WB&DTUC Secretary’s Report of Work year ending 1997
This time last year we were looking forward to the end of 18 years of viscous Tory government. A Tory government that took us to war twice, introduced some of the most draconian anti-trade union legislation in the world, decimated manufacturing industry and sold the industrial assets of the British people for a song, or more accurately, I should say, for some votes. They gave us the Poll Tax and us 14 million non-payers threw it back at them. Slowly but surely they began the dismantlement of the welfare state, something fought for by our class and which was born out of the devastation of war and afforded by previous governments who had less money but better priorities. They reversed the post war european trend of a narrowing gap between the rich and poor, re-introduced massive unemployment (and then got rid of it by counting it in a different way) and working class life expectancy has fallen in many parts of a country which owes its wealth to the continued exploitation of those people and of poorer countries all over the world.
After 8 months what have we got? The same anti-trade union legislation, student tuition fees, cuts in lone parent benefits and threats on the disabled, cutting of one of the lowest corporation taxes in europe and the refusal to tax the rich’s incomes, continued decline of the industrial base and 521 jobs threatened by Wolverhampton’s Labour Council! Not quite what we expected or deserve.
It’s not all doom and gloom – we now have a government that should represent our class not theirs, one in which there are some principled MPs who take their views from those whom they represent and don’t blindly follow a centralist dicktat.
Scottish and Welsh people will be able to start to take control of their own lives for the first time in centuries. Foreign policy has improved. I’m sorry, I can’t think of much else! We do have lots of promises though – well not to many if you saw the manifesto!
We put in our submission to the Low Pay Commission and if a minimum wage of anything less than half male median earnings is suggested then we will have to campaign for it. The forthcoming white paper on trade union legislation will need our input.
When it comes down to it, our destiny is up to us. What gains the British people have made over the last few centuries weren’t handed over on a silver platter, they were won by struggle and often the struggle of trades unionists.
Governments need pressure to change and that is what we must give New Labour.
What has the Trades Union Council been doing?
As planned in last year’s report, we launched an affiliation campaign. This resulted in 27 branches affiliating, seven more than last year and more than the few years preceding despite branch mergers. We had 13,478 affiliated members, 1,000 down on 1996 (and 3,000 down on 1995). This probably due to a recalculation of UNISON membership, which has now increased again by 2,000 for 1998.
Most encouraging however has been the much increased participation, with an average attendance this year of 13.1 (1996:10.6, 1995:8.4, 1994:10.5
Wolverhampton Council Anti-Cuts Campaign
Trades Council took to the streets in the latter part of the year to petition against the proposed cuts. In the end over 10,000 signatures were collected though most of the credit goes to the workers from the elderly people’s homes under threat.
A Joint Union Liaison Committee arose from discussion at a delegate meeting and this has been negotiating directly with council leaders.
The campaign is far from over yet though and unless the Labour government is feeling a little less New next year, there promises to be a similar battle.
Workers’ Memorial Day April 28th
It was much better attended this year. Wreaths were laid at the Memorial Tree and the Industrial Chaplain held a short service. Dennis Turner and representatives from the other MPs and MEP were present alongside trades council delegates and the Workers’ Relatives Support Group. The press again chose to ignore it.
We got the council to repair the vandalised plaque.
The 1st May celebration of International Workers’ Day is now established as an annual event in Wolverhampton, with trades council delegates instrumental in it’s organisation. The decision to continue marking the day itself proved correct despite the minor inconvenience of an election! Once again it attracted a good turnout.
A laminated display of the History of May Day was produced and was up in the Civic Centre for a week.
Euro March for Jobs and Welfare
When unemployed marchers passed though Wolves, we marched with them into and out of the town and they were put up for the night by Scotlands Community Centre. A public meeting was held as well as a Civic Reception.
26 months after being sacked morale is still high since their dispute is being sustained by trade unionists and working class people all over the world. They overwhelmingly rejected cash for their jobs as they are not prepared to sell them at any price. In their words “we remember the sacrifice of our forefathers who fought for their dignity in the docks in a harsh and brutal environment. We also know that workers in many other industries face short-term contracts, casual labour, deregulation and privatisation. That is one reason why we are so determined to succeed.”
Birmingham TUC again organised several tours of the dockers in this region so we arranged a number of local meetings which resulted in donations in excess of £1,500. Particular mention should go to MSF 0558, FBU, NATFHE(Bilston) and UNISON General for their solidarity. FBU delegates are now regularly visiting the picket line and are able to take messages and donations with them. Dudley Dockers’ Group is very active and inspired us to launch a symbolic petition of 500 signatures. Although these are starting to trickle in, we still need 400 by the 20th Feb.
We will continue with support and assistance for as long as it is needed and we would like to encourage all affiliated branches to do likewise.
Send cheques to “Merseyside Port Shop Stewards Committee” c/o 19 Scorton St, Liverpool L6 4AS.
Finally trade union rights were won back after 13 years of campaigning, albeit with a no-strike deal struck with the employer. Delegates took the banner to Cheltenham and the last march really was held this time, and then another was held to celebrate the victory!
The Holden’s Bottling Plant TGWU dispute lasted from August 1996 to January 1997. We helped make the dispute and the strikers’ call for a boycott of Holden’s pubs and products become widely known in the movement as well as giving much physical assistance.
Ken Purchase MP became involved as a mediator and a financial settlement was eventually agreed by the strikers. Although it was by no means as successful as we had wished, in the end it was out of our hands and what they got was something that the campaign had won. The TGWU praised our support as being crucial.
1997 Year of Anti-Racism
We staged Banner Theatre’s anti-racist play Redemption Song last April in conjunction with Heath Town Community Association. It was very successful with an audience of around 100. We roughly broke even for a change.
However two of Banner’s actors are facing deportation to Sierra Leone where they could face death due to their trade union activities. We have been assisting the Firmin Gnali Support Group and more activity is expected over the next few months.
The campaign wants invites from branches for Firmin and Leon to speak, and is of course also in need of money for them. Dave Rogers 0121 356 1390
Bernard Manning – we helped organise a demonstration at short notice at the Molineux against the appearance of the racist Bernard Manning. Over 100 took part and we got extensive coverage on TV, radio and in the press.
Respect Festival – in conjunction with the CYWU and UNISON, we took two coaches down to London to this year’s TUC anti-racist festival. It is hoped to repeat this in the coming year.
The CATUC’s proposed anti-racist conference never materialised as didn’t many of our planned events due to the lack of expected EU money.
Representatives of the 41 sacked MSF members visited us a couple of times and funds were raised. Coventry TUC helped run their campaign and a settlement was eventually reached and some jobs were offered back.
There has been a distinct lack of motions coming in from branches this year.
Motions calling for a ban on the sale of asbestos products and in support of Project Aerospace were passed and were then also carried by the County Association of TUCs. Incidentally our delegates are the best attendees of the West Midlands CATUC.
This year we affiliated to: Anti-Racist Alliance, Brazil Network, Walsall WEA, Cuba Solidarity, National Abortion Campaign, Campaign for Labour Party Democracy, CODIR, Public Health Alliance, W’ton Race Equality Council, W’ton Campaign Against Domestic Violence, TU CND, WM Low Pay Unit, Stop Child Labour.
Delegates or observers were sent to the National Trades Council Conference, Women’s TUC, Black Workers’ TUC and a TUC Recruitment and Organisation conference.
We plan to run a general union recruitment campaign over the coming year.
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 all minutes and the NUT and UNISON General for copying the mailings.
Nick Kelleher Secretary 9 Jan 1998