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From The Socialist newspaper, 12 July 2007

TGWU/Unite conference

Delegates cheer call for action on anti-trade union laws

The final Biennial Delegate Conference of the TGWU, taking place this year as a section of Unite, had the theme of a 'fight-back union'. Sadly, when it came to concrete questions on the industrial and political fronts, this slogan was shown to be merely a verbal one. Proposals to put words into actions were defeated, but not without strong support.

The key resolution of the week was on the anti-trade union laws. A resolution from 4/1 branch, called for: "A conference of rank-and-file trade union representatives such as shop stewards to discuss a strategy to resist the anti-trade union legislation and give full support to any TGWU member or fellow trade union threatened with legal action for resisting the legislation, for example, by refusing to issue 'repudiation letters' if their members take so-called 'unofficial' industrial action".

Kevin Parslow

This resolution was moved and seconded by Socialist Party members Rob Williams and myself.

Rob received a standing ovation and huge cheers for a highly-charged speech. But the General Executive Council (GEC) had decided to oppose the motion. Some members of the Broad Left spoke against it, saying we have to think with "our heads not our hearts" and other emotive but empty phrases.

Following the GEC's reply, general secretary Tony Woodley spoke for 20 minutes when he explained the reasons not to vote for it. He said the assets of the union would be put at risk, including the staff, the organising structure and all the work of the union.

Rob replied by explaining that the union's key assets were its members. They should be mobilised to fight off the attacks if the law was used against the union.

Despite all the pressure put on delegates, the resolution was only defeated by a two-to-one margin, showing that a section of delegates were prepared to vote for and organise a fight against the anti-union laws.

Throughout the week, we heard how the change in the Labour Party leadership was a chance for the trade unions to get their policies implemented by the 'new' New Labour government. Gordon Brown was 'our' leader; it was 'our' government.

The GEC's statement congratulated Brown on his appointment! He even turned up at the union's social to make a ten-minute speech before being whisked away, probably for private chats with union leaders.

But a number of delegates, including Socialist Party member Jim Horton, objected to this tone. He pointed out that Brown had been the architect of New Labour's economic policies under Blair and not much would change now with Sir Digby Jones and others in the government.

Jim called for the TGWU to disaffiliate from New Labour and help found a new party, as the unions did in the early part of the 20th century. Again, with the supporters of left Labour MP John McDonnell angry that the TGWU, a 'left-led' union, had supported Brown, not him, for the Labour leadership, the GEC statement was only carried by two to one.

Socialist Party members made important contributions in other debates; Rob called for the nationalisation of the car industry to prevent redundancies. A resolution defending democratic rights in Sri Lanka was carried with the support of the GEC.

Perhaps with Brown only just in office, some delegates were prepared to give New Labour one last chance. This option will not be available in 2009, when the first full conference of Unite takes place. Then Socialist Party members and others will be even more determined to take Unite along the path towards being a genuinely 'fighting back' union.

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In The Socialist 12 July 2007:

Fighting low pay, defending jobs and services

Victory to the postal workers

Public support for Post Office counters strike

National Shop Stewards Network

Bob Crow calls for new party

National Shop Stewards Network conference: A good starting point for strengthening struggle

Socialist Party workplace news

TGWU/Unite conference delegates cheer call for action on anti-trade union laws

Urgent appeal for solidarity from contract workers at the Gualberto Villarroel oil refinery in Cochabamba, Bolivia

Socialist Party NHS campaign

Action needed to save the NHS

Campaign saves Swansea hospital unit

Sussex must fight back against NHS cuts

Durham health cuts show need for new workers' party


Wales Assembly coalition no answer to workers' problems

Cardiff: Fight school cuts and closures

Tales from the council chambers

Nurseries campaign embarrasses councillors

Southall Labour councillors cross floor

Council workers make a stand

Marxist analysis: history

The 'July days' - rich in lessons for today

Socialist Party news and analysis

London Underground derailment: Kick out dangerous profiteers!

Kwik Save workers betrayed by bosses and union

Socialist Party events

Socialist Party Youth and students

Socialist Party review

Political discourse can swing!

International socialist news and analysis

South Africa: union leaders call off biggest-ever strike

Slave-labour scandal in China


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