UP TO 200 people attended the National Shop Stewards meeting called by the RMT union last Saturday.
RMT president Tony Donaghey said, “The simple fact is that the trade union movement today has fewer freedoms than when the Trades Disputes Act was passed a century ago and that has to change.”
The rank and file meeting was addressed by RMT general secretary Bob Crow, T&G deputy general secretary Barry Camfield, CWU deputy general secretary Tony Kearns, UCU joint general secretary Paul Mackney, NUJ general secretary Jeremy Dear, NUM national secretary Steve Kemp, CYWU national officer Dave Proctor, Institute of Employment Rights director Carolyn Jones, FBU general secretary Matt Wrack, trades councils national committee member Shirley Winter, and POA general secretary Brian Caton.
Bob Crow said that the organisation of workplace reps had always been a barometer of the general health of the trade union movement. He told the meeting, “If we are to roll back the tide of privatisation and war, it is an absolute necessity, and rebuilding the grassroots of the movement is an essential part of that process.”
The meeting elected a steering committee to organise a national shop stewards’ conference next spring. The RMT donated £3,000 towards setting up the shop stewards network.
T&G deputy general secretary Barry Camfield said, “We need to change the centre of gravity towards shopfloor representatives if we are to create the conditions for change.”
Carolyn Jones said that one of the first tasks of the new organisation would be to build for a mass lobby of parliament being planned for next year in support of the Trade Union Freedom Bill.
Ian Allinson from Fujitsu Amicus, spoke on the attacks on union rights in the private sector saying, “Private-sector bosses are determined to keep unions out and we must be just as determined to organise that sector.”
CWU member Dave Chapple was one of a number of speakers who said that many workers were clearly prepared to fight if there was a lead.
While the meeting saw many familiar faces from across the unions and the left come together, unfortunately it did not pull in any of the new forces that would be needed to build a vibrant shop stewards’ movement.
A number of speakers pointed to the Organising for Fighting Trade Union conference on 11 November (Go to Organising for Fighting Unions conference) as a place to discuss the issues further.