The Socialist 6 September 2002 |
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TUC conference: Critical Time For Trade Unionists
THIS YEAR'S TUC conference meets in Blackpool at a decisive juncture for Britain's trade union movement.
Bill Mullins, Socialist Party industrial organiser
Despite all New Labour's spin, trade unionists know that the economy is threatened with a major recession. Tens of thousands of manufacturing jobs are disappearing as multinationals set up abroad in low-wage economies.
Over 400,000 jobs have gone in the last four years - the TUC has talked about 15,000 manufacturing jobs being lost every month. Right-wing union leaders like Ken Jackson have paid the price for doing nothing for their members as the job slaughter continued unabated.
A new mood of militancy has begun to grip working people as they watch the greedy bosses pay themselves more. The average chief executive gets nearly £1 million a year in salary, bonus and share options, even where the company has declared a fall in profits. The same bosses then oppose all attempts by ordinary workers to improve their own pay and conditions.
CBI director-general Digby Jones is already complaining that business fears over industrial action are at their highest for 15 years. "The boardrooms of Detroit, Tokyo, Seoul and Johannesburg will be watching [the TUC] next week and hoping for some reassurance that Britain is not going back to the bad old days," he whined to The Times.
The government seems intent on taking on the unions, particularly in the public sector, whilst their promises to raise public sector spending follow five years of funding starvation.
Education Minister Estelle Morris demands that teachers "reform their working practices" before any money is spent on education. She has said this includes the involvement of more private companies in schools.
The TUC agenda partly reflects the new situation. Resolutions from UNISON and the GMB both call for an end to the Private Finance Initiative and privatisation. UNISON calls for an investigation into the four big accountancy companies that made millions out of the privatisation process. It calls for a special public services conference before the next budget in 2003.
Both unions highlight New Labour's broken promise to end the two-tier pay system prevalent in the privatised parts of the public sector. But it was union leaders like Dave Prentis of UNISON who argued that staying with Labour would directly benefit his members.
The Sodexho health workers in Scotland have shown the only thing that the bosses understand is strike action. They forced their bosses to end this pay discrimination between former public sector workers and new employees.
On public sector pay the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) - itself preparing for all-out strike action - serves notice that the government needs to pay decent wages for the public services.
Whilst there is no resolution on the minimum wage, the TUC is reported to be producing a statement calling for it to be set at £5.30, half male median earnings. They say wage negotiators should set a target of £6 per hour minimum.
But to make this a reality the unions would have to launch a campaign, including demonstrations and industrial action. This is not mentioned in the statement.
On the campaign against racism, UNISON, in line with its conference position, calls for the TUC to organise a national demo in the Greater Manchester area to highlight opposition to the election of the BNP councillors in Burnley.
A lot of unions have put in resolutions on the issue of rights at work but the RMT is calling for the repeal of all anti-union laws. Blair has boasted of these laws and it will take an almighty campaign for this to happen. The RMT also calls for support for a rally and demonstration against the anti-union laws.
They also call for opposition to the privatisation of the London Underground and renationalisation of the railways.
Most unions will support the call for opposition to the involvement in any attack on Iraq. The rail union TSSA has tabled an amendment along those lines. (see page 2)
Socialist Party TUC conference meeting. Tuesday 10 September 6.30pm. Ruskin Hotel, Albert Road, Blackpool. Speakers: Janice Godrich, president of the PCS (personal capacity) and Bill Mullins, Socialist Party industrial organiser.