This year’s delegate meeting of the Trade Union Congress (TUC) has passed largely unnoticed and unreported by the national media. This is a reflection of the hard fact that the TUC has in recent years shied away from taking any real decisions. It is time for the TUC to take the lead in the fight to defend Corbyn and kick out the Tories.
This year’s delegate meeting of the Trade Union Congress (TUC) in Brighton has passed largely unnoticed and unreported by the national media. Considering that the TUC is meant to be the general staff of the British trade union movement this might be considered something of a surprise. However, this is a reflection of the hard fact that the TUC is considered by both the bosses and many in the organised labour movement to be an organisation which has in recent years shied away from taking any real decisions.
This was the first congress to take place since the passing of the Trade Union Act by parliament. Many of the worst sections of the Act are yet to be implemented as the Tories wait to see how things pan out. Bizarrely, TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady seemed to suggest that the union movement had somehow defeated the Tories, claiming that, “…on the big battles, we beat them back.”
Sadly this is not the case. No real fightback was launched since the “fighting’ talk of last year, and the Act is now on the statute books ready to be used when the Tories deem it safe to do so. What was needed from the TUC leadership was a clear commitment that any attempt by the Tories to use the law to restrict the rights of trade unions will be met with clear resistance, including a commitment to support workers in struggle, even if it means breaking the law. The Act, along with all Tory attacks on workers, can only be defeated by militant union action, not nice words and tearful appeals.
Over the week the TUC passed a number of resolutions on such issues as opposing the introduction of grammar schools, bosses’ high pay, exploitation of workers, racism and so on. These are all welcomed; but, again, they were not linked to any real trade union action to turn these pious wishes into a call for arms. The TUC also passed a resolution declaring “solidarity and support” for the junior doctors; although again the crucial question of strike action was not mentioned, even though support for such action was clearly in the minds of many of the delegates when supporting the motion moved by Unison.
Interestingly, the TUC leaders also decided not to invite Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn to address the congress, instead inviting him to a nice dinner with the union bigwigs on the Monday night. This shows that many in the TUC are being more than a little ambivalent about Corbyn and are trying to face both ways at once. They are aware of the huge pressure of support for Corbyn from below, but also wish to accommodate themselves with the careerist wing inside the Parliamentary Labour Party. Some union leaders are fully behind Corbyn, to their credit, but others secretly hope for a return to the old status quo and the quiet life that went with it. This is a reminder that the struggle to transform the Labour Party is also a struggle within the union movement.
The TUC did agree to organise a major demonstration in 2017, along the lines of those organised in previous years against austerity and for decent pay. This should be built for to ensure that it is a big success. However, it is hard not to see this as being a way to allow union members and workers to let off steam without really challenging the Tories and their system.
Some years ago, the TUC passed a resolution supporting the call for a one-day general strike. What has happened to this decision? Why has it not been acted on? Such a strike could build a mighty movement in every city, town and village, in all workplaces and council estates, in schools and colleges. This could show the Tories the real power of the working class.
Linked to a political struggle against the bosses’ system and for socialist policies, such a movement could bring the Tories to their knees. Even unifying the current struggles – in the NHS, in education, on housing, etc. – could present a way forward. The UCU/NUS demo on the 19th November could be a way of getting the ball rolling, but it requires the TUC to become an active force in developing the struggle, and a one-day general strike would be an essential focal point of this.