Trade unions stand firm

Maria Exall, CWU delegate to the TUC, reports (in a personal capacity) on Congress – and argues that this is the time for clear class politics.

At TUC Congress in Manchester this September, trade union speakers from different sectors made clear the scale of the threat to jobs and services from the ConDem Coalition’s cuts agenda. There was a show of unity and pledges of solidarity from across the movement to those unions who are and will be fighting cuts in the immediate future. A composite which included elements of a strategy to fight back was agreed by all affiliates (except the pilots’ union, BALPA).

The TUC will hold a lobby and rally in Westminster on the eve of the Comprehensive Spending Review. Originally some affiliates (notably PCS and RMT) had called for a rally at a weekend rather than a weekday in order to build for a major demonstration. However, in the end there was a consensus around the TUC’s initial plan to shift such a demonstration to March 2011.

The focus of the TUC’s campaign against the cuts, “All together for public services”, is on the public sector. This is where there is greater union density and where the movement sees the cutting edge of the coming struggle. However, given that most workers are employed in the private sector, I think it is important to have a strategy that is class wide. Not only does this negate the divisive public versus private media spin from the mainstream press (designed to soften the ground for attacks on public sector pensions as well as jobs), it also acknowledges economic reality. This reality is that future job security is under threat for public and private sector workers alike.

The need to have a wider coalition against the cuts rather than just solidarity between trade unions was also a consensus at the Congress. However, this is open to intepretation. A coalition with community organisations, NGOs, single issue campaigns, etc, which is built on solidarity arising from particular resistances would be progressive. A watered down ideological front unrelated to concrete struggles, built at the expense of united union action, would be retrogressive.

Trade unions at this year’s Congress attacked the Coalition’s small state/big society idea. It is less clear that a critical mass of them would take such a strong line against any Labour accommodation to it. There was a Labour leadership hustings event at the Congress and several of the candidates attended various fringe and official events. David Miliband was the only candidate not to commit himself to attending the TUC rally (though he was the first to respond to the question). What any of the candidates do once elected will depend on how strongly the affiliated unions assert working class interests within the Party. The union movement’s response to the first attacks will also influence the shape and scale of the fightback and Labour’s relation to them.

TUC Congress passed an emergency motion against the Government proposals on Royal Mail privatisation. It is essential that the Labour Party Conference builds on this and keeps up the pressure on the new Labour leader by passing the CWU contemporary motion. The CWU has (re)launched the campaign to Keep the Post Public and is asking for a three line whip against the enabling legislation in the House of Commons this autumn. The next test of political opinion in the Party will be the support (or otherwise) of Labour MPs for the second reading of John McDonnell MP’s Bill on union balloting law, due in October. This Bill was fully backed at Congress, despite earlier reticence by some union leaders when John launched his campaign.

In the next year there will be massive attacks on the living standards of those who rely on the collective provision of services and the benefits system – the working class. Working class women, disabled people, poor pensioners and those from BME communities will lose out more than the average. This massive redistribution of wealth to the rich and those with power in our society will be achieved through budget cuts and structural changes (notably in health and education) that will make the UK a more brutal and even more unequal society than it already is. The trade union movement has declared its intention to defend the working class. Let’s make this happen.

Other highlights of our October Trade Union section include:

Tories ready, steady – fire?

Mick Shaw, FBU President, explains why London firefighters are balloting for strike action.

Delivering localism from Whitehall?

A PCS member looks at the absurdity of Greg Clark, Tory Minister for Decentralisation, announcing that he wants to get civil servants out of Whitehall and into the regions, just after his own boss – Secretary of State Eric Pickles – had announced that he wanted to shut the Government Office Network (where civil servants who have escaped from Whitehall go to help work in the regions)!

Keep the Post public!

Pete Firmin reports on the CWU campaign to stop the Con Dem Coalition selling off Royal Mail.

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