WB&DTUC Secretary’s Annual Report of Work for year ending 1999
“Our goal is to press home the message that the best way to win justice at work and in the community is through trade union organisation.” – TUCJCC.
This neatly sums up the role of a trade union council. However it seems, that not for the first time, New Labour appears slightly out of touch with reality. In an expansion of his concept of transforming the Labour Party from the mass party of the working class to the “party of business”, Tony Blair in a article in the latest of the TUC’s new Unions Today magazine instructed unions to obey his “new agenda” and stay out of politics. Unions, being “basically a sectional interest” and should stick to “increasing people’s skills”. He then turned his attention to trades unions’ role at Labour’s annual conference which he admitted was working at present but “the only thing that would ever put it at risk is if unions started taking individual interests onto the floor of conference”. This is presumably New Labourspeak for so long as they don’t vote against me.
Perhaps when the likes of Sainsbury’s, Monsato, Shell, Bacardi and Coca-Cola get out of politics it might be time for trade unions to re-examine our role. But while the anti-union laws are still in place and until we achieve socialism, there will still be a little bit more work to do than just increase people’s skills.
Trade unions have been involved in political struggle throughout the century and have changed for the better, through collective action, the lives of working people in Britain. Such statements from the Prime Minister demonstrate a deep-seated disdain for the seven million British trade unionists. Members of unions whose democratic structures are something that many Labour Party members can only dream of.
The notion that the way forward is employer-union partnerships is not borne out by the facts. High profile partnership deals have not reaped rewards for workers. Blue Circle for instance, after promising job security under it’s partnership deal; declared that ‘job security’ did not apply when they decided to close a plant!
The many sacked strikers whom we have hosted and worked with would not sing the praises of partnership
24 trade union branches affiliated to us; (the same as last year) with 16,150 affiliated members, (slightly up on last year), AEEU(Bilston 0095), ASLEF, CWU(W.Midlands), CYWU, FBU, GMB, GPMU(W.Midlands), ISTC(Monmore Tubes), MSF Craft 13/D, MSF 0558, NASUWT, NATFHE(Bilston), NATFHE(Wulfrun), NLBD, NULMW, NUT, POA, RMT, TGWU 5/748, TGWU 5/836, UNISON General, UNISON Health, UNISON Healthcare, USDAW.
Meetings averaged 15.1, down on last year but still up on previous years. There is still a huge potential for increasing our affiliation base particularly within the TGWU. Delegates can assist by contacting unaffiliated branches with which they have dealings .
This year we affiliated to: ACTSA, Campaign for Labour Party Democracy, CODIR, Cuba Solidarity Campaign, Liberty, National Abortion Campaign, TU CND, Walsall WEA, W.Mids County Association of Trade Union Councils, W.Mids Low Pay Unit, W’ton Race Equality Council.
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 May Day Committee, W’ton MBC Education and Voluntary Sector sub-committees, W’ton Youth Affairs Accreditation Panel and the West Midlands CATUC.
Motions – maybe a lack of activity in branches or perhaps oversight or ignorance of us, but almost no motions were submitted by branches. In order to promote union campaigns, encourage debate and direct the work of the trades council, branches should certainly consider submitting resolutions for debate at delegate meetings.
Workers’ Memorial Day, April 28th – More than 20 people representing various organisations made it the largest ever attendance and half a dozen wreaths were laid. A service was held by the Industrial Chaplain and several speeches were made highlighting the 600,000 people suffering in Britain from manual handling injuries. We had some local newspaper and radio coverage, but an article in the FBU’s journal received responses from as far away as Canada. April 28th is a Friday this year.
May Day – held at Dunstall Community Centre, it has continued to grow slowly and the 5th year was the biggest ever with 100 people. The stalls worked well again but wider publicity is still the key, along with more direct organisational involvement from the Labour Party.
Increased activity by Trades Union Councils around Britain meant that there were more celebrations than for several years despite calls for an exodus to the London march.
“I was impressed with the range of speakers, entertainment and exhibitors at your May Day. It was a very comradely and well supported event.”
Christine Wood Secretary Midlands TUC (sponsors).
The 1st May falls on a the bank holiday Monday this year.
It cannot further expand however without the commitment of a wider group of people in the organisation.
The first planning meeting is: Monday 17th Jan 7-30pm at 139 Leicester Street.
Lufthansa Skychefs – DON’T FLY LUFTHANSA!
We hosted a delegation from the 270 sacked Skychefs strikers and liased with the TGWU to organise factory visits for them. The trip was a great success and has inspired the strikers to take up offers to speak at other meetings, something that had been happening very little. Over £1100 was raised by ourselves and from our affiliates.
We took a minibus to the TGWU organised 600-strong solidarity conference in Hammersmith. We then went onto Heathrow to a mass picket of several hundred and were well received.
Two women strikers have accepted an invitation on the weekend of 5/6 February to come to Wolverhampton and will be visiting the local temples to gain support. If you know of a meeting that weekend at which it might be possible to invite them to speak, contact Kamaljit 710801(work).
Peace Work- we organised a meeting of over 40 people on Iraq; they heard of the atrocities that the sanctions are causing and the official government line that Britain had no get-out policy.
We took part in a local protest against the bombing of Yugoslavia.
An Anti-Union Laws meeting which we co-sponsored with MSF Craft had over 80 in attendance despite Scargill not being able to attend due an NUM strike ballot. There is an agreement with the branch to repeat such a meeting this year.
The lock-outs at Tameside and Critchley Labels which we had given support to, were both settled
Campaign for a Living Wage – we helped in the co-ordination of a coach to Newcastle to a 10,000+ demo and concert, backed by all the main unions to campaign for a decent living wage. The trades council proves invaluable at such times to link-up trades union branches not strong enough to organise coaches on their own. The government’s recent response has been to cut the minimum wage in real terms. The West Midlands has the 3rd highest complaint level for failure to pay minimum wage. Complaints were mainly from hospitality industries, clothing firms, construction, retail and hairdressing.
Worcester TUC anti-fascist demo – we appeared on TV and local radio when we took the banner to a successful demo against the NF.
Banner Theatre’s NHS Free For All cabaret was an excellent performance but with a very poor attendance. Money was lost but worse still, it throws into jeopardy any future attempts by us to promote political culture in Wolverhampton.
Speakers addressed council on a variety of issues over the year: South Africa, Fairness at Work, REC, Millennium grants, Featherstone uranium fire, War in Yugoslavia, Future of WMBC, NHS, FBU’s campaign, Skychefs strike and Future of our TUC. There were reports from the TUC, Women’s TUC, Black Workers TUC and Trades Councils’ conferences as well as regular workplace reports.
Morning Star – half of the festival money went on adverts for our meetings and donations to the Morning Star. This year is the 70th anniversary of the labour movement’s newspaper.
We have increased participation in recent years and are thriving in comparison to the other trades union councils in the West Midlands, however our limited successes do not constitute laurels that we can rest on; twenty years ago we were getting a hundred delegates to meetings. We therefore took some time out at the end of this century to review our work and plan how we are to remain active and relevant and avoid sliding into the general malaise of the union movement.
Too much organisation is falling onto the secretary and this is unsustainable. Even when work outside the delegate meetings seems to work it is often due to the involvement of non-delegate trade unionists. Although widened involvement is of course one of the aims of our work, it is usually only due to the work of one or two delegates and not due to collective work. Quarterly meetings were rejected and some new ideas were generated with volunteers to match! A questionnaire is currently being circulated which, if they are returned could help us gauge the usefulness of our current work and how to increase participation.
Our work is guided by the TUC’s Joint Consultative Committee which has identified priority themes to be “Rights, Recruitment and Representation” for the coming year. Their programme of work for trades union councils, identifies that “trade unions have entered a new era. For the first time in many years, membership is growing. Workers are experiencing a revived confidence to tackle unfairness, and are looking for ways to transform that aim into practical results.” They identify key areas for trades council activity, some which we already attempt broadly in line with their suggestions i.e. promoting trade unionism and trades union council organisation. Anti-fascism and countering racism will always remain a top priority, but we are not presently in a position to take on a major campaign unless we are forced to counteract activity at which point we will re-prioritise. In the other areas of health and safety, promoting rights at work, and monitoring and supporting public services we do little work, but without an influx of activity it would be foolhardy to spread ourselves still more thinly.
One attempt was made at general union recruitment which was unsuccessful yet useful. We now know what to do, have the materials and just need the volunteers!
We constantly seek increased trade union affiliation to ourselves, but a more concerted attempt, drawing up a target list and by making direct approaches since we have exhausted our speculative efforts.
Music Festivals – teams of young trades unionists from UNISON, MSF and NLBD raised £1740 at Homelands, Glastonbury and Leeds festivals, in addition to £560 at the previous new year’s eve.
Leaflets will be supplied in late March to branches for this year’s festivals. Widespread circulation could gain involvement from your younger members and as has happened this year, acted as a recruitment tool.
Cuba – Salud! the trade union ship for Cuba was the largest ever solidarity donation from Britain to Cuba. Computers, wheelchairs and stationary were collected by our TUC. Cuba Solidarity’s container will again be sent this year, so if branches have any office equipment spare then set it aside ready.
Grants – we failed to seek a millennium grant. We are presumably too late now, although the idea of a sculpture to replace the Workers’ Memorial Day tree (which has again been destroyed) was proposed.
Diversity 2000 – a number of organisations including ourselves and headed by the Race Equality Council will be involved in Diversity 2000, a celebration of Wolverhampton’s multiculturalism, focused around a carnival and the Wolverhampton Town Show on July 8th.
Thanks to the executive committee for it’s work and to UNISON General for copying the mailings.
Nick Kelleher, outgoing Secretary, 9 Jan 2000