The Socialist Workers Party held its annual conference last weekend.
Around 600 delegates and over 100 observers discussed the global economic crisis, the political instability it is generating—and how the party should respond.
Much of the discussion centred around the rising class struggle in Britain.
Martin Smith from the SWP’s industrial department opened a session discussing the public sector strikes on 30 November and building resistance to the Tories.
He said that the strikes marked the “return of the working class”.
“This was the largest industrial action since the 1926 General Strike,” he said.
“The TUC recorded over 1,000 local protests and marches. The strikes were immensely popular.”
Martin said union leaders would find it hard to contain workers’ anger “but that is exactly what some of them are trying to do.”
Leaders of some of Britain’s biggest unions have signed an agreement with the government to call off further action. Others have rejected it (see page 5).
Martin said, “There is pressure not to name the day for more strikes, even among left wing leaders of unions that have refused the government’s offer.
“Unions that don’t want more strikes are putting pressure on more radical ones and then being allowed to set the agenda.
“We cannot allow that to continue.”
Martin discussed how rank and file workers could exert more influence on union leaders.
He said the Unite the Resistance organisation was trying to bring together trade unionists and left wing union figures to push for more action.
Martin stressed that the fight is far from over.
“Union leaders that back the deal are struggling to sell it to their members.
“Even if they fail, we still have unions with approximately a million members that could take action. That could beat the government.
“And if they were to put up picket lines to persuade workers in other unions to come out too, the result could be a wave of solidarity action.
“To make that a reality, we have to offer hope against pessimism.”
Several delegates argued that solidarity action was a real possibility.
Kate, a school support worker in the GMB, said that even workers not in the pension scheme had struck on 30 November.
“Everybody is waiting to be called out again,” she said. “If the GMB signs the agreement, plenty of us would refuse to cross a teachers’ picket line.”
Mark, a lecturer from the UCU union, said he knew that Unison members at his workplace wouldn’t cross a UCU picket line.
He said socialists had a key role to play in the pensions fight saying, “The anger is still there, but it needs a lead.”
Other delegates stressed this too. Claire, a Unison member from Glasgow, described a regional union meeting following the strike as “electric”.
But she said some officials were suggesting there is no mood for further action in the city.
“It an outrage,” she said. “We are taking this to the workplace and hope to get a flood of motions and petitions challenging them.”
Paul, an NUT member from east London, described a meeting of the Socialist Teachers Alliance that backed a motion calling for more strikes.
He said, “Initially, we didn’t win the left wing union executive members who were in the room.
“But we did win much of the middle ground and eventually that forced them to back our motion.”
It was clear that the strikes on 30 November had transformed workplaces.
A London ambulance worker said that the strike had “proved that NHS workers can strike solidly”.
She added, “Management and the union bureaucracy were shocked and terrified.
“So many of us struck that bosses had to call in the police to do our jobs.”