Over 500 people discussed how to take forward the “fight for safety, jobs and survival” at the People Before Profit (PBP) national activists’ meeting on Sunday
PBP brings together strikers, working class activists, campaigners, MPs and trade union officials. It puts forward a radical alternative to the Tories’ reckless, profit-first mishandling of the virus.
But PBP also demands protection for workers’ livelihoods and opposes austerity. And it highlights the importance of workers’ struggle to win such demands and the centrality of building solidarity with any group fighting back.
Andrene, a UVW union striker at the Sage care home in north London, opened the national activists’ meeting. She said strikers were “so determined and so strong” in the battle for “dignity, respect and equality”.
Andrene described how a small group of workers organising over pay and conditions led to union recruitment and a recent three-day strike.
She emphasised that “the fight will go on until we win”.
Over 450 people joined a series of six workshops. Themes included fighting redundancies, resisting austerity, opposing scapegoating, fighting for climate jobs, defending education, safety at work and campaigning for welfare and housing.
Workshops broke out into smaller groups so as many people as possible could have a say and share their experiences, not just listen to speakers.
In the safety at work workshop, teacher Emma described how school workers had forced the Tories into closing schools to most children at the beginning of the year. They had used Section 44 of the Employment Act 1996 to refuse to work.
Emma said the experience showed “the importance of union workplace organising and the important role of socialists and activists”. She said the action had been “led by primary educators, traditionally less well-organised”.
“Other workers need to use Section 44,” she argued.
People shared powerful personal testimonies at the meeting. One participant described how “my husband was forced to go into work even though he was not an essential worker”.
“He died from coronavirus and now I have been left with five children,” she said.
Howard Beckett, Unite union assistant general secretary, denounced a government that “expected people to work through the pandemic”. “But at the end it will expect these same people to pay with their wages, jobs and conditions,” he said.
Beckett said that “wealth must pay for the crisis”.
Labour MP John McDonnell attacked a “class government that is putting profits first”. He added that there needed to be immediate struggles and a fight for a “new society, including action on workers’ rights, poverty and climate change”.
Shelly Asquith, TUC union federation health and safety officer, said figures that were released on Monday would show which workers had been worst hit by the virus. They included food workers, taxi drivers, security workers, chefs and bus drivers.
“These are often low paid and often black workers,” he said. “We need a working class and anti-racist fightback.”
Proposals that came from the meeting included two days of action. Activists are now mobilising a day of action against the cuts to Universal Credit on 6 February and another day of action on budget day, 3 March.
They also resolved to support for anti-racist initiatives, such as the Stand Up To Racism protests on 20 March.
At the end of the meeting, PBP shared the details of all ongoing strikes and encouraged activists to give them solidarity. This will be crucial to pile pressure on the Tories—and give workers confidence to take up the fight themselves.