Some 550 trade unionists and anti-austerity activists attended the Unite the Resistance (UtR) conference in central London last Saturday.
There were delegations from workplaces across Britain. Coaches brought people from South Yorkshire and Leeds.
People heard from recent and current disputes such as St Mungo’s Broadway, Defence Support Group and health service workers.
The day’s central theme was forging networks of resistance and solidarity in the fight to beat the austerity agenda of the mainstream parties and attacks from bosses.
Speakers included Labour MP John McDonnell, Paula Peters from Disabled People Against Cuts (Dpac) and CWU union general secretary Billy Hayes.
Hayes attacked Labour’s commitment to Tory spending plans, though he is a member of the party, and also argued that “we have to tackle Ukip head on”.
Joint secretary of Unite the Resistance Sean Vernell said to loud cheers, “The attacks on immigrants have got to stop—all immigrants are welcome here.”
Anne Lemon from the national executive of the National Union of Teachers spoke of many teachers’ disappointment at not striking this term. “We should have been out with the health workers,” she said.
The sellout of local government workers over pay reveals the tensions between those who think unions can beat the Tories and union leaders who would rather wait for a Labour government.
Over 60 joined the afternoon workshop to discuss what next for local government workers.
Unison national executive member (pc) Helen Davies criticised well-paid union leaders who are detached from the struggle to survive that most workers face. She said it wasn’t good enough to just name the problem and urge a vote for Labour.
“Labour is not going to deliver,” she said.
Doncaster Care UK striker and Unison steward Roger Hutt received a standing ovation for his speech in the opening session. He spoke of being “in the middle of a class struggle”.
Roger paid tribute to the solidarity that helped sustain the 90 strike days workers at Care UK have taken. “We could not have done this without you,” he said.
Commenting on the latest offer from Care UK bosses he said, “If it is the end of the road for the Care UK strike we hand over the mantle to others. Keep the faith and never surrender.”
The conference saw several workshops including the fight against zero hours contracts, organising migrant workers, building support for the NHS strikes and resisting the Tories’ war on the poor.
Calls for future action were made to continue these battles and more, such as the fight against zero hours contracts, protests for decent housing and solidarity with migrant workers.
Jane Aitchison, joint secretary of UtR, summed up the mood of the day in her closing remarks. She said, “The TUC said ‘Britain needs a pay rise’ but has failed to coordinate the strikes we need.
“The strength of UtR is that it is able to bring together all shades of the left. If Labour leaders tell us there is no alternative to austerity then we have to build it.”
‘Cuts make disabled people more dependent’
Robert Punton, a longstanding disabled activist from Birmingham, helped introduce the Benefit Justice session, hosted by Disabled People Against Cuts.
He exposed the hypocrisy of the government’s claim to be helping disabled people live independent lives.
“In reality, their cuts are making us more dependent on the state,” he said to loud applause. Robert went on to call for a campaign of direct action against the threats to disabled people’s benefits.
“We need to realise that no one can fight back alone. We need allies. When we fight we show people there is an alternative.”
A number of senior reps in the civil service PCS union explained how their management were pushing their members in Job Centres to “sanction” claimants or themselves face disciplinary action.
Dave Semple from the union’s DWP group executive called for more direct action that involved both staff and claimants. “That slogan is absolutely right,” he said pointing to a banner in the hall. “We need ‘No Targets’ for DWP, and, ‘No Sanctions’ on claimants.”
Housing and bedroom tax campaigners from across Britain used the session to highlight battles in their areas and to share tips.
Groups in London are calling for a march on mayor Boris Johnson on Saturday 31 January to highlight the housing crisis in the capital.
'A boost for my confidence at work'
Helen O’Sullivan, Unison Bridgend county council and social worker
“The Unite the Resistance conference has boosted my confidence. Social workers are really feeling the pressure—workloads just keep going up.
“My job is becoming more difficult and its harder to provide the service that we want to.
“This has meant that staff sickness is going up. Many social workers are worried about fighting back when it’s just about pay.
“In my workplace many want to strike against the cuts and to defend social care, not just pay.”
Frank Wood, Health worker and Unite union NEC member (speaking to the NHS workshop)
“The NHS walkout on 24 November is looking even better than the last strike.
“But we can’t have the unions united, but marching at the pace of the slowest member.
“We need to teach young activists about 1988, when workers walked out in hospital after hospital against attacks on the NHS.”
Alvin Major, KFC worker, Brooklyn, New York
“I loved the conference. I saw a lot of people that were inspired and a lot of people that are fed up of being oppressed, being underpaid and wanting to fight.
“When we started in the US we never knew there was a movement over here in Britain.
“I’ll be taking back the message of solidarity that people are willing to be there with us.”