september marks the conference season,when the tuc/trades union congress is followed by the conferences of the bourgeois parties,the 3 parties used to government.they follow in a fixed and strict order-labour,lib-dem,conservative
whilst the working stykle of all these conferences has changed over the years,the way they tend to be reported on television is very much as stars talking at audiences.that is true of the conservative party which i dont believe can even spell democracy let alone apply it,but still less so to varying degrees for the rest.indeed shiraz socialist website reported very much on the unseen debate at labour party,seeing room for hope and movement behind the miliband miasma.
what has certainlky been true this year is a certain downsiziung of conference events which reflectrs both the real impact of crisis and the concern that organisations should not be seen to flaunt a grander scale of things in the face of that crisis.
yet what is not reported at all is that there is really no season to the conferences of the many other parties and trades unions and other organisatiions across britain.teachers unions meet around eastertide.students twice a year in spring and autumn,unite once every 2 years in july.
i have just returned from my own union conference held for most of 3 days in eastbourne in the last days of the sun on the south coast.i have been a priobation oifficer working in the criminal justice system here for just over 20 years,most of which i have been a member of napo/national asociation of probation officers,although this was the 1st time i had been to its conference.
at some and various times i have been an office representative,known in some if not most unions as ashop steward-which is my preferred term.duriung those times i would circulate office bulletins and tried to organise office meeetings at least on an approximately monthly basis.early on i took part in monthly branch meetings centrally,usually at one of the key locations of the service.
for many years that has proven increasingly difficult for me,and indeed others as the pressure of work increases,along with increased other pressures on workers themselves.of course for all too many the trades union is a low priority and the impoactr of morale also affects levels of activity.besides the excuses,this is always a political conundrum,especially when meetings might well be some considerablle time and distance from anyones particular worksite.
in some ways napo is an unusual if not peculiar organisational animal.it is inevitably small.its 9,000 membership possibly represents 2/3 of its potential membership.it combines beinga trades union with a professional body which explains some of its strengths and weaknesses.it regrads itself as particularly democratic in that it allows any anbd all members to attend annual conference and to participate fully.it also enables that in supporting members who attend.it currently also hasa national programme to actively encourage a new,younger generation of activists,which is of particular impoirtance in such difficult times.although by size it cannot compete with the big battalions such as unite and unison who still organise over 1m mnembers each,it has a reputation amoingst the lleft of other unions for its progressive views and believes it punches above its weight.it is often pro-0active in campaigning in social and progressive issues,although it is not particularly militant in the use of trades union tactics nor innovative in its approach.
i have sought representation and assistance,individually on 2 occassions,both in relation to serious healthand attendance issues.on both occassions ii recieved sharp,supportive,very professional and caring support and representation.on the 1st occassion that was from someone i have since found to be on the left of the union.he assisted me to return tio work after a substanbtial period of illness and insisted that our employer treat the situation both seriously and sensitively.one this occassion i am again seriiously unwell and seeking early medical retirement.throughout,my rep has not only supported me but protected me from some of the insensitivies of a bureaucratic institutioin which is essentially part fo the state.i am aware of the same system operating to the benefit of other members in various forms of difficulty and distress,despite the unions lack of obvious piolitical muscle.
conference sessions consited of an interesting and useful mix of report backs,guest speakers and sessions devoted to resolutions.an emergency resolution advocating ballotiung for 30/11/2011 (general)passed very easily,although there was noi discussion on the mechanics of this.the answers might be obvious to a certain generation of activists-but we cannot assume that of either the whole workforce or membership.we wlao need to address how and what arguments we make to the general public who will already be ubject to misinformation and downright lies from the ruling elite and press.wealso need to win all those members who think that voting is it-that will have doubts about the actual day.as a revolutionary socialist we ned to articulate that acting in solidarity with others needs to be more than simply striking.iut is about supporting each other and developing techniques and tactics that make our solidarity real and solid.that will surely need to include being on each others picket lines,organising around an picketing"weaker"workplaces,carrying the message to workers"outside"the strike.
a general strike is possible but in order to make it probable let alone anything else we need to build the kind of links across our class that enable us to strengthen it and devlop the support that will ne neccessary if we take the next steps......"all out,stay out".we will need action committes that link up workplaces and communities,anbd we will need to develop ways to help and support each other practically-money,food,transport and a lot else besides.
the miners were defeated in 1985,but they would have not been able to struggle for so long without a real solidarity movement that made political and practical arguments and arrangements for miners,families and supporters.expressing goodwill and supoport is one thing.we are going to have to give substance to that this time.i believe we need to live as we want to live,not simply hope for a better day.
it is not just the union that makes us strong-it is the effort of working and unemployed people in action,"doing"together.we will need to show the true might of our class and its abilities,in standing up to a ruling elite and its class,who talk the nonsense of "all being in it together"whilst instructing others,us to do their bidding and solvingf their crisis at our expense.they need to get the message-the loud No!from us that we will no longer follow their rules-we will create and do for each other,our class in action.our No can be a refusa,a recognitiion that something is badly wrong with it all,and in our actual solidarity take the first steps in another way.
-to be continued-conference report continues in further posts-