Unions kick off shop-floor fightback
Morning Star: 29 October 2006
by BRIAN DENNY
HUNDREDS OF shop stewards from across Britain gathered in London over the weekend to found a grass-roots network capable of mobilising trade unionists to fight for workers' rights.
Opening the conference, RMT president Tony Donaghey said that his union had convened the meeting to create the broadest possible unity among rank-and-file trade unionists.
"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," he said.
Therefore, the meeting elected 10 rank-and-file trade unionists to organise a national shop stewards conference next spring.
RMT donated £3,000 towards the cost of setting up the network that would be made up of TUC-affiliated trade union workplace representatives that could offer support in campaigns and industrial disputes.
RMT general secretary Bob Crow said that the organisation of workplace reps had always been a crucial barometer of the general health of the trade union movement.
"If we are to roll back the tide of privatisation and war, it is an absolute necessity and rebuilding the grass-roots of the movement is an essential part of that process," he said.
'We were never handed anything.We had to fight for it. And we have to fight for our rights now.' - T&G rep Rob Williams
T&G deputy general secretary Barry Camfield said that it was "absolute hypocrisy" for former general secretaries who had become Labour ministers to lecture trade unionists that they cannot have basic rights that are enshrined in international law.
He pointed out that it was a rank-and-file movement that built the campaign to win trade union political fund ballots, which had been forced upon the movement by the Tories.
"We need to change the centre of gravity towards shop-floor representatives if we are to create the conditions for change," he said.
Institute of Employment Rights director 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.
T&G rep Rob Williams said that the meeting was the start of a much-needed fightback.
"We were never handed anything. We had to fight for it. And we have to fight for our rights now," Mr Williams said.
Amicus rep Ian Allinson warned that trade union membership in the private sector had plummeted and that had to be reversed.
"Private-sector bosses are determined to keep unions out and we must be as just determined to organise that sector," he said.
The meeting also agreed that the network would not interfere in the internal affairs and elections of trade unions.
Communication Workers Union rep Dave Chapple said that many workers were breaking unjust anti-trade union laws every day and were clearly prepared to fight if they were given a lead.
"We need a democratic grass-roots movement that is not dominated by any single party," he said.
Prison Officers Association general secretary Brian Caton was among a dozen trade union general secretaries who welcomed the new movement, which would be built on the traditions of "free, independent and democratic trade unionism.
"My union has already enjoyed the support of other trade unionists in the fight to win back our right to take industrial action, despite threats from the government to put us in prison.
"Give us our trade union rights - they are human rights," he said to applause.