There’s a chance for you to join hundreds of trade unionists and other workers on Saturday to debate the way forward after a year of strikes. The Workers’ Summit in London will bring together those at the sharp end of national and local disputes.
It was initiated by some NEU union branches, the NHS Workers Say No group that campaigned against bad pay deals, and the Strike Map organisation. It has won backing from over 100 trade union bodies and has more than 500 people registered to attend. The day is possible only because of the sharp uptick in strikes that began over a year ago and has seen the highest level of struggle since 1989.
That has produced new activists and new possibilities. The strikes are far from over. Workers still show amazing resilience and determination. But Saturday can’t be just another attempt at a “solidarity” movement. Its slogan is “Link the fights, reject bad deals, fight to win”.
To be effective the day has to discuss the balance sheet of the 2022-23 strike wave—and organise to do it better next time. That means confronting the failures of the trade union leaders. That’s not centrally about individuals, it’s the social role of the bureaucrats.
The strike wave has also raised sharp questions of workers’ democracy. The NHS Workers Say No group is heading a break-out session on “How to build a sustainable rank and file network”. Harry Eccles from the group says, “I am looking forward to going to the summit to connect with other rank and file activists to learn more about how we can demand better from our workplaces and our unions.”
The St Mungo’s strikers will talk about how they organised and sustained an indefinite strike, often against their union leaders’ advice. The revolt against retreats over the last 40 years is more than a British question. The workers’ movement suffered wholly avoidable defeats in crucial battles with Margaret Thatcher in Britain and Ronald Reagan in the United States.
But the transformation in the unions is only half-made. Union leaders continue to hold back resistance and limit it to occasional, partial and isolated action. In the United States today the autoworkers are fighting the Big Three companies together. It’s the first time it has happened in the UAW union’s 88-year history.
But still the union leaders called out only a tenth of the potential strikers. Saturday’s summit has to strengthen the rank and file, and develop the political understanding to fuel grassroots coordination. It also has to tackle wider issues such as rejecting Keir Starmer’s Labour as any sort of solution, and taking on oppression.
Fighting racism, sexism, LGBT+ oppression and over climate change is crucial to creating a united fightback. That means a stronger revolutionary socialist core to workers’ resistance.
CWU activist draws lessons from the struggle
Gary Smith, a CWU union activist who will be contributing to the Workers’ Summit told Socialist Worker, “Postal workers started strikes near the start of the 2022-23 strike wave. “There was never any doubt throughout our 18 days on the picket line about workers’ determination and their willingness to fight. But the battle ended with a rotten deal pushed by the Royal Mail bosses but also union leaders.
“It doesn’t just mean two years of below-inflation pay deals. It has also lowered morale and left hundreds of sacked and victimised workers at the mercy of a review we can’t trust. The summit has to discuss these lessons and think how we can stop deals like this, build grassroots organisation and restart a fighting rank and file resistance.”