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Unite the Resistance conference debates how to build a fightback in the era of Trump and Corbyn

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Issue 2530
The conference heard from strikers at Picturehouse cinemas in London
The conference heard from strikers at Picturehouse cinemas in London (Pic: Guy Smallman)

Up to 300 trade unionists and activists from around Britain gathered in central London today,Saturday, at Unite the Resistance national conference.

It was a day to inspire charity sector worker Kathryne told Socialist Worker. “It’s been one of the best days I’ve had for a long time,” the Durham trades council activist said.

“Seeing that there’s fight in people who are taking knocks from the cuts and bosses but hitting back harder is amazing.”

The conference heard from many workers building a fightback. From library workers in north London, to Picturehouse cinema workers preparing to strike again and Durham teaching assistants resisting a pay attack from Labour county council chiefs.

Speakers also included the presidents of the RMT and Bfawu unions, John Hendy QC, an Uber taxi driver, a Fujitsu worker, a Paris rail worker. There were also campaigners from Disabled People Against Cuts and Stand Up To Racism and many more.

Holly, a Ritzy cinema worker, spoke about their ongoing fight for a living wage at an afternoon workshop.

She told the meeting that they’re set to walk out again for five days from Thursday to hit the cinema’s potential takings for the new Harry Potter film.

The workshop discussed strategies for unorganised workers to get organised in difficult circumstances.


Kathryne said hearing from young trade unionists in this session about how they are building union membership was “so inspiring to see”.

Cheryl Pidgeon, a Unite union organiser, spoke about organising at the Sports Direct warehouse in Shirebrook.

She argued that unions need to start recruiting in workplaces and industries where there are large amounts of migrant workers.

“I don’t care where they come from,” she said, “get them in the movement and get them organised.”

Another lively workshop focussed specifically on this question. One debated how to develop national action and beat the Tory anti-union laws.

Niki Fitzgerald, a junior doctor, told the workshop on how to defend our welfare state, “It’s plausible that we won’t have an NHS by the time this government goes out.”

Those at the top of the top of the trade union movement are not calling the action that we need

The junior doctors’ dispute, which was officially ended last week, was an opportunity to push back the Tories’ attacks. But there is still anger there—and the NHS can be a focal point for resistance.

Health campaigners have called a national demonstration for the NHS on 4 March. Niki said, “We should be calling on all the unions to support this demonstration.”

It also discussed organising around potential attacks on health workers’ pay, and around housing and education.

Michael, an NUT teachers’ union member from west London, told Socialist Worker, “I came to the conference because how unions can work together more is something I’m very interested in. I thought the conference was useful and picked up some tips on organising.”

One action point from that session was to join housing campaigners on a lobby outside parliament on 25 November against the Tory assault on housing.


The need to link up all the isolated local struggles into a national fight was a constant thread throughout the conference. People argued for more examples of workers fighting back and the rank and file organisation can help deliver that.

Rounding off the day Jane Aitcheson and Julie Sherry from Unite the Resistance spoke at the final rally.

Jane said the conference had been a perfect antidote to a week that could easily demoralise people. She paid tribute to the people in the US that have taken to the streets to protest against the outcome of the presidential election.

She argued for the same kind of action here to challenge austerity and inequality in society.

Julie told the rally, “There’s a deep bitterness among working class people at the relentless attacks on the poor while the rich get richer. We saw that with Jeremy Corbyn’s election and what happened with Brexit.

“It’s easy to feel despair about the situation and feel that Theresa May is all powerful. But how powerful is Theresa May? The Tories are deeply divided.

“But those at the top of the top of the trade union movement are not calling the action that we need.

“That’s why we need to draw together and strengthen the networks of resistance that do exist and take that message into every union branch and workplace.

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