The building of political trade unionism was the theme of the discussion on industry, workplaces and neoliberalism.
Opening the discussion, Socialist Worker editor Chris Bambery said, that in response to the “race to the bottom” of neoliberalism, “We need to recreate working class organisation from the bottom up on a political basis.”
He said, “The trade union leaders are caught between the pressure and anger over neoliberalism and being tied to Labour and Gordon Brown.
“Political trade unionism centres round the war, but it is about much more than the war – it is about resisting the way neoliberalism cuts across all aspects of our lives.”
In the discussion, a number of workers from the public sector spoke about fighting against the attacks on health local government and the civil service.
Andy Reid, from the PCS union, argued that in the run up to the civil service strikes at the end of this month, “We need to build alliances of workers across the public sector – we are pushing at an open door on this.”
Unison union members working in local government spoke about how the opportunity of the one day strike over pensions last year had been wasted by the bureaucracy. The energy and vibrancy of those picket lines would be central in the coming months fights over pay and cutbacks.
Diana Swingler from Hackney, in east London, spoke about how the anger over proposed NHS cuts had led to the reinvigoration of her union branch.
Speakers from the UCU lecturers’ union argued that there is an ideological thrust to building fighting unions. Sean Vernell said, “Neoliberalism means we have lost influence over education.
“Part of the way we can build up union organisation is reclaiming that ideological terrain. It is an argument of what we are for as well as what we are against.”
One post worker said, “The Territorial Army (TA) were due to visit our office. They were coming in to try and recruit post workers. We said that if they came in then we would be coming out.
“There was no way we would allow the TA to recruit post workers to die in Iraq. When management realised that we would have a strike it was announced over the tannoy that the visit had been cancelled.
“That has fed into confidence of people to take industrial action over other things and we have been able to set up a successful Post Workers against the War group in our office.”