The Socialist 2 September 2008 |
Join the Socialist
Trades Union Congress: Building a real leadership against the bosses
Unison Local Government strike 16-17 July in London, photo Paul Mattsson
This year's Trades Union Congress promises to be more interesting than in previous years. The main resolutions reflect issues such as the battle in the public sector over the government's pay restraint policies and job losses, which are worsening as the economy slows under the impact of the global credit crisis.
The increasing authoritarianism of the government and its attacks on civil liberties will be an important debate.
Important issues facing women workers everywhere will also be discussed, including the 'right to choose', as abortion rights for women come under renewed attack.
On the issue of the anti-union laws, Unite points out that it is getting more difficult to defend members in struggle against the bosses.
Its resolution points out that increasingly: "workers whose terms and conditions and job security are undermined following takeover by private equity firms are offered no protection under existing TUPE provisions".
PCS is calling for public-sector trade union unity, photo Paul Mattsson
The bakers' union BFAWU, in the same section of the agenda, gives an example of diminishing workers' rights. 600 workers in Lyndale foods in Lancashire in June this year found themselves marched off the premises by security guards "without a minute's warning" when the company went into insolvency but "restarted trading with the same directors" on the same day "passing redundancies and pension losses onto the taxpayer".
Unite and the RMT both refer in their resolutions to recent judgments of the European Court of Justice which "are a fundamental attack on collective bargaining and the right to strike". The RMT refers to them as "the most serious attacks on trade unions since Taff Vale".
What they are talking about here are the decisions by the court to back the right of employers to pay lower wages to "posted workers". These are workers who are sent to work temporarily in another EU state.
The employers are increasingly using these methods to drive down wages across the EU but now the courts are backing them, by saying it is illegal for trade unions to take industrial action against this.
The RMT says that these "unelected judges are using the 'free movement' provisions (of the EU) and have disembowelled the concept of a Social Europe and undermined the ability of unions to protect workers".
It calls on the TUC to organise a day of action, demonstration and lobby of parliament on the issue and a European-wide day of action.
In the same section the CWU has put down an amendment calling for the dropping of the requirement under the union recognition laws which calls for "a minimum level of participation in a bargaining unit". This is in reference to the employers increasingly using this to prevent union recognition.
The POA, reflecting the way it has been disgracefully treated by the Labour government, which has once again outlawed prison officers' right to strike, calls on the TUC "to organise a series of one-day general strikes" to force the government to "remove the anti-union legislation from statute".
In the economic section, Unite points out the impact of rising prices in energy and their effect on living standards.
It calls for a windfall tax on the energy companies and increased regulation of financial institutions.
The RMT, in an amendment to this, calls for public ownership of "utilities and services, including water, gas, electricity, coal, oil and the transport sector and a massive extension of council housing".
It remains to be seen what will happen in the compositing process but this promises to be a very interesting debate.
The pro-capitalist wing of the unions will no doubt seek to take out all of the RMT measures. But the left side of the debate puts back on the trade union movement agenda at least the beginnings of the case for the socialist transformation of society.
The call for a new workers' party, and the central role the unions should be playing in that, if the above sort of programme has any chance of being implemented, will hopefully be heard from the rostrum during this debate.
One debate that promises to raise the temperature will be on the issue of public-sector pay.
Unison's resolution calls for the TUC to coordinate the public-sector unions on pay and supports those unions taking action.
The PCS takes this further when it calls on the TUC to "coordinate industrial action amongst those unions in dispute over pay".
This has been the position of the PCS for some time. In effect the PCS is saying, with a note of exasperation, to all the other public-sector union leaders - get your act together and let's have unity in action.
The RMT has a resolution calling for the TUC to give trades councils more rights, including the right for the annual trades council conference to send one resolution to the British TUC conference, as the Scottish and Wales TUC do at the moment.
The TUC conference will be an important event, enabling an alternative voice to be heard. A voice that calls for real leadership against the bosses in defence of workers' rights and living standards, instead of the bland voice of the right wing that is desperate both to not embarrass the Labour government and to continue its cosy relationship with the boss class.