Monday, May 24, 2010
Right to work conference, the BA strike, and the protest against Willie Walsh posted by Richard SeymourGuest post by The Bunk:
Some people might think that spending a gloriously sunny day sitting with hundreds of people in a huge, hot church hall would be madness, not to mention musty. But this Saturday’s emergency conference organised by Right to Work managed to draw around 600 activists and trade unionists from across the country to discuss how to build resistance to cuts and job losses.
It was an achievement to have pulled together so many people at relatively short notice—this conference had been built in less than half the time as was available for January’s. And it was clear from the off that support for Right to Work has broadened since January: the conference was addressed by Labour MPs John McDonnell and Jeremy Corbyn, deputy leader of the Green Party Adrian Ramsay, as well as representatives from NUJ, NUT, PCS, RMT, UCU and Unite and others.
The conference was also the place to be to hear first hand about inspirational struggles already under way. Tiana Andreou, a member of the Greek civil servants’ union, received a standing ovation when she told delegates that the best way to show solidarity was to make sure the BA strikers won, that we defended pensions and services here which could give confidence to workers elsewhere. A BA cabin crew worker received a similar reception.
Delegates divided into workshops at lunchtime to come up with concrete ideas for action that were then reported back to the final plenary—a full breakdown of the workshops and what they decided on will appear soon. I attended a session on “One Million Climate Jobs”, which called for a lobby of the energy and climate change ministry. The education session called for solidarity action with staff and students at Middlesex who have been suspended for occupying against departmental closure. What was striking was that plenary speakers got involved in the workshops—Jeremy Corbyn, for example, attended and contributed to the session on how we stop the cuts.
The two main resolutions put to conference were to organise protests on budget day on 22 June and to call a major demonstration at the Tory conference in Birmingham in October. The message coming out of the conference was to continue building up the networks of activists, trade unionists, students and pensioners who would be on the frontline of building resistance to the coalition of cuts.
And then we heard that Willie Walsh was down the road…
It’s important to clear up some of the misunderstandings that have cropped up—I get the impression that a lot of concerned comrades (and salivating sectarians) have suffered RSI from hammering their keyboards over the weekend. Obviously people were trying to piece together what had happened from the TV, overexcited participants and hearsay so it’s understandable that some wires have been crossed.
The first thing to say was that the protest had nothing to do with the Right to Work campaign. It wasn't called by Right to Work and it wasn’t voted on in the conference. Someone announced that Walsh was in the neighbourhood but there was no suggestion that the conference would call for a demo.
As the conference emptied, a number of SWP members got some people together in order to hold an impromptu lobby outside Euston Towers. Around 200 of us marched along Euston Road to the building to find no security, a lot of press and an unlocked door. So we decided to enter and hold our lobby in, well, the lobby.
Acas’s lobby was upstairs, so around 50 people went up in lifts. They stayed in the lobby and chanted support for the BA workers before spotting Walsh himself standing in the corridor beside the lobby. We moved around the corner to chant at him and stayed there for ten minutes or so before going back downstairs.
It’s important to keep things in perspective. There was no attempt to break up or storm the talks. This might make for a sensational headline or a convenient excuse, but it has no basis in reality. Nobody on the protest went anywhere near the room where the talks had been taking place. It was in no way an attempt to stop a deal being reached or to attack Derek Simpson and Tony Woodley. If Walsh hadn’t been stomping around on his mobile whingeing about Simpson’s tweeting, we’d never have locked eyes on any of them.
Some people have suggested this episode was an attempt to publicise the SWP, others that it was an act of substitutionism. In fact, it was a spontaneous act of solidarity: when we realised there was a lot of media there, we thought that it would be brilliant if strikers (and millions of other people) saw some action in support of the cabin crew.
As for the results—well, we have received a number of supportive emails from cabin crew, as well as a long and excited voicemail message from BA crew in Singapore saying how brilliant it was to see a show of support for them!
SWP members got a great reception on the picket lines today. Nobody tried to get us removed, or argued with us. They even let us use their toilets, a sure sign of fraternal bonhomie. One group of pickets gave comrades a round of applause for being part of the “Battle of Acas”, shaking hands with them enthusiastically.
But mostly, BA strikers wanted to talk about how much of a bullying creep Walsh is and how they want to beat him. It’s our job to do everything we can to help them achieve that.