Link to this page: http://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/453/5437
Workers yearn for fighting leadership
THE ANNUAL conference of the British TUC, starting on 11 September, promises to be almost as irrelevant, with a few notable exceptions, to the lives of working people as many of the past conferences have unfortunately proved to be.
Those exceptions come from left unions like the civil service union PCS and the rail union RMT, who call for the TUC to organise action in defence of their members and the wider working class.
For example, the RMT calls for the TUC to organise a national demo - separate from the traditional May Day demo - in support of a trade union freedom bill due to be introduced in parliament.
The union makes the point that the TUC conference last year agreed to support the bill in its proposals for: "better protection for striking workers, fairer industrial action ballots and allowing supportive action in certain circumstances".
Not, as you might agree, hugely outrageous demands, but the RMT wants to know when the TUC is going to put these decisions into action. That includes a promised lobby of parliament as well as the demo.
Similarly the PCS calls for: "a national day of action against the privatisation of public services". The PCS, in a separate resolution, reminds the TUC that it was the unity in action of the majority of the public-sector unions that forced the government to step back from its attacks on the occupational pensions of millions of public-sector workers. The action won full protection to existing members in the pensions framework agreement in October last year.
But unfortunately that lesson seems to be completely lost on other unions. Even with the biggest ever crisis in the NHS and with thousands of jobs under threat, you would have to search the agenda with a magnifying glass to detect what the health unions are going to do about this.
Tens of thousands of people are marching in their communities - the biggest-ever demo in Cornwall's history took place on August Bank Holiday when 30,000 people marched through Hayle against the closure of the local hospital.
But UNISON, as the biggest health union puts a resolution (38) condemning the cuts but doesn't say what do about them. Instead, it is left to a right-wing union, Prospect which only has a few of its members in the NHS, to call in a separate resolution (39), for the TUC to organise a national demo in the spring of 2007.
The timidity of the right-wing union leaders is not an accident. It flows from their ideological support for the capitalist system which says that their job is to get what they can from the system only when it can "afford it." If it can't, then they act as the police over their own members, stopping action or more often ignoring demands to lead action.
In a pre-conference article in the Financial Times Brendan Barber, the TUC general secretary, spelt out the right-wing leadership's attitude to the process of globalisation that has resulted in the export of jobs from Britain and elsewhere to the far east.
Barber argues that the unions should not oppose globalisation. He calls that attitude: "stop the world I want to get off". Instead he says we should welcome it and try to control its affects.
He admits, for example, that it is easier for employers to get rid of British workers than elsewhere - one in six manufacturing jobs disappeared in the last four years, compared for example to Germany with 1 in 20 manufacturing jobs going. He uses this to call for a: "level playing field" and for similar employment protection to be given to British workers.
What he doesn't say is that the new German government under Angela Merkel, following Tony Blair's example, is launching a wholesale offensive against these protections.
Barber says that British workers need the same rights as other European workers, when all across Europe the bosses and their governments are busily carrying through vicious neo-liberal policies, attacking workers' rights.
In passing, he attacks those who oppose this process as old-fashioned Marxists who say: "you can't tame the excesses of capital". So his answer to the "excesses" is to look for regulation of capitalism.
But immediately he exposes the utopianism of this position when he quotes from a report that shows that ex-Rover workers, made redundant last year with the closure of Longbridge in Birmingham, earn £3,500 a year less on average than before. That's if they have got a job.
Amazingly, he says the way to rectify this is to call for an American proposal to be adopted whereby workers made redundant through job relocation as a result of globalisation should get 70% of their wages, either as a top-up if they end up with lower-paid jobs or directly from the state, as unemployment pay.
This is just another form of the state ie workers' taxes propping up greedy capitalist companies who play fast and loose with workers' lives.
But it isn't just on the industrial front that the unions are, in the main, refusing to face up to their responsibilities. It's on the political front as well.
The same issue of the Financial Times revealed that the unions continue to pour money into the Labour Party. Following the scandal of peerages for donations, which has led some of Labour's millionaire donors to run scared, the unions are now the main financial base of the party.
In the second quarter alone (April-June 2006) the unions donated £2.5 million to Labour's coffers, 74% of the total income of the party for that quarter.
The left union leaders like Tony Woodley are desperate to prop up the party. His union, TGWU, made two donations of over £250,000 in that quarter alone. But if you were to ask the average TGWU member if they thought this was good value for money they would overwhelmingly disagree.
The union leaders at this conference will do their best to pretend that sticking with Labour and Gordon Brown will be the best way forward. But we believe that millions of workers yearning for some leadership would not agree.
That is why at this conference the Campaign for a New Workers' Party will be holding a fringe meeting, where it will put clearly that the time is overripe for a clean break between the unions and Labour and they should launch a new trade union-based mass workers' party.
Campaign for a New Workers' Party TUC meeting
Wednesday 13 September 7pm
Speakers: Dave Nellist CNWP chair
Janice Godrich PCS president, personal capacity
At the Brighton Hotel, Kings Road, sea front. (Right out of conference centre, 200 metres).
In The Socialist 7 September 2006:
Socialist Party campaigns
War and terrorism
International socialist news and analysis
Socialist Party workplace news