Monday, 7 July 2008

Second Conference of National Shop Stewards Network

Secretary’s Report

Last weekend around 300 stewards/workplace reps, and observers gathered in London for the Second Conference of the NSSN.

Dave Chapple (CWU) welcomed everyone remarking how the trade unions could be rebuilt through strong local action. Bob Crow, whose RMT had initiated the Network, opened the morning session outlining the enormous problems facing working people, and how trade unions needed to be vigorous so workers could defend themselves from increasingly aggressive bosses. He added also how workers needed a political voice – so they don’t have to keep fighting the same battles again and again. Onay Kasab a victimised Unison branch secretary followed, reminding us that any union leadership that attacked its own activists would be met with a strong fightback. Karen Reissman also a Unison activist sacked for exposing shortcomings in the NHS showed how a local campaign can get national solidarity support. The morning was rounded off with Brian Caton from the POA, whose rallying call to “choose freedom and break bad laws” referring to the iniquitous anti-trade union laws, was well applauded.

In the afternoon there were nine workshops. The debate on political representation was the most popular, but all were well attended and feedback very favourable. The reports of the workshops will be posted on the website.

The afternoon session was devoted to building the NSSN. I, as secretary reported our progress over the last year since the Founding Conference. The National Steering Committee had set to work making sure that the Network was both involved in all the major events of the trade unions, like conferences and demonstrations, but also covered local disputes. In the course of the year we have set up seven Regional Networks, published newsletters and generally maintained a profile. The task for the coming year was to consolidate and build. Several speakers from the floor then contributed.

The final session was addressed by Rob Williams (Unite), who described the anger of workers in the private sector as well as the public sector, and called for workers to join together in their millions to resist the bosses’ attacks. Caroline Johnson of Birmingham Council Unison described their recent huge strikes and how the union had grown out of this action and won concessions. Jack Heyman, a guest from America and leading member of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, described their strike action on May Day along the entire west coast to demand the withdrawal of troops from Iraq and Afghanistan. Janice Godrich president of PCS closed by congratulating the Network. She went on to describe some of the practices, once prevalent in the early twentieth century, now being experienced by really low-paid workers; and how the PCS leadership was tackling this by working with activists to develop a strong workplace union. She also highlighted her union’s approach to elections, and raised the prospect of a conference of trade unionists in the autumn to progress the issue.

There was a call for everyone at the Conference to ensure that they attended their next regional conference; to promote the Network particularly amongst younger and newer reps; and to get donations and sponsorships from their unions and workplaces.

A new National Steering Committee was agreed through a simple process of nomination. Those names will be published on the website, and the new committee will get to work, aiming to ensure that the Network plays a valuable role in all workplaces in the coming year.

Linda Taaffe (Secretary 2007-8)

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