Over 250 people came to the Bristol Organising For Fighting Unions (OFFU) meeting last week. It showed how OFFU can attract a broad range of trade union activists and also act as a forum for other campaigners.
Platform speakers included Tony Benn, John Rees, John McInally from the PCS union and Matt Wrack of the FBU.
There was a great sense of unity around fighting privatisation, job cuts and attacks on workers’ rights.
It felt like a mighty coalition is possible around such campaigning priorities, on the model of the anti-war movement.
Contributions from the floor were also very interesting. It was good to hear of several battles that had been won!
David Wilshire from Bristol CWU told the audience about the successful strike by union members at Capita against outsourcing.
Two parents from New Oak primary school spoke about their victorious battle against plans to close their school and turn it into an academy.
Local transport campaigners detailed how they had won extra funding for rail travel.
There was no complacency, but there was a sense that if we stand together then we can win.
We heard a passionate plea for action to be taken against any possible assault on Iran, denunciation of the government’s ID cards scheme, a call for solidarity with refugees over cuts in English language tuition, support for the NUJ union’s “Journalism Matters” campaign – and much more.
We went away determined to step up support for local struggles – such as the fight against job cuts at Airbus – and to work together around national issues such as the PCS strike on 1 May.
Meanwhile, writes Geoff Brown (secretary Manchester trades council), 170 trade unionists from a wide range of unions, including groups from the post, rail, NHS and colleges came to the OFFU meeting in Manchester. This was the largest such meeting for years.
The evening started with a solidarity buffet for the Amicus Fujitsu strikers together with nine campaign stalls, including the Stop the War Coalition, CND, Unite Against Fascism and Campaign Against Climate Change.
Speakers included Billy Hayes, CWU general secretary (pc); Karen Reissmann, Unison health service executive (pc); Jenny Lennox, NUJ regional organiser; and Michael Lavalette, Preston Respect councillor.
The meeting was dominated by a serious, fraternal discussion over union links to Labour, the need for solidarity between unions and the importance of recent local strikes.
The meeting agreed to organise around the proposed national PCS strike on 1 May.
Derek Fraser (chair of North Manchester Respect and president of Rochdale NUT) adds, “Speaker after speaker spoke of the prevailing anger in their workplace and the slowly growing confidence of members in their unions.
“Besides the anger felt by many in the unions at government attacks on their members and their unions leaders’ lack of action, there was also the ‘foaming at the mouth responses’ from many Labour Party members.
“A member of the Labour Party in Rochdale stood up and said he, ‘didn’t vote for Blair and his attacks and would no longer stand for such crap from a Labour government’.
“This sentiment was also echoed bravely by Chris Riley (sacked GMB steward at JJB in Wigan). He said, ‘I have been humbled to have met so many people prepared to fight whatever the consequences. But we must come together whatever our differences to fight Blair and this government’.
“The union movement is recovering from past defeats and this meeting was a further step along the road. I was proud and honoured to be there.”
OFFU rally in London on 1 May, see Meetings and events