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Jerry Hicks: our side needs to up the ante

An interview with Jerry Hicks, an organiser of Grass Roots Left, the rank and file movement in UNITE, and a long standing trade unions activist who is speaking on the Saturday of Anticapitalism 2011Where is GRL at now?

Politics mirrors life in the sense that it is quite uneven. In some places we have lots of support and activity, in others we are weaker. GRL was only set up 6 months ago and it was previously a loose network around an election campaign in Unite. But now we have supporters in around 140 Unite branches across the country, people who are really active in the union. Many of our members are active in union work and anti-cuts committees and now we have built a strong base in the West Midlands with the convenor in Jaguar.
But we are working towards the conference in Birmingham on 5 November which will really help organise GRL at a much higher level.
What I am proud of is that we have been central to the movement around the construction workers which are organising now across the country. I was elected onto the steering committee of that, and I want to emphasis elected because that is what we are talking about. Democracy and who controls it. I believe leaders should lead but members should control, that is what we are tying to build.

What do you think about Nov 30?

I fully support it and will be building for it of course, but I think the unions have missed a trick. Because unions in Britain work within the law and the Tories effectively criminalised us for taking any kind of meaningful strike action, this means that this strike is only organised around a single issue, pensions, and only one section of workers, the public sector. This means there is little scope for private sector action alongside it and allows the media to play the public sector off against the private sector.  The TUC should have called action around the state pension age because that affects everyone and it has been going up. This could have united everyone: students, the unemployed and workers.
Cameron said recently about the economy that ‘we are staring down the barrel of a gun’. Well I think that our side needs to up the ante and be more courageous. But as long as the anti union laws are respected they will be a ball and chain around our necks.

You are speaking at Anticapitalism about the way forward for the left, what is your basic message?

I think the fundamental thing to get right is the difference between a united front and a broad left. Broad lefts which become so broad they include some bureaucrats in the unions who have no real interest in seriously fighting the cuts. They are inherently conservative organisations. I think it is important to build real united fronts where you can set the pace and still have your own autonomy to act.
And the terrain of debate has moved recently. A few years ago if you said you were anticapitalist you were considered too far left. Today the whole basis of the system is called into question because of what is happening in the economy and the way the politicians are reacting. I think if we are strong and push together then we can push the whole system over.

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