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Taking the temperature

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The union conference season has just finished. Julie Sherry looks at the mood among the activists who hold union organisation together in workplaces across Britain and asks what we can learn about the prospects for resistance to the Tories and employers

Last month 4,000 people packed into London's Westminster Central Hall at the People's Assembly to discuss the need for an alternative to austerity. The Assembly's huge turnout is a reflection of a widespread and growing politicisation among working class people in the face of a Tory government out to savage the welfare state and workers' pay and conditions, while no alternative is posed by Labour.

As people flocked into the People's Assembly, the last of this year's union conferences had just ended.

Peoples Assembly : what can it deliver?

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The People's Assembly will be a focus for many wanting to see a fightback. Charlie Kimber argues this is welcome, but we need to address the role of trade union leaders and the Labour Party if we are to build a movement that can break the government and its savage austerity programme

On 22 June, unless you have a very good excuse, you must be at the People's Assembly in London. Practically every trade union leader is scheduled to be in one room alongside hundreds of rank and file activists as well as people who have led campaigns against the bedroom tax, fought to defend the NHS and headed up the revolt by disabled people.

Jerry Hicks - a rank and file challenge: now organise!

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Jerry Hicks stood as a rank and file candidate in the recent elections for the general secretary of Unite, the biggest union in Britain. He received 79,819 votes, 36 percent of the vote. Socialist Review spoke to Jerry about why he stood and the lessons of the campaign


Firstly, congratulations on the fantastic vote you received. Many people would see Len McCluskey as one of the most left wing trade union leaders in Britain at the moment, so why did you decide to stand against him?

The election was heading to be unopposed, not because everyone was in agreement with McCluskey, but because it had been manoeuvered to orchestrate this. The reason that it was pulled forward three years from the scheduled date was to spring it on people.

Mind the gap!

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The period since the mass strike on 30 November 2011 has been one of huge frustration for many trade union activists. While the Tory assault develops we have seen almost eighteen months of intermittent strike action, though of course nothing on the scale necessary to stop the attacks.

In the public sector we now see ongoing action by the PCS and possible national action on pay by both of the big teaching unions (NUT and NASUWT). At NUT conference a motion calling for a national strike on 26 June (alongside possible action by the PCS) received support from 30-40 percent of delegates. As it is the two unions will start joint regional action on 27 June in the North West of England.

Organising to resist

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The retreat by union leaders over the pensions struggle shaped last year. What are the prospects for a renewal of resistance in 2013? Socialist Review spoke to Michael Bradley, from the SWP's industrial office, about the prospects for strikes and how socialists in the unions should organise

2012 was dominated by the retreat over the pensions struggle. What do you think is the balance sheet of that experience and what lessons can we draw from it?

Crisis and resistance in Portugal

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Mark Bergfeld recently attended the congress of the Left Bloc in Portugal and witnessed the general strike there a few days later. Here, he argues that Portugal is currently experiencing its biggest social and political upheaval since the 1974-5 Revolution

A day before the right wing coalition government in Portugal was to vote through its 2013 budget, the German finance minister Wolfgang Schäuble met his Portuguese counterpart Vitor Gaspar and proclaimed, "Portugal is on the right path and is, for all of us in the eurozone, a brilliant example that the approach we have been following to stabilise the euro is correct." Schäuble went on to praise the "exceptional job" being performed by the Portuguese government.

Louder echos at the TUC

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It is sometimes said that trade union conferences are merely the echo of the battle rather than the battle itself. If so then the TUC conference is the echo of the echo of the battle.

The TUC is the most conservative part of the trade union movement with most delegates working full time for the unions and several steps removed from the everyday pressures facing their members.

Can we break the coalition?

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Less than halfway through it's projected 5 year term of office, the Tory and Lib Dem coalition is on the rocks. Charlie Kimber argues that it's important to understand the weakness of our opponents - but what kind of action would it take to drive this government out?

We need to understand the weakness of our opponents to grasp the potential for successful resistance. It's the backdrop to building huge demonstrations in London and Glasgow on 20 October and then resistance afterwards. We are all painfully aware of the weaknesses in our own camp. But we can often forget the deep and structural problems of our rulers.

The Tory-Lib Dem coalition is less than half way through its projected term of office. But it is in deep trouble. It's not just the ups and downs and temporary unpopularity that affect many governments.

Construction lessons

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Electricians have been protesting for months against wage cuts and attacks on their terms and conditions. Last December workers took unofficial strike action. Simon Basketter looks at the background to this battle and the prospects for rebuilding union organisation on construction sites.

On a freezing Wednesday night on 7 December last year, a small group of men stand on a street in animated discussion. Every now and again, someone else joins their group and talks to them for a few minutes. After over half an hour, they decide to go to the pub. It was a small, but nonetheless significant event.

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