Around 300 activists from across Britain attended the annual conference of the National Shop Stewards Network (NSSN) in London last weekend. The successful unofficial construction strike initiated at the Lindsey oil refinery was its backdrop.
Brian Caton from the prison officers’ union pointed to the victory at Lindsey, and to his own union’s record of taking illegal unofficial strike action. He said, “We’ve got the most restrictive anti-trade union legislation in the Western world.
“But I believe that where there are bad laws, we should be breaking them.”
The question of working class political representation also ran through the conference.
Keith Gibson from the Lindsey strike committee said activists needed a new “fighting leadership”, but also a new “political voice”.
There was some discussion of the “British jobs for British workers” slogan. Ian Allinson, a Unite union rep at Fujitsu, talked about the slogan’s divisive nature. Some felt that the slogan had only a marginal impact on struggles so far, but all agreed that it should be fought.
A number of important disputes and campaigns were raised from the floor of the conference.
Sandy Nicoll from the Unison union at the School of African and Oriental Studies, explained how an immigration raid at his workplace had resulted in cleaners being deported.
“This was a attack on the union,” he said. “These workers had been at the forefront of a campaign to win decent pay – and had won some real victories.
“We cannot allow the bosses to divide us.”
Many of those attending the conference said they sensed a changing mood inside the trade unions, and that they expected more explosive struggles.
There was also hope that the NSSN could help coordinate solidarity for campaigns and disputes in the future.