundreds of thousands of pounds witch-hunting Socialist Party members in UNISON in an unsuccessful attempt to ‘get the Trots’ – sound familiar to the Labour Party today?

The key issues for UNISON members are first of all ensuring a Corbyn victory but then making sure we properly finish the job – no more compromise with right-wing Labour councillors cutting our jobs or Labour MPs who are happy to take our union donations but don’t support union policies.

Importantly we need to discuss how exactly we can get the fairer society that Corbyn supports and many UNISON members want to see – Socialist Party supporters in UNISON believe that means breaking with the failed system of capitalism and introducing widespread public ownership of the banks and major industry.

Then we can truly put people before profit!

Unison member in the West Midlands

Agree? Then get in touch for more info! Fill out the form below

 

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Coventry teachers join national NUT strike

Coventry teachers join national NUT strike

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Protesting outside the Department for Education building in Coventry

Today saw members of the National Union of Teachers (NUT) take industrial action against funding cuts to schools, an increasing workload, and schools using unqualified teachers in order in classrooms in order to save money. Members of the NUT say they will continue to take industrial action demanding no more cuts to funding, so they can continue to provide an outstanding education and support for every child to develop and thrive.

Around 80 teachers and other trade unionists protested outside the Department for Education building in Coventry and at Godiva Statue, as well as holding picket lines at schools across the city.

“The 12% reduction in funding to Coventry schools will devastate education in this city. We will see a possible increase of class sizes to 35 and classes taught by unqualified teachers. Teachers will see their workload further increase and it is intolerable now. More and more teachers will leave teaching either by choice or by being made redundant as schools tighten their belts. Parents should be angry that this will impact on their children’s education.” said Nicky Downes, Coventry NUT equalities officer and Socialist Party member.

Since the Tories came into power we have seen attacks on our education, NHS and other public services across the country. Today it was announced that junior doctors have rejected the imposition of a new contract – the next step should be for them to take strike action alongside teachers, as part of the fight against austerity.

Coventry celebrates May Day

Coventry celebrates May Day

Matt Wrack, general secretary of the FBU, addresses Coventry rally

Matt Wrack, general secretary of the FBU, addresses Coventry rally

A lively rally was held in Coventry city centre earlier today to mark May Day – International Workers’ Day. The gathering, which was entitled ‘Shout out against austerity’ and linked the battle against the cuts with the fight to defeat racism, gained support from many unions and organisations in the city. It also attracted attention from Coventry shoppers who stopped to listen to the many excellent speeches.

Emma from the junior doctors

Emma from the junior doctors

Speakers included Matt Wrack, the general secretary of the Fire Brigades Union (FBU), Emma from the junior doctors, Sarah Smith from Save Coventry Libraries, David Kersey from UNISON, Kris O’Sullivan from Youth Fight for Jobs and suspended Labour Party member Darrall Cozens speaking for Momentum.

Kris addressing the crowd

Kris addressing the crowd

Young worker and student Kris O’Sullivan, in bringing solidarity from Youth Fight for Jobs and Socialist Students, outlined how workers and students need to unite against the attacks, whether it be around wages, housing or jobs, in a common fightback.

Coventry against Racism and Fascism

Coventry against Racism and Fascism

A major protest against the plans of the English Defence League to march in Coventry on Saturday 21st May is planned and speakers urged maximum attendance at this event, to show opposition to those that seek to divide working class people.

Jane Nellist, secretary of Coventry TUC with Sarah Smith

Jane Nellist, secretary of Coventry TUC with Sarah Smith

Many speakers made the link between the cuts taking place in our city with the need to fight not only austerity, but the capitalist system that breeds unemployment, racism, homelessness, environmental destruction and an uncertain future for working class people. May Day gives us an opportunity to redouble our efforts to fight for a socialist future across the planet. Socialist Party members gave out hundreds of leaflets advertising the election campaign of the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition and sold 40 copies of the May Day special issue of our weekly newspaper, The Socialist.

 

 

Why I’m standing for TUSC in Woodlands

Why I’m standing for TUSC in Woodlands

Sarah Smith with other anti bedroom tax campaigners stopping an eviction

Sarah Smith with other anti bedroom tax campaigners stopping an eviction

Our candidate in Woodlands is local campaigner Sarah Smith. Sarah explains below why she is standing as a Socialist candidate


I have been an active supporter of the Save Coventry Libraries campaign since the campaign was set up and I support the campaign to save Woodlands School as well as other local services. I also helped to start Coventry against the Bedroom Tax, working with other campaigners to stop being residents being evicted.

Unlike the local Labour candidate Patricia Hetherton, and other Labour candidates in Coventry, I support Jeremy Corbyn’s anti-austerity policies in words and deeds and I will stand up and fight to save our services against vicious Tory attacks being implemented by the Labour Council.

The trade unions UNITE and UNISON have passed policy that calls on the council to use some of the £84 million of reserves to hold off the cuts, which would buy time for a mass campaign to be built. Do the other candidates also support union policy on this?

While local Labour leaflets carry the headline “Save Our School”, their Councillors supported the establishment of Finham Park 2 which has contributed to the school being threatened with closure! I’m against academies and free schools, and support teachers, parents and pupils who campaign against them.

I am standing as part of the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) because it’s a true left wing socialist alternative, made up of working class people like me. I will continue to campaign for the people of Coventry, and against the capitalist lie that austerity has to happen.

Live in Woodlands and want to help Sarah? Get in touch by completing the form below!

 

Live: Coventry Socialists join London protest against austerity

Live: Coventry Socialists join London protest against austerity

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On the bus to London – Tories out!

Coventry Socialist Party members are joining a march against austerity in London today. Trade unionists on the Coventry bus represented a number of unions including Unite, UNISON, Coventry TUC, NUT, CWU and PCS.

Jane Nellist from Coventry NUT said “We are joining the march today because we have to ensure that we build a fightback against Tory plans to destroy our public services.”

Socialists will be building the fight against austerity and arguing for a socialist alternative to capitalism. The Tories are split, the trade union movement needs to organise a 24 hour general strike to co-ordinate the fightback!

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NUT and CWU members from Coventry

UNISON and UNITE in local government must co-ordinate action with the teachers and junior doctors!

UNISON and UNITE in local government must co-ordinate industrial action with the teachers and junior doctors!

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Strike together

By a local government worker in Coventry

The 3 local government unions – UNISON, UNITE and GMB have concluded their consultations on the pay claim. The offer from the employer was just 2 per cent over 2 years.

UNISON and UNITE returned big majorities for rejection, 64 per cent and 87 per cent respectively. GMB  members voted by a margin of 9-1 to accept the offer.  The GMB result is disappointing for anyone wanting to fight for decent pay. Certainly the scandalous bulletin being distributed by GMB national officers, in which UNISON and UNITE are attacked for delaying members’ pay increase is particularly unhelpful.

The fact that the GMB have departed before the battle has begun is a certain blow. It is always preferable for the maximum possible unity to exist, but that unity can’t be based around sub-standard pay deals and surrendering without a fight.

What has since become clear is that UNISON and UNITE put to the employer that instead of the pay deal being over 2 years, it should be for 1 year. This was rejected by the employers side and both unions appear to be seeking full industrial action ballots.

Activists in UNITE and UNISON should push for the building of ‘the spirit of N30’, when over 1 million public sector workers  from a whole host of unions came out on strike together in defence of pensions in November 2011

We should urgently look to co-ordinate our action with those of the teachers who are likely to strike over the academisation of our schools, and the junior doctors who are fighting against the imposition of changes to their contracts.

With the allegations of serial tax evasion from David Cameron, the steel crisis, and open splits over the EU referendum, the government is far weaker now than in 2011.

What is more, the billions squirreled away in tax havens show once and for all that the money is there for council workers to have decent pay. The money is also there for play centres, libraries and other vital public services that we all rely on.

This government can not only be defeated on pay. By piling on the pressure we can force the Tories out and defend working class people against austerity and build a movement that puts a new type of society on the agenda.

Five years ago – when 750,000 people marched against the cuts

Five years ago  – when 750,000 people marched against the cuts

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Enormous show of strength against the cuts

Saturday 26th March is the 5th anniversary of the mass TUC march through Central London that saw up to 750,000 people protest against the cuts of the ConDem coalition government. It showed clearly that people were up for the fight against austerity. Unfortunately since then the leaders of the TUC and many of the trade unions have squandered opportunity after opportunity for a co-ordinated, sustained fightback.

We are pleased to republish two key articles below. The first is from the issue of our newspaper The Socialist printed a week after the demo. As you will see from the headline on our paper we fought for the next step being a 24 hour public sector general strike.

The second article was published in June of 2011, and looks back at the months following the mass demo, examining the role of the trade union leaders whilst posing the need for a political alternative – in our view socialist policies to break with capitalism.

With major battles looming, being headed by the courageous junior doctors, the need for a militant and combative response from the unions combined with the fight for socialism assumes even greater importance.


 

We said: NO CUTS!

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Front page of The Socialist

From every direction they poured onto London’s Embankment, from up and down the country, a magnificent surge of workers, their banners and placards, transforming London for a day.

Previously the governor of the Bank of England expressed surprise that there has not been greater anger against the cuts from those affected. Even some trade union leaders, the very organisers of the demonstration, had estimated that ‘up to 100,000’ would march.

But the number on the day was six or seven times that as the opposition to the government’s cuts was made clear. This was a reflection of the rage that has been building up, not having found a national expression until 26 March.

Not only was it huge, but this was unquestionably the working class on the march.

Firefighters, nurses, teachers, civil servants, transport workers, carers, young people, and their families surged through the city.

Trade unions

Union t-shirts, bibs and flags made blocs of purple, of green, of blue, orange, yellow, red and white. They marched against job cuts, against library closures, for a future for young people, for decent pensions, against the whole spectrum of suffering that the Con-Dem government intends to rain down on us.

But marchers drew confidence from their sheer number and also knew that more has to be done to stem the flow of cuts. Only days before the march the budget had granted further tax breaks to the richest and spelt greater suffering for the most vulnerable, such as the cuts in the winter fuel allowance.

Vince Cable has made the government’s position clear. “Certainly we’re listening, and I talk regularly to the trade union movement. I think [it’s] important we have a dialogue with them, but we’re not going to change the basic economic strategy.” But that’s what they think! Leaders of two of Britain’s biggest trade unions called for coordinated strike action to follow the demo.

They are absolutely correct: this demo must form the platform for an almighty and powerful campaign of action, of occupations of threatened services and, especially, of coordinated strike action, so the cuts can be defeated.


 
TUC demonstration biggest in decades
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General Strike!

On 26 March 2011 the British working class rose like lions and took to the streets in an immense show of strength. The massive TUC demonstration against public spending cuts was well over half a million strong, possibly 700,000 or more.
 By Hannah Sell

The capitalist media has attempted to completely downplay the importance of the demonstration, concentrating overwhelmingly on the clashes with the police at far smaller protests on the same day.

And the turnout on the main demo was far bigger than has been reported. The BBC, for example, claims there were just 250,000 attending.

Unfortunately, the leadership of the TUC itself has also underplayed the turnout as between a quarter and half a million.

This was the biggest trade union organised demonstration in decades.

It had widespread support from the working class and from wide sections of the middle class.

As a TUC-commissioned poll showed, a majority of the population – 52% – support the aims of the demonstration, with only 31% opposing them. Several Socialist Party members got free or reduced price taxi rides to catch early trains from sympathetic cabbies.

On the journey to London even first class passengers bought copies of the Socialist out of sympathy with the demonstration.

The potential power of the trade union movement was graphically demonstrated as a tidal wave of humanity flooded the streets of London. Among the protesters were pensioners, community campaigners and students, the latter veterans of their own movement before Christmas.

The overwhelming majority of marchers, however, were trade unionists, many taking part in their first ever demonstration. The Unison contingent alone took an hour to pass and it seemed as if every trade union – from the largest to the smallest – had its own lively and colourful contingent.

All of those capitalist commentators that have written off the trade union movement today as a spent force were decisively answered by this demonstration. The power of the trade unions was undisputedly established.

But the question on demonstrators’ lips was ‘what next?’ How can the trade union movement use its power to stop the cuts?

Clearly rattled by the size of the demonstration, Lib Dem business secretary Vince Cable has declared that marching will not stop the government, which he laughably described as “one of the strongest the country has ever had”.

In reality this is a weak coalition government, far weaker than the Tory governments of Maggie Thatcher – the Iron Lady. Yet the Iron Lady was reduced to iron filings by a mass movement of 18 million people refusing to pay the flat rate tax (poll tax) that her government had introduced.

That movement ended the tax and brought down Thatcher. Len McCluskey, general secretary of Unite, was right when in his speech he called the anti-cuts movement the Con-Dem’s poll tax.

This government is already rattled and can be decisively beaten by the huge power of the organised working class. Nonetheless, few demonstrators imagined that this savage government of millionaires will be stopped in its tracks by one demonstration, no matter how big.

Correctly, it was widely understood that the demonstration needed to be a springboard for further action.

What alternative?

TUC demo 26 March, photo by Peter Knight

TUC demo 26 March, photo by Peter Knight   (Click to enlarge)

Alongside the vital question of how to stop the cuts, the other issue of the day was what the alternative to cuts is. The march was officially called the ‘march for the alternative’.

For some right wing trade union leaders ‘the alternative’ is code for New Labour.

Labour leader Ed Miliband spoke at the demonstration. A small minority booed him, but in the main he was politely received.

He was very careful, however, not to put Labour’s real programme, of supporting massive cuts in public services albeit carried out at a slightly slower pace than that of the Con-Dem government. Instead he made an empty speech.

He made no concrete promises that a Labour government would reverse cuts. He compared the anti-cuts movement to the struggle of the suffragettes, anti-apartheid and civil rights movements without once mentioning the history of trade union struggle in Britain, or for that matter the anti-war movement against the New Labour government.

Unsurprisingly, the man who has said he “opposes irresponsible strikes” did not say a word about what action workers should take to defend their jobs and services from attack.

Many workers on the demonstration will undoubtedly vote Labour in the elections on 5 May in the hope that Labour will, at least, cut more slowly. A significant minority, however, are too angry at New Labour’s record in government and the way Labour councils have willingly implemented government cuts at local level to vote Labour again.

The Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) – which is standing anti-cuts candidates across the country in the May elections – received a good response.

And those that will vote Labour understand that doing so will not stop the cuts and that therefore further strikes and demonstrations are essential.

All the platform speakers were in the main greeted warmly by the crowd, but the loudest cheers came for those who called for the demonstration to be followed up by strike action.

Len McCluskey declared that the demonstration would have to be followed by coordinated industrial action. Mark Serwotka, general secretary of PCS, summed up the mood of many demonstrators when he said: “Today we’ve marched together; next we’ve got to strike together”.

The Socialist Party’s call for a 24-hour public sector general strike as the next step in the battle to stop the cuts received wide support from the crowd.

At the National Shop Stewards Network (NSSN) stage many hundreds of workers stopped to hear speeches about how such a strike could be made a reality. If the TUC was now to start seriously building for a one-day public sector general strike it would receive enormous support from trade unionists.

It would also attract millions of non-unionised workers and sections of the middle class towards the trade union movement, as the force in society with the power to stop the cuts.

Such a strike would terrify the Con-Dems and give enormous confidence to the working class. Unfortunately, other trade union leaders speaking from the main platform did not put forward a strategy for strike action to defeat the government.

Dave Prentis, general secretary of Unison, put forward local demonstrations against cuts. While such demonstrations can be an important part of the movement they are not a substitute for strike action – both locally and sectorally and coordinated on a national basis.

Brendan Barber, general secretary of the TUC, rightly declared that the trade unions would not allow public services to be destroyed but did not make any concrete proposals on what the next step should be.

Before the demonstration he had emphasised the role of “peaceful civil disobedience”. As the Socialist Party warned at the time, we agree, but not if community campaigns and civil disobedience are used as an excuse to avoid strike action, rather than as an addition.

Civil disobedience

TUC demo 26 March, photo by Peter Knight

TUC demo 26 March, photo by Peter Knight   (Click to enlarge)

It should be added that Barber’s call for civil disobedience does not seem to have translated into supporting it when it took place on Saturday. It was only a small minority of Saturday’s demonstration, mainly young people, who organised sit-ins in shops and other civil disobedience.

Such actions were secondary to the huge power shown by the main demonstration, despite the capitalist media’s inevitable concentration on them.

However, unfortunately the TUC has been reported in the media as just giving a blanket condemnation of ‘violent protesters’, without a word about the role of the police.

We do not support the smashing up of shops as a method of protest, and unfortunately it gives the government, the media and others a way of trying to detract from the magnificence and size of the main demonstration.

But in the main it was the police, not the demonstrators who were violent on Saturday. It seems that the majority of civil disobedience which took place around the demonstration was peaceful, but faced kettling and arrests.

The Guardian website shows film of young people – many singing the international revolutionary workers’ song ‘the Internationale’ – being kettled and manhandled by the police for taking part in an entirely peaceful protest.

Len McCluskey was right when he supported the student protests and demanded “the police keep their grubby paws off our kids”. The fact that so many students attended the TUC demonstration shows that they are rightly looking to the trade union movement to take the lead in the fight against the cuts.

If that is to remain the case it is essential that the trade unions support the youth’s struggle, including against police repression, but also take decisive action against the cuts.

Opposition to cuts in pensions is one issue around which there is a clear prospect of coordinated strike action. The UCU have already taken strike action and is considering more, and the civil servants union, PCS, is discussing balloting for strike action on pensions to take place in May or June.

The NUT is also discussing action before the summer. To have these three unions – one million workers – strike together over pensions would be an important step forward in the battle against cuts.

However, we need more. Unison has also promised national action over pensions, but unfortunately Prentis made no mention of it in his speech.

Unison members, however, want to see action on this issue. There was support among Unison members and others on the demonstration for the Socialist Party’s call for a national midweek demonstration on the day of the next national strike against cuts and attacks on pensions in order that workers from across the public sector can show their support for strike action and to increase the pressure on other public sector unions to build for a one-day public sector strike.

The political alternative

From the platform there was little explanation of the economic alternative to cuts. Much emphasis was put on the need for job creation but without explanation of how that can be achieved.

Almost every speaker criticised the bankers although from the most right wing, like Usdaw general secretary John Hannett, this was no more than a plea for the bankers to “lead by example”.

This is like asking Dracula to lead by example in refraining from drinking blood!

Several speakers called for a Robin Hood tax on the finance sector which is estimated would raise around £20 billion a year. Mark Serwotka rightly opposed all cuts and very effectively pointed out that tax avoidance by the rich is equal to £120 billion a year, which is almost as much as the total government budget deficit, £143 billion, to be eliminated over four years.

Therefore, at one fell swoop, it should be possible to cut the deficit!

The problem that was not addressed is how to collect the money. As the unpaid £120 billion indicates, the capitalist class is not prepared to pay even the puny levels they are currently taxed.

To collect the money is virtually impossible unless the government uses wide economic powers. This poses the question of the complete nationalisation of the banks and finance houses under workers’ control and management.

Even this would need the cooperation of workers throughout workplaces and industry with the powers – workers’ control – to really open the books, discover the scale of tax avoidance taking place and bring offenders to book.

In other words, socialist measures are needed even to eliminate tax avoidance and evasion, which the overwhelming majority of ordinary working people would support.

Unfortunately, speakers at the main platform did not raise the case for socialism; for a society run in the interests of the millions rather than the billionaires.

However, more than 50 Socialist Party campaign stalls put the case for socialism to the demonstrators. For many of them, on their first demonstration, socialism was a completely new and very interesting idea.

Hundreds wanted to join the Socialist Party, several thousand went away with a copy of the Socialist and many tens of thousands went away determined to struggle, alongside the socialists, to go in the coming months from a massive demonstration to a massive public sector general strike.