Report Of The Delegate To Trades Union Councils' Conference 2014
The conference this year was held in Cardiff. On the Friday evening there was a very warm welcome event organised by Cardiff Trades Council. The entertainment for the evening was quality provided by Dave Burns, a folk singer with a dry sense of humour. I took the opportunity to lobby JCC members about the on going concerns of Wolverhampton regarding the county association.
The conference began on Saturday morning, chaired by Matt Wrack (Gen Sec FBU) TUC JCC General Council Member, with a welcome from Katrine Williams, President for Cardiff Trades Council. This was followed by a very moving and powerful tribute to Bob Crow and Tony Benn. It was a series of photographs set to the song of Joe Hill. I have been unable to find it on TUC website but it would be good to show at our meeting an appropriate time.
The TUCJCC report was taken section by section and a number of points were raised on each section. In section six the report stated that a silver awards had been presented to a Nick Kelleher. I challenged this and the information was corrected - It has been agreed to award the silver badges and the presentation is to be arranged locally.
Generally this year at conference the debates around the motions were of a good standard with movers and speakers having prepared and researched their contributions beforehand. The motions covered a range of Local National and international issues. Most were carried unanimously with a small number where delegates abstained and a there were couple of quite contentious motions. All the debates were well conducted.
The most contentious motion was number 4 taken on Sunday morning. This was the motion on Political representation for Trade unionists and the working class. When I considered how to vote on this motion I was very conscious that I was attending a representative of trades Council. I thought about the debates and discussions we have held at trades Council and considered each paragraph of the motion.
The motions referenced the Collins review and dilution of the collective voice in the Labour party. It called for an urgent debate about political representation, including whether we need a new mass workers party. The debate was one of the best that I have heard on this issue and conducted without the hysteria often associated with this issue of defending the Labour party at all costs. Careful consideration of the strategy going forward was the context of the debate. It was a very honest debate about the failings of the last labour government in selling out to a neoliberal agenda and instigating commissioning out and privatisation of many our public services previously not touched even by Thatcher. The failure to repeal the anti-trade Union legislation was raised, which is seen as a real hindrance to effective fightback from trade Unions in the current climate. The issue of reclaiming the Labour party along the lines of Unite political strategy was debated especially in the context of the need to defeat the Tories in 2015. The fact that it is the wrong time for the debate was very persuasively argued and that the debate should wait till after the general election. There was a call for Trade unionists not to debate this issue but to create an anti tory alliance and unite on this agenda. This argument was countered by one speaker who argued that we need to consider the long term and that there had been a considerable loss of political consciousness and lack of inclusion and engagement that paralleled the lack of membership and legal constraints of the Trade union movement. The Labour party was seen as very indifferent to the concerns of the Trade Union movement particularly around austerity, public service cuts and Trade Union legislation. The lack of political will in the Labour party to engage with the trade union movement was raised by nearly every speaker. The impact of UKIP was debated and they were seen as strong because there is currently no clear alternative being voiced. The motion was carried and the Vote was 34 in favour 31 against with 3 abstentions. I voted in favour of a debate.
The other motion that caused significant debate was motion 9: Sexual Freedom. This was also taken on Sunday morning. The motion opposed the recommendations of the Parliamentary group on Prostitution that is should be a crime to purchase sexual services. Again a very good debate was held with very informed contributions around the issues of legalisation or decriminalisation. It was suggested that the decriminalisation that had taken place in New Zealand had been a mature and positive way of dealing with the sex industry resulting in a safer environment all-round whilst it was argued that the decriminalisation won’t make anyone any safer, legalisation of prostitution would not eradicate street prostitution and that problems still continue legitimatising abuse. They suggested that Zones of tolerance also led to problems. The issues on the conference floor were debated with a clarity that the motion seemed to lack. The point was made by one speaker that an element was missing from the motion whether you are in favour of criminalisation or not, the need to tackle the conditions in society that force mainly women but also men and transgender into prostitution. The motion regarded prostitution as sexual behaviour of consenting adults requiring no regulation by the state but I consider this is the case in only a small percentage of the sex industry. It denies the reality of sex workers living in poverty, often experiencing violence from their pimp reliant on prostitution to feed a drug habit. The second point in the motion highlighted that the impact of the legal status of the sex industry creates a problem where existing laws (such as those against violence, coercion, rape, kidnapping, extortion, debt bondage, forced labour and trafficking) create a hidden environment making enforcement of existing legal protection more difficult and protects traffickers where they can more easily exploit their victims. GMB have taken a strong position and it seems to me that there has been much work and development on these issues that we may want to take some time explore at a future Trades Council meeting. I would have voted against the motion however, given the motion did not seem to have the clarity expressed in the debate the mover agreed to remit so that further work can be carried out by the JCC.
There was a significant debate on Fighting Racism and Fascism (motion 8). Concern that there is a real need to tell people what UKIP really stands for and concern about their media success (I understand that there is a statistic that Nigel Farage appeared on 15 out of 29 question time panels) The debate emphasised concern that it was not just a protest vote but that they appealed to racists. There were calls to wake up and smell the fascism with parallels drawn between Farage and Mosely. One Speaker did state that it’s not Farage it’s everywhere in our society. An excellent contribution was made urging trades Councils and the labour movement to support work to change the narrative of the debate in the mainstream. Currently it is about who should and shouldn’t get resources and all the moral judgements and scapegoating around this. We need to shift the debate and ask why resources are so small. We are half way there with the tax avoidance issues and we need to take it that step further. The fiftieth anniversary of Searchlight was highlighted and information that the magazine is going quarterly with a call to support the organisation. There were some very personal contributions highlighting how the current economic climate is being exploited to discriminate against black workers even though the practise is illegal. The motion suggested that local trades councils are well placed to address problems in non-unionised workplaces where vulnerable workers have no knowledge of their legal and employment rights. The motion also agreed to create unity amongst all anti racist groups at a local level as well as disseminate best practise by trade unions including case precedents and by continuing to make this issue a priority.
There was an emergency motion (2) about the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership. This is an issue we need to be very aware of and do work on going forward. I confess I am not clear as I should be about this but the debate was very anxious about the need to mobilise around this very quickly. TTIP was described as neoliberalism on steroids and concern was expressed that currently the TUC supports the treaty. It is a very real threat to workers that was not discussed in the recent EU elections. It doesn’t just threaten our NHS but all our public services. There is very real concern about education. The minute you have other providers, such as academies, it ceases to be a service and opened up to tender. One speaker emphasised 2011 new EU Treaty stability coordination re-governance means if you can’t afford to provide a service you have to put it out to tender. Delegates were reminded that Lovell and Viking cases mean the right to trade is put above the right to organise. It was emphasised that whether or not the Tories are re-elected next time the TTIP will secure their policies going forward. The motion was unanimously carried.
Emergency Motion 1 referred to the Help to work scheme and highlighted the fact that there are now 104 billionaires in the UK. This information was published two weeks after the coalition government introduced its latest workfare scheme. Those who fail to take part in the work fare scheme will have their benefits sanctioned. Consequence of the benefits sanctions is to force unemployed into economic poverty, depression and into the arms of loan sharks. There have been a Number of suicides recorded anecdotally and it is hard to get real stats on this. Conference agreed to support the claimant’s rights to state benefits; campaign against zero hour contracts; campaign for a new human rights charter in line with article 25 of the European charter of rights.
There was a debate and unanimity around the motion composite 2 Action on climate change. I also attended the fringe meeting on this issue. I confess that I have not previously prioritised this issue. The points raised in the debate and the fringe meeting have woken me up to the significance of these issues. It is very easy to dismiss the campaigns as Nimbi’s and to be blind to the very real danger for everyone faced by the human race. The motion was carried with 1 abstention and urges us to affiliate to the campaign against climate change and to encourage our affiliates to do so. It was highlighted that GMB support fracking for jobs. This position was discussed in debate and support for a Red green alliance promoted. Investment with green issues in mind would be a formidable challenge to austerity. Martin Mayer from Sheffield trades council Unite member and Labour NEC, promoted the need to combine the energy and environmental issues as they face the same problem – that of Capitalism. The answer is a Socialist alternative and by investing in our economy for green jobs we could see one million climate change jobs. We could see the building of council housing providing homes for people that will see a growth in the economy but also homes that are zero emission. There is a real need to invest in public transport with a spin off growth in the economy of 4 million.
The West Midlands CATUC motion was a procedural motion that I had planned to not get drawn into and to abstain, as I didn’t think the rest of conference would be interested in the issues in the West Midlands. It called for a clause on a form referencing confirmation of which county association a trades council belongs to. Initial confusion reigned as Daryl from Coventry understood he was to have moved the motion but Dorothy Heath insisted she was to move it. She went on to do so and included comments about the problems in the West Midlands with digs about a continuous insidious attempt to get rid of County Associations. Daryl in seconding the motion talked about how the County Association hadn’t met and had died and the attempts to resurrect it. Dorothy’s comments meant that I had to get to the rostrum and explain that what we wanted was an active campaigning County Association that organised and supported workers not one that met once a year to divvy up regional TUC places and held meetings that were not properly called. I criticised the recent attempts at resurrecting the association explaining that we had not had a calling notice or affiliated for affiliated for three years because it hadn’t met. That we felt the boundaries for the West Midlands County were based on the County Council boundary which had been abolished for some time and now no longer provided and effective structure. That what we would like to see is a review where new County boundaries across the region pointing out that we work very closely with the Black country Trades councils. There was some sympathy for this argument. JCC rep, Moz Greenshields interjected in the debate with a point of order bringing the point back to the motion before us. Given the debate I had no option but to vote against. But for this vote it would have been carried unanimously. Although there is a sharp difference of opinion I believe Coventry merely want a democratic input and a voice and if they have to do this through the West Midlands County they will but I think they may be open to the idea of a review. I have tried to keep the differences on the issue around the county and to remain good comrades with other delegates despite a difference of opinion. Some officials seem to be trying to write the issue off as a personality clash.
Following on from the discussions at Conference, JCC reps (who had memory of the motion moved and remitted three years ago followed by report back two years ago) gave feedback to me that motions do have to go through the County Association and cannot go direct to Regional TUC’s. This is in complete contradiction to the delegates at the conference standing up at the rostrum stating that they send motions direct to TUC and the feedback at the conference two years ago. I believe JCC reps now understand and have some sympathy with our position though the issue is clouded when JCC reps do not understand the geography of the West Midlands.
Following on from the conference I would suggest the following frustrating and time consuming actions (that do not necessarily have to fall to the secretary):
We write to all JCC reps asking for a review of the County Association boundaries in the West Midlands proposing development of a new structure fit for purpose and more than one County Association.
We challenge the legitimacy of the West Midlands County Association as they have not called meetings legally and we have not been sent any notice of meetings (In writing to Regional Secretary -new one to be appointed).
We invite the new regional secretary to a meeting when they are appointed.
It was not announced, but I understand that Dorothy Heath is elected unopposed as the West Midlands TUC JCC rep.
The motion chosen by conference to send to Congress was again about the observer from Trades council having delegate status. Congress agreed this motion last year but the general council ‘has concerns’ and has failed to implement this. The motion condemns this in-action by General Council.
The Conference was a positive experience with good quality information on issues and a high standard of debate barring the West Midlands debacle.
Delegate from Wolverhampton Bilston and District Trades Union Council.