What are the main issues facing this congress?
Public services will be a key issue for the Congress with a strong statement
needed supporting a national framework for pay, including national rates and
national pay bargaining and reaffirming our movement’s commitment to universal
provision of education, healthcare, fire cover and so on based on need not
profit. But it is important to do more than that. The TUC must be prepared to
support and lead action by workers to oppose privatisation and protect jobs and
Other key debates will focus around workers rights where the TUC has adopted
a good policy supporting the repeal of the anti-trade union legislation but now
we need to build the campaign in to a more active one. Us and the RMT are
calling for a national demonstration in 2004 to back demands for rights at work.
We also need to increase the pressure on the government to stop the activities
of the union-busters and enhance collective bargaining rights.
Another key demand from the unions will be for the TUC to lead a campaign to
tackle the BNP and other fascist and racist organisations. Asylum seekers live
in a state of fear in many communities in the UK and the TUC needs to be waging
an active fight to counter organised fascism and racism and to expose the
poverty, unemployment, poor housing and social conditions which are the breeding
ground for these filth.
Top-up fees in education may become one of the next big battlegrounds between
the trade unions and the government and the TUC is likely to strongly reassert
its fundamental opposition to such fees which undermine equality of access.
The NUJ is one of those unions calling for a TUC commitment to campaign
against any attempts to undermine public service broadcasting and force a
greater commercial role on the BBC.
Talking of the BBC what do you think of events surrounding the Hutton
In one sense the furore over the BBC report and the Hutton enquiry have
achieved one of the government’s aims – they have got people talking about who
said what to whom and when and sight has been lost of the fact that we were
taken to war based on a lie – that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction when
none have been found; that it had chemical and biological weapons capable of
being deployed in 45 minutes; and that it posed an imminent threat to the US and
Western Europe. Despite the pages of information, the e-mails, the dossiers and
the quizzing of intelligence chiefs, there is not a single shred of evidence for
I always believed this war had little to do with the democratic rights of the
Iraqi people and much more to do with US dominance of an oil-rich region.
And those who warned of the dire consequences of the war were sneered at when
George Bush declared a quick ‘victory’. Now new estimates say around 20,000
Iraqis may have died, there is still no electricity or water in some parts,
killings happen virtually daily, unemployment has soared, malnutrition is
rising. Is this what ‘victory’ looks like?
Hutton provides a useful distraction from that grim reality.
How has the trade union movement changed in the last twelve months?
Last year’s Congress was one of the most dynamic for years and this year’s is
liklely to build on that. Since last year Derek Simpson has taken over at Amicus,
Tony Woodley has been elected at the TGWU and Kevin Curran at the GMB. A new
left Executive has been elected at the PCS and left trade union leaders like
Paul Mackney at NATFHE and Judy McKnight at Napo have been re-elected. At the
CWU the left candidate won the Deputy General Secretary post. With the exception
of the surprise defeat of Mick Rix at Aslef there has been another steady move
towards the left. And I think you can see that reflected in unions taking action
over pensions, job losses, pay, working conditions and so on. There is a greater
confidence and willingness among unions and their leaderships to fight on behalf
of their members. That is then being reflected in many unions seeing significant
increases in membership for the first time in many years.
That’s what has brought unions in to conflict with New Labour. The
government’s relationship with big business is threatened because workers are no
longer accepting that their wages must be held down or they must be more
flexible simply to make ever greater profits for shareholders. Is it any wonder
there is an enormous anger when fat cat bosses reap the dividends whilst workers
in Britain have the longest hours in Europe, with the shortest breaks, the
fewest public holidays and the least rights at work.
Much has been made of the rift between the unions and the government. What
do you make of it?
It is a very real rift. On the one hand you have a government commited to
privatisation, in thrall to sections of the media, with a relationship with big
business they value above all else and a commitment to the ‘free market’. On the
other hand you have a trade union movement founded on the principles of justice,
equality and solidarity that sees that the ‘free market’, big business and
privatisation cannot deliver those values. The market hasn’t delivered better
public services or better transport, it hasn’t delivered better working
conditions or decent housing for all.
Many people say the rift is about personalities or grudges but it is much
more fundamental than that. It is about ideology. There was great optimism in
1997 that we would see the end of the Thatcherite pro-business policies being
pursued by the Tories. But too many of them have continued.
So what are the unions doing about it?
Well, on a personal level I welcomed Tony Woodley’s call for a summit of
unions to win the party back for our values. The unions have begun to get
organised to take the party back from those who hijacked it in the 1990s. The
TUC Congress would be a good place to launch that campaign in the wider
movement. If unions do not act now many good trade unionists, disillusioned with
the government’s policies on pensions, rights at work, asylum seekers and so on
will be lost to the party in the coming years. Labour’s vote in many elections
has fallen reflecting this disillusionment.
But where Labour candiadtes have stood, as in Wales, on a few Old-Labour
style policies they have reaped the rewards.
The task facing affiliated unions is now to transform the call to reclaim the
party in to action. As a first step they should make sure their representatives
on Labour’s NEC support union policy or are removed.
Socialist Appeal has put forward the idea of a ‘300 Club’ aimed at signing
up 300 trade unionists to each Constituency Labour Party with unions using their
resources to help members join.
Such a move would be a concrete way of unions using their resources better to
have influence over the party and its selection of candidates. Many unions give
tens of thousands of pounds to Labour only to see the services their members
work in privatised or like the firefighters have to wage a bitter battle with
the government for fair pay. It would be much better if they directed that money
at securing candidates and CLPs who backed demands for better trade union
rights, who supported working peoples’ demands rather than those of big
It has been a good year for the NUJ. How do you intend to build on that?
It certainly has been a good year. We’ve seen another significant rise in
union membership, have won some very important recognition campaigns, not least
at the Daily and Sunday Telegraph where more than 90% of the 600-plus
journalists voted in favour of NUJ recognition and we’ve begun to use our new
found confidence to tackle low pay in the magazine and local newspaper industry
achieving rises of over 20% in some areas. It is important we now work to
co-ordinate the various actions that are taking place throughout the industry.
We are planning a major campaign against low pay in one particular newspaper
group over the coming months as well as a campaign with other media and
entertainment unions to defend public service broadcasting.
September 8, 2003.