TUC Congress will get underway with a bang this year – with
one of the early motions calling for “a series of one-day general strikes until
such time as the Government removes the restrictive anti-trade union
legislation from the statute”. Yes, really.
The motion comes from the Prison Officers’ Association who
have become increasingly militant on the issue of trade union rights over the
past decade or so since New Labour broke its promise to restore full trade
union rights to their members. But they are far from alone. Many unions will
join the condemnation of the anti-union laws, designed by Thatcher, not to
deliver democratic rights to union members, but to deliver to employers
shackles with which to tie unions up in legal knots and injunctions – and the failure
of New Labour to reverse such unjust laws.
But whilst there will be many fine words, the motion stands
scant chance of being passed. The law and the threat it poses to unions will be
invoked to scare delegations in to rejecting the motion instead of opening up a
fundamental discussion about how, after the failure to get government support
for a Trade Union Freedom Bill and with the threat of a Tory government looming
large over Congress, we step and up and reactivate our campaign to unshackle
our unions for the battles over pay, job cuts and democratic rights which lie
That threat will overshadow much of the conference – there
will be much analysis of every speech to see whether we veer towards Brown or
Miliband or Johnson or Harman or…. The point for most trade unionists is not
about the individuals. It’s about the programme and Congress should be the
opportunity for the trade union movement to set out its stall.
That means reinforcing calls for the repeal of the
anti-trade union legislation, it means actively campaigning in defence of civil
liberties, it means real equality not a watered down Equality Bill without
proper teeth, it means addressing increasing inequality, fuel poverty, job
losses and securing a living wage – not just a minimum wage.
And it means fighting to defend public service workers and
public service values.
A number of motions give the TUC the ability to start to set
out a clear programme. PCS highlight the £25bn companies and wealthy
individuals are avoiding in paying in tax each year – and calls for a campaign
to target such abuses and for the funds to be used to support public services
and promote greater economic equality. The GMB sets out a strong case for not
only raising the state pension but for rescuing occupational pensions from the
increasing attacks by profit-hungry companies.
And there are plenty of calls for action. Apart from the
POA, the NUT calls for a mid-week day of activities as part of a campaign
against privatisation of public services.
But it is in the calls for co-ordinated industrial action
across the public services – calls coming from NUT, PCS, POA, UCU and to a
lesser extend UNISON – that the TUC is able to demonstrate its core support for
public services and put a stop to the Government’s pro-market, privatisation
obsession and its attempts to force public sector workers to bear the brunt of
the credit crunch and economic downturn.
Such a campaign would win huge public support, give
confidence to workers, secure widespread involvement and put the Prime Minister
or any Labour leadership candidate in the spotlight over public services. It’s
an opportunity the unions can’t afford to miss.