Report of our delegate
to the Trades Union Councils’ national Conference, Congress House London 2013
[click here for a full list of passed motions]
I attended the Trades Council on the first day Saturday. I looked at the agenda and the cost of the hotels for the Saturday evening and judged it was just not worth the cost for five motions. It was half the cost to travel back and forth but there was an early enough train on the Sunday to do this. Overall, The conference was not well organised this year.
The Chair of Camden Trades Council welcomed delegates to congress house and to the borough of Camden a diverse borough half very rich and half very poor. He outline the obscene contrast between affluence and poverty with unemployment running at more than 10%, hostels full every night, and street homelessness a reality in the sixth richest country and one of the richest cities in the world. He felt the response of the Labour movement had been inadequate failing to develop the action when thousands took to the streets to defend society and public services. He was critical that TUC had not translated this into sustained action to defend working people. He asserted that the role of Trades Councils was crucial now more than ever as we need good working together and harmony between unions like never before. We need to be a force that unifies workers and communities at large and lay a basis for sustained coordinated militant offensive. “We need to wage war on those who war against us and our class”. This was an energetic start to the conference.
Matt Rack of FBU was to Chair the conference but had to pull out at the last minute. The first session was therefore very ably chaired by Pat Stuart (Unite) and JCC member. Bob Crow however did attend with a keynote speech before lunch and then chairing the afternoon session very firmly!
The first item on the agenda was the Annual report. There was no mention of last year’s motion that went from West Midlands CATUC that we were asked to remit for JCC to do further work on. Daryl from Coventry had already addressed this with JCC members when I arrived and planned to speak on the issue. The motion was calling for us to be able to send motions direct from Trades Council (when moving the motion last year it became clear that other trades Councils already have this luxury). I felt that Daryl confused the issue somewhat by including the issue that West Midlands CATUC has not been operating. However, an apology was made by Pat Mcfaddon on behalf of the JCC for the omission from the Annual report and a written report of the work carried out promised for the afternoon. Vote to accept the Annual Report was held over until this had been received. In the afternoon a written report that outlined the work that had been done and referring delegates to the model rules meant for me the issue was still unclear. It may well be worth coordinating how we move forward on this issue with Coventry. We may need to ‘clarify’ with West Midlands TUC whether they have adopted the model rules.
Frances O’Grady attended the conference and sat through most of the morning debates. This was the first time that the General Secretary had attended that I can remember. Francis addressed conference and her approach was very refreshing and inspiring. She was pleased at the resurgence of the Trades Council movement and highlighted the fact that forty seven new trades Councils had been launched in the last two years. (This massaged the fact that there had been a small decrease in the last year – possibly due to some administration difficulties with some not returning their registration forms)
Francis saw this as very positive and a return of the trade union movement to community based trade unionism and saw Trades Councils as the experts in communities in resilience and at the forefront of anti-austerity campaigns. Campaigns such as against austerity, for jobs for young people and against the bedroom tax. She talked about the tough times facing working people under the most right wing Government that Britain has seen with Cuts facing services as the Government slash and burn their way to depression. Slashing what it has taken decades for us to build. She recognised the effect on working people who did nothing to cause this crash, as the debt problems get worse. She explained even the shock troops of Capitalism – the IMF -are calling for investment and felt that Gorge Osborne was playing with fire. She acknowledged the obscene growth in food banks serving not only those unemployed but those working on low wages unable to feed their families. She acknowledged high unemployment leading to poverty and fear and the consequences to our society when this is exploited by the EDL looking to make political capital from murder, stirring up division and conflict. She said, to loud applause, that we need to send a strong message from today that we will not rest until we stop the EDL in its tracks. She called for an end to the playing politics with immigration and welfare. She went on to call for a Youth Jobs Guarantee.
Francis highlighted the TUC programme agreed by the whole general Council launched on May Day that supports a wide alliance of unions, action groups and communities, supporting Cuts are not the Cure and urged all to go and win the hearts and minds of people on these issues. She advocated that this now needs to be owned and promoted by community campaigners. She said we need to develop a popular movement with Trade unions at the heart calling for investment for jobs and growth in the economy, for revitalising manufacturing, defending public services – going on the offensive for affordable childcare. Cuts are not the cure slowly killing hospitals, colleges and services. Those least able to cope are worst affected. She highlighted taxes the rich cant dodge including the Robin Hood tax so banks pay us back for the problems they created. She called for more power to the trade unions and reminded us of our responsibility to organise workers and people who share our values. We need to have better pay and conditions and to attack inequality with fair wages for all moving away from the debt fuelled finance structure of the past calling for not a minimum wage nor a living wage but a fair wage for all. She called on delegates to take a message out of this room and win a fair Britain for workers everywhere. She highlighted the new TUC Campaign plan. The five key points are:
Jobs growth and a new economy
Fair pay and a living wage
Good services and decent welfare
Respect and a voice at work
Bob Crow gave a very passionate but measured speech. He included all the issues and principles you would expect but was realistic in where we are at as a movement and in terms of opposing this Government. He called on the movement to take action to ensure that this government are not able to run to the end of their term. He called for Unity to defeat the Tories and to obtain a Labour Government that will deliver for working people. Of the calls for a general strike he replied honestly that we are not there yet and wished that we were but he called for coordinated collective action to build for a general strike.
Francis offered to take questions from the floor and assured us that unlike Patrick Mercer she did not require cash. In doing so the conference timings were thrown into disarray! She handled the debate well demonstrating confidence competence and knowledge.
There was a women’s reception at lunchtime, which I was uncomfortable with, as no real provision had been made for male delegates. There was a speaker to address this from the National Women’s assembly. This organisation may provide a speaker for our meeting in future. I am unclear about the organisation; though its aims are laudable I can’t see how it differs from trades Councils and other political organisations with similar aims.
In the afternoon there were workshops and I attended the community campaigning on the welfare cuts, which though interesting did not leave me any the wiser. I posed the question discussed at our trades council about how best to campaign about bedroom tax and no one came up with any bright ideas. Many said their councils were not going to evict as a result of bedroom tax arrears.
The election for the west Midlands TUC JCC resulted in a draw so delegates to conference were asked to vote again. Birmingham was issued with two ballot papers so I had to intervene with Tom Melish to ensure they only received one vote. The result was a draw so the ballot went to the whole conference delegation with a hustings at which point Jason Hill was elected.
The motions were all carried unanimously. There were five motions left till Sunday.