WB&DTUC Secretary’s Annual Report of Work year ending 1998
A year ago New Labour was still in its honeymoon period. People were still thankful for the ending of Tory rule. As time has gone on though, we are still waiting for the kind of government intervention that will shift the balance of forces in favour of the working class which elected the government. Time after time policies resemble those we would have had under the Tories. Pay-back time has come for big business and for the CBI not for the unions who funded the victory and who have been telling their members not to rock the boat for so long. Yet union leaderships have often stopped well short of full-on criticism let alone confrontation with New Labour.
Many union conference discussions highlighted the public service cuts which have resulted from the push to meet the EU’s convergence criteria. While workers have taken to the streets across europe protesting about their governments’ austerity programmes making direct links with the drive towards euro introduction. Those links are only beginning to be made in Britain. The promise of an end to bad housing and poor health coupled with full employment, by Jaques Delors twelve years ago, wooed the TUC, but it certainly has not become the reality. The effects of a uniform interest rate across europe, controlled by unelected bankers in Frankfurt will worsen unemployment in many areas. The effect on our economy of handing its control to the Bank of England has been witnessed dramatically by workers at Rover and elsewhere.
The call for the repeal of the Tory anti-trade union laws was lost at TUC. The motion for repeal had been composited with a motion calling for non-compliance and as this did not fit in line with many unions’ policy the motion fell.
The proposed Fairness at Work legislation throws up many positive opportunities for trade union but so much potential has been lost as the CBI was pandered to. The lack of recognition of union rights from day one and the 40% required for recognition ballots, with abstentions counted against and casual workers not included, demonstrates a fundamental weakness.
The principle of a national minimum wage has been won is now soon become a reality. Trade unions will have to take up the challenge of winning a living wage as the minimum. Already some employers, as the Tameside strikers well know of, have taken the opportunity of reducing wage levels to £3.60 per hour.
1998 saw two important anniversaries, 50 years of the NHS and 150 years for the Communist Manifesto.
The next 50 years for the NHS seems less assured though as it lurches from crisis to crisis, despite the swathes of accountants and administrators who seem unable to predict or prevent them. Unions for years have highlighted problems but have been ignored. The exodus of nurses from the profession is hardly a surprise after years of overwork, poor pay and arrogant management techniques exercised by Trusts.
The next 150 years of the Communist Manifesto’s enduring analysis and relevance is however most certainly assured. There is as there has always been, a need to fight for a change in society which will give to us the fruits of our labour and to build a society based on true equality and justice.
24 trade union branches affiliated to us; this was slightly down on last year but we had 15,980 affiliated members, which was 2,500 up on 1997. There is still a huge potential for increasing our affiliation base particularly within the TGWU. There have also been some new affiliations to the TUC which we need to follow up locally. Delegates can assist by contacting unaffiliated branches which they have dealings with. A few branches have had problems with affiliating dues to funding not being forthcoming from regional offices.
Again we had improved participation, with an average attendance this year of 15.6 (1997:13.1, 1996:10.6, 1995:8.4, 1994:10.5. We are probably bucking the general trend of other trades councils around Britain albeit in modest terms so far.
This year we affiliated to: ACTSA, Campaign for Labour Party Democracy, CODIR, Columbus Anyanwu Anti-Deportation Campaign, Cuba Solidarity Campaign, Firmin Gnali Anti-Deportation Campaign, Liberty, National Abortion Campaign, Public Health Alliance, Republic, Stop Child Labour, TU CND, Walsall WEA, W.Mids County Association of Trade Union Councils, W.Mids Low Pay Unit, W’ton Liberty, W’ton Race Equality Council, W’ton Campaign Against Domestic Violence.
A delegate was sent to the national Trades Union Councils’ Conference and an observer to the Women’s TUC. We also sent representatives to the Race Equality Council, Town Centre Forum, Regenerating Wolverhampton, Workers Education Association, W’ton Anti-Gulf War Group, W’ton May Day Committee, W’ton MBC Education and Voluntary Sector sub-committees, W’ton Youth Affairs Accreditation Panel and the West Midlands CATUC.
Workers’ Memorial Day April 28th
It was well attended again this year with representatives from the trades council, Indian Workers’ Association, UNISON and the Workers’ Relatives Support Group. Wreaths were laid at the Memorial Tree and the Industrial Chaplain held a short service. We at last got press coverage this year with two radio stations and a newspaper reporting it and our call for the banning of all asbestos was highlighted. This is a key time to highlight health ans safety issues and we should make the most of the opportunity.
We play a leading role in the May Day Committee which organises the event. The 4th annual celebration of International Workers’ Day celebration turned out to be the biggest so far organised with upwards of 70 in attendance including a good turnout from Labour councillors. A dozen local labour movement stalls proved to be a good focal point and this side of the event will be developed. Our display of the History of May Day was displayed in the Central Library for a week.
The 1st May falls on a Saturday in 1999 and so an ambitious programme of political and cultural events is being organised. The Midlands TUC has agreed to sponsor the event.
Earlier in the year we set up the Wolverhampton Anti-Gulf War Group and then reactivated it later in the year as the US domestic crisis worsened and there became a need to deflect attention from what was going down at home. Bringing together various religious denominations to the group was not a problem but the various political groupings proved a little more tricky!
Speakers addressed council on a variety of issues over the year: asbestos, Health Action Zones, the role of the Black Workers TUC and internationally on Ireland, Chile and the Gulf as well as a number of strikers brought us news of their struggles and sought solidarity:
Anti-Union Laws conference
A conference on the anti-trade union laws was organised by us in conjunction with Birmingham and Coventry Trades Union Councils. In the end it was relatively successful though there was a poor turnout from us. Which way forward for our trades union councils was not entirely forthcoming from the conference, though the necessity for the repeal of the laws is clear to most. The laws were never intended for the benefit of the democracy of individual trades unionists, they were to give the employers a permanent hand of aces.
Tameside strikers – Nearly 200 UNISON residential home workers have been on strike since March after suffering massive cuts to their pay and conditions. Tameside Care which was set up by their council and shamefully is linked to several leading local Labour politicians sacked them all in June and replaced them all with scabs. Over £750 was raised from several meetings arranged when they came to address us.
Their strike office can be contacted on: tel 0161 308 2452 fax 0161 339 2571
Critchley Labels strikers are now into their 21st month of dispute and still strong. BT promised not to renew their contract with Critchley but have been continuing to delay that decision in the hope of a settlement or more likely in the hope of the strike collapsing. Increased support from the labour movement is the only thing that can cause this to be avoided. To contact, tel01495 220 597 or mobile 0410 151 176.
Liverpool Dockers – their heroic dispute was settled earlier this year. Over £1,750 was raised locally as a result of our initiatives.
Magnet Strikers – a settlement was reached, although their kitchens are still crap!
Morning Star – the six-week strike was victorious and the management was replaced by its readers at the AGMs. A relaunch later in the year greatly improved the paper though its position is still financially precarious.
Regular reports were given of the Essex FBU who scored another notable victory for the union movement, not by court room battles but by repeated strike action.
There was a number of motions debated this year. Motions calling for an end to war in the Gulf, in support of the Palestinian people and the Morning Star strikers, to repeal the anti-union laws and on the school meals campaign were all carried.
The TUC’s programme of work for trades union councils, identifies that “the key issues facing the trade unions today and in the years ahead are to increase membership and to ensure that people at work are properly protected and represented.” The TUC’s JCC has identified our priority themes to be “recruitment and representation”. While we would probably see representation as more of a role performed by our affiliated unions, recruitment is a priority which we have already set ourselves.
We constantly seek increased trade union affiliation to ourselves and this work must continue if we are to continue to build participation within our council.
No direct work on general recruitment to unions was carried out in 1998 but we did hold discussions at the end of the year with the Regional TUC to help us plan a general union recruitment campaign. We were successful in a TUC Development Grant application of £240 so this should help us set up materials for a stall over the coming year. It will also enable us to produce literature to help us promote ourselves which is key if we are to expand our affiliations and activity further.
Identified opportunities for stalls would be outside the Molineux, community festivals, student fresher fayres etc. giving out information about H&S or changes in the law. Also industrial parks which we could target alongside the general or engineering unions. We will need to time limit our action and monitor it.
Our first trades council fundraising team worked for Wandsworth & Battersea TUC’s Workers’ Beer Company, at the Temptation all nighter, New Year’s Eve, in London £560 was raised, with half going to the Morning Star. There is certainly potential for £2,000 to be raised this year and this would represent a major funding injection for us, nearly doubling our current income and this would allow us to expand our current work.. It also has implications for drawing in many new people towards the trades council and if affiliated branches help promote it then it could result in increased involvement from their young members in particular.
Year after year the United Nations condemns the USA’s blockade of Cuba, with ever increasing majorities. Only Israel now backs them against 157 world nations. Unfortunately the US only takes notice of UN votes when they coincide with their own foreign policy. The blockade has cost Cuba $800million in extra shipping and other costs in 1998, and over $60billion since the revolution.
A major appeal is being launched locally this year as a number of trade unions are combining to raise funds and donations of medical, educational, computing and other equipment to fill a ship. This will be the biggest campaign in Britain ever in what is the 40th anniversary of the Cuban Revolution.
Trade union issues will only feature in Millennium events if we organise them. We will need to decide if we wish to hold any special events linked to the Millennium as the TUC has given us information on grants that are available.
A few copies of George Barnsby’s history of our trades council are still available from the secretary – now at the special price of £2.
Thanks to the executive committee and especially to Bro.Joynson for taking and typing minutes and for UNISON General and NUT for copying the mailings.
Nick Kelleher, outgoing Secretary, 9 Jan 1999