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Arise Festival: stand with workers in struggle

With industrial action growing, a major gathering of Labour’s left will make clear whose side we need to be on, writes LOGAN WILLIAMS

THROUGHOUT the cost-of-living crisis, we have seen a resurgence in a desire to fight back and to stand in solidarity with fellow trade unionists across all sections of the British labour movement.

We can see this from the action undertaken by the CWU and RMT, which paved the way for “the summer of solidarity,” to the historic action set to be undertaken by the Royal College of Nursing alongside fellow NHS trade unions, to education unions campaigning together for students and staff.

However, despite overwhelming public support for the unions undertaking strike action throughout the summer, and clear support from Labour MPs, members of the Senedd, members of the Scottish Parliament and countless Labour councillors across Britain, we saw Keir Starmer and his office complete the cynical removal of Sam Tarry from the shadow front bench due allegedly to “breaking collective responsibility” by stating, rightly, that RMT and TSSA members should not take what amounts to a real-terms wage cut through a below-inflation pay offer while on the picket line at Euston station this summer.

Despite the continued negativity from the leader of the opposition and his front bench, the Labour left and the party’s grassroots are coming together at the Arise conference on December 10.

This conference will be discussing how we as socialists build on and support the momentum of 2022, and how we bring our campaigns together to demand, as one, the socialist solutions we desperately need to solve the cost-of-living crisis.

The conference will be hearing from leading figures from across the fightback, including Holly Turner, an NHS worker and leading activist with the NHS Workers Say No movement which has spearheaded the efforts to co-ordinate strike ballots throughout the cost-of-living-crisis across all unions which represent NHS workers.

The efforts of Turner and her comrades in NHS Workers Say No were influential in equipping and strengthening the movement to say enough is enough to NHS pay freezes and caps and in building the strike ballot for the Royal College of Nursing.

Alongside Turner, the Arise conference will be hearing from Matt Wrack, general secretary of the FBU, who will be speaking about the FBU’s recent decision to launch a national strike ballot as part of their Fair Pay or Fire Strike campaign.

The FBU undertook this decision in light of a consultative ballot which would see a 78 per cent turnout with 79 per cent of members voting to reject the fire and rescue services’ measly 5 per cent pay offer.

“We have firefighters using foodbanks,” said Wrack in a recent statement. “Our members worked through the pandemic to help protect their communities, taking on extra duties to do so. A further real-terms pay cut is an absolutely disgusting way to thank them.”

Additionally, we will be hearing from Louise Regan of the NEU, who will be discussing our union’s campaign Pay Up Now demanding a fully funded above-inflation pay rise from the government.

This campaign was launched in the face of a 5 per cent pay offer, which amounts to a 7 per cent real-terms pay cut due to inflation, which is an inadequate attempt to tackle the teacher recruitment and retention crisis.

The Arise conference will also be joined by Mick Whelan, general secretary of Aslef, which is currently undertaking a pay campaign across 14 train operating companies in the face of a third year without an adequate pay rise while the leasing companies who own the trains and rent them out pocketed £3 billion from the industry in 2020-21.

Sarah Woolley, general secretary of the BFAWU, will talk about how her union has spearheaded groundbreaking efforts to unionise un-unionised workers across the hospitality sector through its “union towns” initiative.

Woolley and the BFAWU have more recently participated in the foundation of the Organise Now platform which has been launched “to take the renewed militancy across the country into new workplaces and connect to the wider union movement. This is about giving workers the confidence and resources to fight, and for existing organisers to learn from and be inspired by these new struggles.”

Finally, we will be joined by Dave Ward, general secretary of the CWU, whose union has played a key role in building this resurgent spirit across the British labour movement through their pay campaigns across both their telecommunications and postal sectors.

Ward stated that his union is undertaking its action against Royal Mail because “the company made record profits last year: £758 million. They gave away over £400m to shareholders, rewarded themselves with huge record bonuses for achieving their financial targets and then imposed a 2 per cent pay increase on postal workers. Against the background of rocketing inflation, rocketing energy bills, it’s simply not acceptable.”

We as the Labour left must rise up where our party’s leadership has failed, and stand shoulder to shoulder with those workers who have been forced to undertake strike action to lead a decent life. I hope to see you at the Arise conference to discuss how we can build a unified movement fighting for the socialist solutions we desperately need to solve the cost-of-living crisis.

Conference: Solidarity, Struggle, Socialism on Saturday December 10, 10am at Conway Hall, 25 Red Lion Square, London WC1R 4RL. Join her plus Diane Abbott MP, John McDonnell MP, Nadia Whittome MP, Richard Burgon MP, Jon Trickett MP, Sarah Woolley, BFAWU general secretary, Matt Wrack, FBU general secretary, Dave Ward, CWU general secretary, Mick Whelan, Aslef general secretary, Ben Chacko, Morning Star, Zita Holbourne, Black Activists Rising Against Cuts, Lord John Hendy KC, Hilary Schan, Momentum, Heidi Chow, Debt Justice, Steve Howell and more.

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