Manuel Cortes, TSSA (Transport and Salaried Staff) General Secretary, sees grounds for optimism at Labour’s conference.
The Tories used their conference in Birmingham to deepen their ruthless war against the most vulnerable in our society. It is clear that Cameron and his mob will stop at nothing as they seek to reverse all the gains ordinary people made after World War Two. Faced with such a massive attack, it is very important that unions – and the Labour Party – unite in purpose and action. We must offer the alternatives ordinary people so badly need and deserve.
There is no doubt austerity is increasing peoples’ desire to fight. It is therefore hardly surprising that this year’s TUC Congress saw a number of motions that reflected the growing anger in society. After 20 October we will have to seriously consider how best to co-ordinate our campaigning efforts and also, where possible, industrial action. Let’s face it, the scale of proposed cuts are so vast that only millionaires will remain unscathed. Unions must meet this challenge. It is our responsibility to reach out to the many millions currently not within our ranks.
The Labour Party Conference was a much more muted affair even though, for the first time in many years, there was a semblance of social democracy. Firstly, we had a somewhat bizarre lecture by a Harvard academic who told us there are limits to markets. This interactive session – that saw apparatchiks not controlling who spoke – revealed what we always knew, that our Party’s heart firmly beats on the left. Had the past leadership of our Party listened to unions and members, perhaps they might have been able to save on transatlantic air fares! What we witnessed would never have happened on Blair’s or Brown’s watch.
We then had Ed’s speech in which he said he wanted to close the gap between rich and poor. This is a significant shift from New Labour’s mantra. You can bet your boots that Mandelson was not one of the people cheering him on. However, if this intent is to be delivered, Balls needs to drop his neoliberal agenda. Our party leader needs to ensure this happens, otherwise his words will just be seen as soft soap.
Of course, it is blindingly obvious that an incoming Labour administration will need to look at how government raises revenue, spends money and whether this can be done in a more effective and socially just manner. For example, few tears would be shed if they shelved the £100 billion – and rising cost – of Trident’s replacement, ditched expensive PFI/PPP schemes in favour of direct public funding and reversed the wasteful privatisation of public services. However, we do not elect Labour to cut expenditure on health, education, pensions, welfare or public investment!
Unfortunately, Blairite control freakery has not yet completely subsided. Many motions from CLPs were ruled out on very spurious grounds. Late on Tuesday night, news broke of the Government’s rail franchising shambles. The majority of motions that had been ruled out dealt with this very issue. A debate would have given us a massive platform to show ordinary people we have a different vision for society. Sadly a great opportunity was missed. On the other hand, TSSA was able to successfully challenge the Conference Arrangements Committee ruling on our emergency motion – it got reinstated, debated and passed. This must give us hope that things are finally starting to move in the right direction.
Finally, austerity is having devastating effects on the lives of ordinary people. It is not something any of us would have wished for. However, it also provides us with a huge opportunity – a once in a generation chance for renewal. If unions and the Labour Party can put themselves at the helm of a mass movement for progressive change, then it is very likely that neoliberalism will be confined to the dustbin of history. Delivering this is the most important challenge of our time!