“We have the chance to deliver coordinated action that could see hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of people out on strike… A resurgent labour and trade union movement should never have any bounds around what it can achieve.”Mark Serwotka PCS General Secretary
By Sam Browse
The Arise Festival fringe at this year’s TUC conference saw hundreds rally to ‘Take the fight to the Tories – For socialist solutions to the crisis’.
Ruth Hayes opened the packed meeting, remarking that it was great to be chairing such an event at TUC with so many unions taking industrial action to defend their members. It was vital, she said, to rally against the Tories at this crucial time as they start to embark on their latest and deepest round of cuts.
Sarah Woolley BFAWU General Secretary was the first speaker, ‘we are quite literally at breaking point…people are literally going to freeze, starve and die because of the Tories’.
Woolley focused on how it has been ordinary workers such as her members and others who have seen this country through the pandemic, despite struggling. Yet workers are being inspired to organise to win something better for themselves and others. Sarah outlined the peer-to-peer organising network – Organise Now – they are developing to build power and change.
The second speaker, Ricardo Torres of the FBU, noted how the scale of resistance has brought the fightback together, saying workers are ‘starting to recognise their struggle in the struggle of other workers’ and that he hadn’t been to an FBU branch meeting in which other disputes were not discussed.
He said, ‘it’s vital that any tactics we have going forward are founded in refusing that division of working people’ through scapegoating of migrants, racism and other forms of bigotry. As we fightback, he continued, ‘we cannot let our enemy set the goalposts’ on trade union rights. Instead, we must campaign for the repeal of all anti-trade union laws – not only this latest round of attacks
Hector Wesley, from Black Activists Rising Against Cuts, insisted we put anti-racism at the heart of the resistance and pointed to the shocking examples of people dying before they received Windrush compensation. ‘A lot of people think overt racism has gone away’, he said, ‘that is not the case’.
He reminded the audience, too, that not one Tory in the leadership race opposed the “shocking and disgraceful” Rwanda deportation scheme. If elected, he said, Labour must end it.
The next speaker, Matt Willgress of Arise Festival, thanked the volunteers and everyone in attendance, highlighting the enormous scale of the fight ahead of us as Hunt’s arrival at the Treasury heralds an intensification of an already devastating cuts agenda.
Arguing that ‘we must offer solidarity and organise, collaborate and consciously work together to support those in struggle and to put together real socialist solutions to the crises we face’, he also said ‘there can be no room to adapt or accommodate to the politics of hate and division, standing up to racism and scapegoating and to ensure we are standing for peace and anti-war’.
Hilary Schan, one of the co-chairs of Momentum was the next to speak. She drew on her own experience running a foodbank to outline the horrific example of some service users eating only one or two meals per week.
She pointed to the hypocrisy of the Government, saying “we hear of ‘eye-wateringly difficult decisions’ from Jeremy Hunt. But those decisions don’t involve him agonising how much wealth to extract form the very richest in this country – it’s how much he can strip from our already desolated pubic services”.
Next came Mark Serwotka, the General Secretary of the PCS union, who stressed that ‘companies in dispute are being emboldened by the Government – and they are getting harder and harder and harder’. In the face of a government meltdown, he said that ‘we have a big battle to ensure [Labour] doesn’t just wait for the election to fall into its lap, but that it inspires people’.
“The single most important thing to recognise,” he continued, “is that we’re meeting during the biggest wave of industrial action we have seen in a long time.. A resurgent labour and trade union movement should never have any bounds around what it can achieve.”
In emphasising the need to work together, he said “we have the chance to deliver coordinated action that could see hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of people out on strikes.”
The penultimate speaker, the Labour peer, Bryn Davies, brought a message of solidarity from the Socialist Campaign Group of parliamentarians, emphasising that peers and MPs in Westminster should be the voice of those in struggle for decent pay and conditions.
Finally, holly Turner, a campaigner with NHS Workers Say No, rallied the audience to the defence of the health service, setting out how it was “dying on its feet and taking staff with it.”
Explaining the ballots for industrial action, she said “let me tell you – we are not the ones putting the NHS at risk”. Pointing to fragmentation, the recruitment and retention crisis in the workforce, and chronic underfunding, she argued ‘this no accident; it’s been deliberately designed and implemented by successive governments… NHS workers are forced to fight for the NHS or lose it entirely’.
It’s important we do. As Mark Serwotka said, if we maintain the momentum of the summer and coordinate the resistance, we can ‘shake the government to its foundations’.