The credit crunch, the economic crisis, and now the deep recession have ravaged working class people’s lives. But importantly, resistance during the recession has shown the power of workers to fight back.
The national post strikes, the battles of Leeds bin workers, at Superdrug and the huge vote for action by British Airways cabin crew are all signs of this. It is in this context that the Right to Work conference is being held in Manchester on 30 January.
The conference is not a talking shop, but a place where workers, students and the unemployed will come together to discuss resistance and develop action plans for the way forward.
Alex Halligan is secretary of Salford Trades Council and helps organise the local Unemployed Workers’ Union. He told Socialist Worker, “We believe in the right to work and welcome this progressive initiative.
“There is 43 percent youth unemployment in Salford. The three biggest employers locally are public sector – the university, the hospital and the council. Cuts in spending will hit hard – we need joint action by both the employed and the unemployed.”
Hundreds of people from trade and student unions, together with local and national campaigners and unemployed people, have registered to attend the conference. Among them is Ben, a teacher in Sheffield whose NUT union branch has backed the event.
“Everyone understands that there are huge attacks coming our way, whoever gets elected,” he said. “We have to start preparing for them now.
“We need solidarity between different groups of workers – we’re all facing the same attacks. People should be fighting together and providing real solidarity so that no one fights alone. I hope that the conference will build the mood for more joint action against cuts.
“It can also help build up a grassroots network of activists so we will be stronger in the struggles ahead.
“The conference has got backing from places I wouldn’t have expected – from people who don’t normally come to such things.”
Another member of the growing contingent from Sheffield is Kevin, a post worker. “The main reason I’m going is because of what’s been happening in the post over the past few months”, he told Socialist Worker. “Since the strikes were called off, not much has changed. There is still lots of bullying and harassment from management.
“I hope we can come together at the conference and be stronger because of it.”
It is not just workers facing cuts and attacks. One in four old people live in poverty because the state pension is totally inadequate.
The general secretary of the National Pensioners Convention, Dot Gibson, will be speaking at the Right to Work conference.
“Whoever wins the general election, the issue will be the future of the welfare state and how the next government intends to cut it,” she said.
“We’ve helped initiate a march and rally in central London on 10 April under the slogan ‘Defending the Welfare State and Public Services’. We want to put a marker down that the government should keep its hands off the welfare state.
“We want to send a clear message that we should be proud of our public services and that any cuts will bring suffering to those at the bottom of society – pensioners clearly but also disabled people and the seven million households where children live in poverty.”
The latest sponsors of the conference include the National Shop Stewards Network, the Labour Representation Committee, the North West, Yorkshire & Humberside and London Regions of the UCU union, the London Region of the Fire Brigades Union and Edinburgh No 1 and Tyneside Engineering branches of Unite.
Campaigning workshops will help co-ordinate and develop the fight against cuts in education, for migrant workers’ rights, strike solidarity, trade union recruitment at grassroots level and much more.
Go to » www.righttowork.org.uk for more information on the conference