The spirit of rank and file rebellion at austerity marked this weekend’s Unite the Resistance conference.
More than 500 activists from across Britain came together in central London to inspire and learn from each other.
Strikers from all the main industrial disputes of the moment sat alongside pensioners, students and hundreds of fellow trade unionists. Together they discussed the scale of the bosses’ offensive and the best way to respond.
“It's all about solidarity,” a London bus worker told Socialist Worker. “It was the first time I've been to anything like this. It was good to hear from workers facing the same problems.
“We're all under the same attacks. We have to put up with the same crap everyone in the public sector has to put up with, the same erosion of our rights at work.”
People packed into sessions that included Mark Serwotka, general secretary of the PCS union, and Labour MP John McDonnell. But for many, it was the array of union activists who spoke from the floor that made the event special.
Unite member Russ Ball from the threatened Coryton oil refinery, talked movingly about the battle to save jobs and his community.
Two GMB members from Veolia recycling plants in Sheffield spoke about their 21 days of strikes. “As of this morning we are now on all out strike”, they announced to cheers.
Teacher Phil Brett, from Downhills primary school, explained how European struggles were having an impact on the fight against school academies in north London.
“We haven’t had a general strike or rocket launchers,” he admitted. “But we’ve had pickets with face painting and balloons.”
There was much discussion about the fight to defend public sector pensions. Many activists were angry at the way some union leaders tried to sell a shoddy deal only days after last year’s magnificent strike on 30 November.
Mark Serwotka pointed out that asking why the leadership of some bigger unions had blocked further action after 30 November is 'not just bitterness'. 'If we don't learn, we'll repeat the mistake again in the autumn,' he said.
His point was echoed by one PCS activist who compared the cowardice of most union leaders to the sense of solidarity among rank and file workers. “We are united at the grass roots,” they noted. “So why aren’t the union leaderships? We need hard hitting action.”
There was determination to learn lessons from the last six months and build for action in the autumn, with the TUC’s London protest a priority for everyone.
Jane Aitchison from the PCS said, 'Let's build a huge demo against austerity on 20 October and an unstoppable programme of industrial action. We can win.”
But the biggest cheers of the day went to striking Spanish miner Segundo Menendez Collar.
The entire audience rose to its feet as he described in heart-rending detail the scale of the battle that he and is workmates are engaged in.
Visibly moved by the reception, he concluded by saying, “Something that's followed me my whole working life is this: When things go well, you fight. When things are just about okay, you fight twice as hard.
“And when you are on the edge of disaster there's only one thing you can do and that's fight, fight and fight some more.
“Working in the mines makes you tough, but it teaches you above all else the importance of fighting together in collective struggle.
“For the whole working class community in the whole world there is one simple truth—we have to fight.'
For videos from the conference go to uniteresist.org