Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn offered his support to museum workers on all-out strike this week.
Corbyn was speaking at the annual conference of the civil service workers' PCS union. He said, “I hope their strike is successful. I hope justice prevails for them. I offer solidarity for them today.”
The National Museum Wales workers, who entered the fourth week of an all-out strike today, Thursday, are fighting bosses’ attempts to scrap their weekend premiums.
A group of strikers visiting the conference collected more than £800 for their strike fund—and got a standing ovation from delegates in the conference hall.
Museum Wales branch secretary Hannah Lawson told the conference, “The solidarity that we have had from other branches in the PCS and from the other networks we’ve started building has really strengthened us and given us the morale to keep going.”
She added, “After two years of going to negotiations, it’s only when we stood up and said, ‘we’re not going to take this’ that we started seeing results.
“We can guarantee that once our dispute is resolved we will be supporting any branch that wants to fight.”
Hannah also told Socialist Worker that the fight against the pay attack had strengthened their branch—and transformed the strikers.
She said, “All-out strike was something that our members were quite apprehensive about. So we had to persuade members that it’s going to work and get results—that we’re not going to starve”
“But the more time that we’ve been out, the more galvanised members have become. They’ve started organising themselves, doing things that previously only reps had been doing.”
She added, “Two years ago we were a different bunch of people. We didn’t really speak between sites, none of us really knew each other.
“Now when we get our members together for a rally you see people from different sites becoming friends, happy to see each other.”
Hannah said other workers wanting to fight back could learn from the Museum Wales strike. She said, “People were frightened that there wasn’t going to be any public support.
“But on every picket line or fundraiser we only ever got one or two negative comments. The level of public support we’ve had has been so much higher than we expected.
“But the best lesson is that fighting back gets results”.
“The more we tried to negotiate, the more reasonable we tried to be, management saw it as a sign of weakness. It was only when we started fighting back that we started winning.
“If you don’t fight back, you’re not going to win. We are a small branch. And if we can do it, anyone can do it.”
The conference also saw a debate on resisting job cuts and office closures in the civil service. One motion had called for the conference to reassert existing policy to call a national ballot for strikes across all departments in the event of compulsory redundancies.
The motion fell, with many delegates arguing that PCS members did not have the confidence to take national action.
But a motion calling on the PCS to resist the Trade Union Act by defying the law if necessary was passed overwhelmingly.
Strike at Department of Business Innovation and Skills
PCS union members working at the Department of Business Innovation and Skills (BIS) in Sheffield began their second strike against office closures yesterday, Wednesday.
The two-day walkout follows a one-day strike on Thursday of last week.
BIS bosses want to close a number of regional offices and relocate them to London.
The closure of the Sheffield office could see more than 200 jobs lost.
Branch secretary Marion Lloyd said, “We will continue this campaign until senior management agree a no compulsory redundancy guarantee and to keep the Sheffield site open.”
Debating Labour and the EU
Delegates at the PCS union’s annual conference narrowly voted to review its relationship to the Labour Party.
PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka argued in favour of the motion on behalf of the national executive. He told the conference that “politics had changed rapidly over the past 12 months”, with the election of Jeremy Corbyn as Labour leader.
Serwotka said, “The opportunity to involve ourselves in Labour Party policy-making is an opportunity we cannot turn down”. But he added, “I know some people want to move faster. But you have to take the members with you”.
Some delegates argued for immediate affiliation to Labour. One argued, “The fight to transform the Labour Party is happening right now. It’s happening in the branches, on the NEC and in a few weeks at Labour conference.
“It’s not going to be won by people outside the Labour Party. We can’t stand on the side-lines cheerleading.”
Others, including Socialist Worker supporters, backed a motion against affiliation and against having a review. The motion agreed that “the election of Jeremy Corbyn as leader of the Labour Party was a welcome surprise to trade unionists and anti-austerity campaigners.
“Trade unionists need to do everything we can to support the Corbyn/McDonnell project in their opposition to austerity.”
But it added, “Despite the millions that trade unions have poured into the Labour Party, once in office it has failed to represent trade union interests.
“The most important thing we can do to support Corbyn and McDonnell is to continue to build the movement in the streets and the workplaces”.
The motion for a review narrowly passed and thereby ruled out a vote on other motions.
A vote on affiliation to Labour left pressure group Momentum was announced today, Thursday. Conference voted nearly three to one against affiliation.
Delegates have also voted not to take a position on the EU referendum, passing a motion to launch a “PCS informs – you decide” campaign. The motion was passed in opposition to two other motions—one for leaving the EU and another for staying.