Sunday, 23 January 2011

NSSN Conference - a classic wasted opportunity

This has already been commented upon by Collective Resistance, but as one who was there I can provide a first-hand account of the whole disheartening experience.  Some of the background is in my earlier post.

As one delegate (in one of the better speeches) pointed out, the trade union movement in this country is catastrophically underprepared for the onslaught the ConDems want to unleash upon our jobs, our terms and conditions and the public services we work in and/or use.  About 27% of the working population is in a union.  In the "strong" public sector, union density is barely more than half; in the private sector it plummets to about 15%.  Trade union struggle is at an all-time low with worker resistance the exception not the norm, and shop steward numbers continue to decline.

In this area, while we were chewing the fat in a school assembly hall in Camden, jobs were going in the Brighton-based British Bookshops group (with more likely when the whole operation goes belly-up in the coming weeks), and yet another tranche of redundancies at the already battered Edwards Engineering in Crawley and Shoreham.

In this situation there is a crying need for a rank-and-file shop stewards movement to build the resistance which most of the union leaderships are failing to provide.  We need a network which can support union reps at workplace level and give them the confidence to build trade unionism and build struggle.

Instead what we got was the Socialist Party deciding that what really mattered at this juncture was the formation of yet another national anti-cuts movement built in their own image. 

And it really is in their own fact....drop the word "image".  It's them...pure and else!  They've managed to drive everyone.....everyone....else out of the NSSN leadership.  Way to go comrades!

This had to be justified by arguing that there was no other anti-cuts movement with the "correct" politics - in a battle where no real enemy exists, it is necessary to create one.  So we had speech after speech denouncing the Coalition of Resistance (a genuine broad movement) for holding positions it does not hold, and in some cases just making stuff up about how CoR is "soft" on Labour, and doesn't oppose all cuts. Strange that...when I was at CoR National Council last week, an amendment to the Founding Statement calling on councillors not to vote for or implement cuts was passed without dissent.

Among some of the statements which rankled was Tony Mulhearn's moaning about about "people taking their ball home if they don't get their way".  Well yes Tony, if the whole defence, most of the midfield and both wingers do that then maybe there are some "management issues" that need sorting!  We had Linda Taafe declaring "NSSN was here first".  Here first as a shop stewards movement, Linda, not the anti-cuts movement.  And there was Dave Nellist, claiming that the SP's opponents "lacked shopfloor experience".  Flamin' cheek!  How could he possibly know?

One of the saddest aspects of this is that SP members would be a real asset to a broad anti-cuts movement, but sectarian advantage seems more important to them.  The classic disease of the British far left.

One can only hope that they will rejoin the broad movement from which they currently seem to have separated themselves.


Jon said...

A few points.
1. The first speaker from the platform explained how trade union membership at Medirest Southampton went from 20% to 80% during the course of a strike, and that this was largely based on the 'program' of the union. Pity none of the speakers picked up on that point.
2. As Steve Hedley said the most pressing issue to shop stewards and rank and file trade unionists is the cuts - it would be bizarre for NSSN not to campaign on them, and how do that other than via an anti-cuts committee?
3. Almost EVERYONE who spoke against the motion said 'we don't need YET ANOTHER anti-cuts body' without explaining why that is an issue, it became a mantra with no substance to it.
4. It is not a major point but nevertheless is one worth making that the NSSN has a longer history and deeper roots than the other organisations, especially if the roots of the SWP had been used to build the NSSN. But if you wanted to pursue this point, isn't the 'yet another argument' only valid becuase CoR and RtW were set up prior to NSSN...??
5. It is only a point that came out once, but at least there was a conference to discuss (at great length!) the pros and cons of setting up an anti-cuts committee! Did that happen with CoR? Or was it just announced?
6. CoR needn't be attacked and certainly wasn't, although it needs criticism, something that should not be seen as alien or destructive within the movement. However (and we only really have the CoR conference to go on, because what has it on the ground?) so far it hasn't taken as uncompromising a position as the NSSN on the question of labour and green councillors. Having them on platforms is no problem, but doing so uncritically, and not balancing it with councillors who are fighting the cuts, that is a problem. The NC has adopted a 'no to all cuts' position which is good and maybe the issue will begin to be addressed, but as speaker after speaker said, we'll have to see in practice whether that is pursued vs labour and green councillors or not? The overriding intention of CoR seems to be left unity, which is fine, but unity over what?
7. CoR doesn't really seem to care that NSSN is trying to set up an anti-cuts committee!!!
8. The minority distorted the truth of the proposal, some of which you continue to repeat. That the proposal was to set up 'The only' anti-cuts leadership is not true. That we are saying no-one can join if you are in or support Labour is false. That we are saying no-one can be a part of it unless you are 100% against the cuts is false, although that will be the position NSSN argues for. That NSSN will not work for unity with other groups like CoR and RtW is false. Seemingly we could only avoid that criticism if NSSN merged with one or the other organisation? Why have similar demands not been made by CoR or RtW to each other?
9. SP was not alone. A great number of speakers and those attending were SP members that is true but there was some wider support. Considering that the minority was united by nothing more than 'don't support the motion' its hardly surprising an alliance was established! However all of that shouldn't be a problem! Are SP members supposed to pretend they are split on the issue because there is opposition? More importantly the attitude of Dave Chapple and all those who left as a result is childish! Look at it soberly...what has been proposed...? Is that reason to split the NSSN? Dave Chapple's 'contribution' was a threat to leave if the vote didn't fail and his critique of the motion was little more than 'its daft'! Where are your scathing words for him??

Anonymous said...

I was that delegate (who pointed out the depressing state of union membership in the UK). I should know, I'm Vice President of a union (the NUJ - where recruitment is a major priority). The NSSN could have helped, but for 5 years it's been tangled up in sectarian rivalries - at least those will stop (presuming the SP doesn't split!)

The trade union movement urgently needs a grassroots network of radical activists. The NSSN is no longer it - watch this space.

Andy Richards said...


I think the NUJ comrade sums it up nicely for me. It is now clear that the SP is now NSSN. If you are unhappy about that, it is time to ask how you ended up in that situation. I don't know Dave Chapple, but it seems clear that he and every other officer of NSSN who is not in the SP no longer see any useful purpose in being in it. It seems only reasonable that they should have made it clear that they would leave if that motion got passed. Keeping quiet and announcing their resignations after the event would have earned them just as much criticism.