Introduction

The Trades Councils Conference was once again held online due to the continuing public health guidelines and restrictions on travel and public gatherings. While there are obvious disadvantages to this way of working, it does mean it is possible for a wider range of trades council delegates to join the event and discuss the key themes on the conference agenda, participation peaked at just under 100 on the day.

The TUCJCC took the decision to remit all motions to be included in the 2021-22 Trades Councils Programme of Work and agreed panel discussions on ‘trades councils and the economy’, ‘tackling racism’ and ‘campaigning for better workplace safety’. Keynote speeches were made by TUC General Secretary, Frances O’Grady, and Patrick Roach, General Secretary of NASUWT and chair of the TUC’s Anti-racism Taskforce.

Note from the Chair

Opening remarks came from Steve Gillan, General Secretary of the POA and General Council lead for the TUCJCC. Steve spoke about how well the TUCJCC had worked and collaborated during another difficult year of entirely online meetings and the way the committee and trades councils throughout England and Wales had supported key campaigns on key worker pay, the lack of decent sick pay, tackling racism and on health and safety at work.

Discrimination and harassment had been especially highlighted this year, we have seen black and minority ethnic workers systematically discriminated against and experience the worst impact of the covid pandemic, exposing the fact that this group of workers are more likely to be in precarious, low-paid occupations, working in some of the highest risk occupations without adequate or appropriate PPE or safe systems of work.

Keynote address by Frances O’Grady, TUC General Secretary

Frances started by emphasising the importance of trades councils campaigning in the community and thanking everyone for their work, giving trade unions a connection with place as well as with work, particularly highlighting the ‘Sheffield needs a pay rise’ initiative and the campaigning and organising efforts of trades councils to bring trade unions together on a local basis.

Key TUC priorities in the weeks and months ahead include making sure workers don’t pay the price of the pandemic. That means preventing mass unemployment, tackling insecurity at work, opposing more and further austerity and tackling inequality, while promoting safety at work and growing trade union organisation.

There was strong criticism of the lack of government investment in green jobs and for the woeful budget to support recovery in our education system and Frances called for the end of ‘fire and rehire’ which has seen many employers showing compete disregard and disrespect for the contribution thousands of key workers have made to keeping the country working.

Union growth and increasing collective bargaining are key to successful outcomes for workers. Our collective membership has increased for the fourth successive year, but we need to more to grow in the private sector. Only through strong unions can we improve pay, improve quality of work and tackle inequality at work and across society.

Panel discussion on trades councils and the economy

The first panel discussion focused on the massive economic challenges in the post-pandemic period. Martin Mansfield led the discussion, referencing the need to tackle pay, employment rights and insecurity at work as part of a fair recovery for working people and emphasised the massive opportunity from investing in green jobs – if the government were prepared to increase its current, insufficient plans.

The threat of large-scale unemployment is very real, Colin Hampton spoke of the need for trade unions to consider how they can organise unemployed workers and provide support to enable workers to collectivise against broad worsening of the quality and standards of employment.

Dave Wilson spoke of the critical need for trades councils to be present in communities and in campaigns that were important to workers at a local level and the value and importance of community centres for workers, as centres of solidarity for organising and campaigning.

Keynote speech from Patrick Roach and panel discussion on tackling racism

Chair of the TUC Anti-racism task force, Patrick Roach, gave a powerful address to conference ahead of a panel discussion. Patrick outlined the work of the taskforce and stressed how black workers had been severely and disproportionately impacted by austerity, deregulation and by the impact of the pandemic. It is important to recognise the role that trade unions play in organising against racism in the workplace and in the community and it is vital that trade unions are seen to be taking a lead and living our values.

Cecile Wright chaired the panel discussion which heard a powerful address from Roger McKenzie, outlining his own personal journey and experience, the importance of respect-based language and emphasising the need for deeds not words, we need to match our commitment with action at every level of our movement. Nick Kelleher, TUCJCC rep for the West Midlands, spoke about practical actions trades councils could take, having campaigned locally on ‘stop and search’, school literature and resourced a specific research programme on the links between slavery and the local area.

Panel discussion on health and safety in the workplace

Louise Atkinson opened the final session talking about the importance of union-led health and safety in education and how this issue had mobilised and galvanised education staff during the pandemic. Janet Newsham, from Hazards, spoke of how workers were being exposed to covid risks by employers not taking the right measures to ensure safe working and the woeful lack of enforcement, plus the massive cuts to enforcement agencies like the HSE and Local Authorities.

Katrine Williams, Dave Chapple and Mick Houghton discussed the strong relationship between union organisation, industrial influence and health and safety, and Andrew Coburn introduced the scale of mental ill-health prevalent in workplaces and across society.

Trades Councils Conference Motion to Congress

The motion to go from the conference to Congress, receiving the most trades council votes, is;

Police, Crime, Courts and Sentencing Bill

Congress notes:

i) The proposal for an amendment to the Public Order Act (1986), entitled the Police, Crime, Courts and Sentencing Bill.

ii) This Act is a declared response to the actions of Extinction rebellion and Black Lives Matter.

iii) It has a specific section on the policing of protests which gives the police extraordinary powers aimed at the very nature of protest.

iv) It gives the Home Secretary the power to define ‘serious disruption’ as whatever she chooses with minimal scrutiny by Parliament.

v) The criteria for whether a protest can go ahead and will effectively be in the hands of the Home Secretary.

vi) It proposes completely disproportionate punishments of up to ten years for criminal damage to a memorial (defined as “a building or other structure, or any other thing” which has “a commemorative purpose”.

vii) It will effectively make the nomadic life of Gypsies and Travellers illegal. It is therefore overtly racist.

Congress believes:

a) The Bill is not only a threat to civil liberties and the right to protest in general but will, undoubtedly, be used against trades unions and their members going about perfectly legitimate activity.

Congress therefore:

1) Urges all Trade Unions and Trades Councils to oppose and campaign against this Bill.

2) Calls on Trade Unions and Trades Councils to seek to create the broadest possible alliance; in particular those grass roots campaigns directly affected such as Extinction Rebellion and Black Lives Matter., and civil liberties organisations such as Liberty and Open Democracy.

3) Calls on the Labour Party to oppose the Bill and the motives behind it.