Wednesday, 27 May 2009

A new Right to Work Campaign?

Visteon, Waterfords and Prisme workers - all of whom have recently occupied their workplaces and inspired everyone who wants a real fightback to save jobs - have initiated an important conference 'Fight for the right to work'. It's at SOAS in London on Saturday 13 June and is garnering support from a number of union branches and regions as well as the students unions of SOAS, Essex and Goldsmiths.

The conference will debate the way forward, but inevitably there's speculation it will launch a major national campaign similar to the Right to Work Campaign in the 1970s. Many people will consider this a hopeful sign. It seems there's the prospect of a mass campaign uniting trade unionists, students and young unemployed people, which can mobilise on the streets while hopefully inspiring a more militant fightback by the unions. Such a campaign could enable the rank and file to seize the initiative away from the union bureaucracy, just as the occupying workers at Visteon did.

More generally, the conference will provoke discussion about how we develop a united response to the economic crisis. The 'united front' tactic refers to the method of organised socialists working with a wide range of people over specific issues to build as big and broad a campaign as possible. So far this has been underdeveloped in response to the recession, but maybe we're starting to see this change.

The Labour Conference in late September could be crucial: momentum is building to make it the focus for a major demonstration for jobs. The recent Birmingham demo was small, but this could be very different. It will need systematic building through local meetings, protests, stunts, direct action, etc over the next three months. Perhaps there could be a RTW-style march to the conference. How about that linked with a demand that the conference admits a representative of the unemployed to address the conference? Imagine 10,000 students and young workers pushing at the police lines outside the LP conference demanding the right to be heard. That could really launch a serious national campaign!

Making an impact will partly be about getting a big turnout, but the other thing is equally important - it has to combine the radicalism and militancy and youthfulness of the student occupations and G20 City demo with the mobilising power of the unions. The Put People First demo (big but 'respectable') and 1 April protest (smaller but anti-capitalist) were totally separate phenomena - could this be a chance to bring those strands together? It could be dynamite.

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