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TGWU conference: Building a fighting union
THE TGWU'S CONFERENCE will begin this year with a rally for activists and delegates. There will also be a tribute to Jack Jones, who was TGWU general secretary for nine years in the 1970s and who has never forgotten where he came from and who he's fighting for.
The union's membership campaign has been successful. But the 'Winning and Growing' campaign is also about building the TGWU through the shop stewards' structures. This is the heart of the union and where the TGWU can become a member-led union once more.
The issue that will undoubtedly dominate the conference is the possible merger with Amicus and the GMB, which is being enthusiastically promoted by the leadership.
We are told a merged union will be a force to be reckoned with within the movement, encouraging more workers to join as they regain their industrial muscle. But the real test will be the determination to struggle, which has to be backed by the leadership. We also must demand a democratic constitution with lay member control and the retention of our trade groups.
Inter-union rivalry should be broken down by a merger. But that will need co-ordinated action, recognising that a united workforce is a winning workforce.
Trade union unity was demonstrated earlier this year with the magnificent public sector battle over the government's proposed pension cuts. The government backed down because they couldn't stomach the prospect of over a million workers on strike prior to a general election.
This is not the end of the battle. The government will definitely be back for more but the unity amongst the public-sector unions showed what could be achieved.
Fighting job losses
Over a million manufacturing jobs have been lost since Labour came to power, which includes the closure of Rover. Why was there not a call for an occupation of the plant or for it to be nationalised? Blair said nothing could be done but even Tory Prime Minister, Ted Heath was forced to nationalise when Rolls Royce was in crisis in 1971.
Dave Nellist, Coventry Socialist Party councillor, was the only one who called on the workers to occupy the plant. Why was that not the message from the TGWU leadership? Was it because the closure happened during the general election?
What was more important - to save our members' jobs or to re-elect the anti-working class party that has the audacity to call itself Labour? That struggle would have been much more powerful if we had taken on the government like the public-sector workers.
Let us build a fighting union that is there for its membership, including taking on the government. New Labour has not delivered on the Warwick Agreement. We have to recognise that any gains will only be made when the unions have a co-ordinated campaign. Action speaks louder than words.
In The Socialist 7 July 2005: