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TUC - fine speeches but workers need action
TUC CONGRESS was dominated by the trade union leaders' desire not to be seen to disagree in public. Despite many fine speeches, the conference voted unanimously for most of the resolutions. For instance, the UNISON delegation voted to support 89 out of the 90 of them at their pre-conference meeting.
Bill Mullins, Socialist Party trade union organiser
But this unanimity was a thin veneer covering deep differences just underneath the surface.
The leadership, particularly TUC general secretary Brendan Barber, continues to push 'partnership' with the bosses. But the debates on key issues like pensions and job losses in the civil service brought the deep divisions between the government, the bosses and the trade unions to the surface.
Dave Prentis, UNISON general secretary, promised the government that UNISON will take strike action to defend pensions. He revealed that the last Tory government had robbed 25% from the local government pension fund to finance the introduction of the poll tax. He emphasised that there was a duty to: "Defend present and future members of the schemes".
Civil service union PCS president Janice Godrich, seconding the main pensions composite, emphasised the importance of the unions remaining united in the face of the government attacks: "Only united action will see off this threat", she said
Earlier the former CBI chairman Adair Turner, who is drawing up recommendations for the government on the future of pensions, had tried to justify why pensions should be cut.
Socialist Party member Linda Taaffe, a member of the National Union of Teachers national executive, demanded that instead of cutting pension rights the government should cut the tax avoidance scams of the super rich amounting to £100 billion a year. She exposed the scandal that the European average of GDP spent on pensions is 10% but the figure for the UK is only 5.4%.
Adair's reply was that this was "outside his remit".
Alan Johnson, the minister responsible for negotiating with the unions on pensions and a former general secretary of the postal workers' union, lectured the congress on why it should accept the worsening of pensions benefits: "I want to change the retiring at 60 ethos" he said as if it was some sort of crime. "Everybody's living longer and therefore you should work longer" was his theme.
But Brian Caton, the general secretary of the prison officers' union (POA), demolished Johnson's arguments when he said that the average life expectancy for a retired prison officer was no more than 18 months. "We will be dropping dead at work, so that will save the government a lot of money on pensions, according to this logic" said Brian.
poacher turned gamekeeper Alan Johnson stunned delegates on the anti-trade union laws. He said that the demand of unions for the right to take solidarity action was beyond the pale.
"You abandoned your preference for legal immunities over basic rights for all workers in the 1980s," he said.
One delegate responded from the rostrum: "I was around in the 1980s but I don't remember giving up any rights. They were taken away from us by Thatcher!"
The contradictions between words and actions were shown in the general council elections. Bob Crow, the rail workers' leader, whose union is one of the few which grew last year, was removed from the general council. Matt Wrack, the new left leader of the Fire Brigades Union, also failed to get elected.
Bob Crow's stance as someone who fights the bosses and doesn't cosy up to them isn't supported by the majority of union leaders. But the majority of workers don't support the class-collaborationist tendencies of the majority of most of the TUC leadership.
The TUC does not represent the aspirations of most of the seven million union members. Change will come via a movement from below, based on a fighting democratic programme that takes on the bosses rather than jumping into bed with them.
In The Socialist 22 September 2005: