Report of Wolverhampton TUC Delegate
Trades Union Councils’ national Conference 2012
It was a very united conference with 88 of 166 trades council represented.
Coventry Trades Council organised a Fringe meeting on the Friday evening and this was an enjoyable an informative debate, setting a very intense, fighting back tone for the conference itself. Matt Rack from the FBU spoke on the panel and went on to chair the first session of conference on Saturday. He described what austerity means to us as – young peoples lives destroyed, Public services destroyed and attacks on our trade union movement. He talked about the Government having a class agenda to resolve this economic crisis at our expense. He pointed out that we had bailed out the banks at taxpayers expense yet maintained their bonuses. He questioned why we bail out the banks yet the Government are standing back and watching key manufacturing companies employing working people go to the wall. He argued that the Trade Union movement had to be welcoming to Young people and talked about the work of UK Uncut.
Another of the speakers at the fringe was Nick Parker who had received the TUC Youth Award at congress in 2011. Nick is a member of PCS and has worked to develop the young workers network both in his union and at Regional TUC level. Nick highlighted that young people had experienced disproportionately the effects of the ConDem polices, listing EMA abolition, cuts in Youth Services, capping of housing benefits, housing waiting lists, Workfare programmes (an attack on the whole trade Union movement using young people as slave labour), Apprenticeships, minimum wage levels, fewer educational opportunities, tuition fees, and Youth Unemployment. Nick talked enthusiastically and with energy about organising and reaching out to young trade Unionists – in essence get on and do it. Nick could make a good contribution to our meetings and I would suggest him as a possible speaker especially as we begin to support the Choose Youth Event in Wolverhampton.
When the conference began on Saturday, all of the motions except for one were carried most without opposition and many unanimously (I have the agenda booklet if anyone wants to look at the motions as there seems to be a distinct lack of information on the TUC Website about the conference). The exception was the motion that Wolverhampton was concerned with and I had the job of moving this motion on behalf of West Midlands County Association, as Maggie Ryan was the delegate but sent apologies due to her recent illness. The motion concerned the direct representation of Trades Councils especially where there is a County Association. The motion was not supported by the JCC and we were asked to remit the motion. After consulting with the other West Midlands reps we did agree to remit the motion. Had we not, the motion would have been defeated as almost everyone opposed it for different reasons. However, the JCC did agree to look at the issue and work on a solution and possible guidelines or model rules in a timely fashion. It was clear that in other TUC regions where a County Association exists individual Trades Councils are still able to send motions and representatives direct to the regional TUC.
There were two keynote speakers at Conference. Len McCluskey and Bob Crow. Len McCluskey addressed the conference. This I feel was above and beyond the call of duty, as his mother had died the previous Saturday. His contribution was inspiring and talked about and alternative economic strategy, the importance of Trades Councils and uniting our communities to fight for growth, pensions, public services and Pay. He was critical of the Labour party for missing the opportunity to oppose the coalition austerity, suggesting that messages of ‘too far, too fast’ were not good enough and that they need to seize the moment and demonstrate that they are on the side of working people. He quoted figures provided by industrial fiscal bodies of £40Billion of tax avoidance and £215Million spent on procurement, which could be spent on rebuilding our manufacturing sector. He asserted that a good vibrant manufacturing sector is essential to deliver a good quality public sector. He suggested as an alternative we should use publicly owned banks to invest in green manufacturing. He described the urgent need for new homes highlighting the 3 million people who need homes and 1000 construction workers on the dole. He suggested a 5 year old could join the dots. He urged us to fight for a civilised society giving workers a clear vision, linking with Occupy and UK Uncut, using direct action and civil disobedience to protect everything we hold dear from the posh boys from Eton.
Bob Crow echoed what Len had talked about. He explained we were living at a momentous time, Trade Union density being at an all time low. Under Thatcher we had 52% density of membership with 92% of workers covered by a trade Union agreements. This is now 30% of workers. He described Quantative Easing as a glorified IOU. He talked about decoding the language of such terms for example Derivatives. He argued that it suits the Government to have a pool of unemployed labour to screw the workers whilst tying down trade unions in legislation. He argued for the recognition laws to be repealed and argued for increased rights of workers asking what is the difference if your sacked unfairly on Day one or sacked unfairly after 12 weeks. He asserted that the changes to tribunals being about costs to the trade union movement with implications for workers. The RMT supported 350,000 cases last year at tribunal. Only 6 got a reinstatement order. Only 486 were costs paid by RMT. He asked what does Milliband stand for? Responsible Capitalism -What is it? He referenced the Sunday Times Rich list where statistics show Rich have got richer through this period of austerity whilst the poorest have got poorer.
Both Bob Crow and Len McCluskey talked about the effect on young people and asked what kind of prospects they had. University Debt, no social housing, no jobs and if they survive those pit falls they won’t be able to afford to retire.
The current trend for conferences to abandon the debate around motions and move into workshops was repeated at the conference. Though some delegates advocated their preference for this, I do not usually find it useful. I feel that there is not sufficient time to develop discussions in the time allowed, especially as people are thrown into groups where they do not know each other and group dynamics takes up time. Also, very often circumstances around the country vary and it is not always helpful to generalise, that people tend to lob in points in the short time allowed and recommendations become superficial and lack depth or a democratic mandate.
I attended the fighting fascism workshop but it had started by the time I had located the venue. It was facilitated by Hope not Hate and though I missed much of the opening contribution the essence was that the right wing fascist groups were on the increase and reforming after the disputes and splits, reshaping and restyling itself in two directions. The respectable side distancing itself from the thug image standing in elections compared with the EDL active visible aggressive campaigning side. They pointed to Europe and the success of the far right in France and compared that to what was happening in Britain. Many of the delegates were concerned about the split in the anti fascist movement. The discussions tended to relate particular circumstances and fightback occurring around the country. There was no information I took from this workshop that we were not currently aware of or implementing in Wolverhampton.
There was a guest speaker from Coventry- Mary-Ann Stephenson who talked about Coventry Women’s Voices. This is an organisation in Coventry, which brings together women from the public, private and voluntary sector as well as women from the trade union movement to build solidarity and understanding. They understood that women had been hit hard by the cuts and set out to look at what that meant on the ground. They examined the policy decisions taken and focussed down to a local level to see how that affected women in Coventry. They found that women were loosing money, jobs and services and having to plug the gaps. In every instance they found that the slow progress to equality was slowly unravelling. They found that the impacts were tending to happen to the same women who were having to cope with an incredibly difficult set of circumstances. By looking at the statistics and producing the report they have used it to challenge media images of ‘lazy scroungers’. They have produced a toolkit for carrying out equality impact assessments to look at policy areas and look at what the cuts really mean on the ground. Mary –Ann Stephenson could be approached as a possible speaker to our trades Council meeting.
Wolverhampton, Bilston and District Trade Union Council