Link to this page: https://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/315/11624
TUC Congress 2003
THIS YEAR'S TUC was reported by the press as much more to the left than ever before. The tabloids in particular were frothing at the mouth about the unions going back to the "bad old days of the 1970s".
Bill Mullins, Socialist Party Industrial Organiser
Tony Blair, in the speech he never gave to the TUC dinner, said that the unions were living in cloud-cuckoo land to think there would ever be left Labour governments again. (Many will ask when there ever was a genuine left Labour government anyway.)
TGWU general secretary Tony Woodley called at a fringe meeting for Blair to resign as Prime Minister over his role in the war on Iraq.
Gordon Brown, who is supposed to be the acceptable face of New Labour, was met with hostility from the conference and mostly indifference to what he had to say.
The TUC spin doctors did their best to give the impression to the press that he was welcomed enthusiastically but this did not wash with anybody that was there.
But this hostility and the fringe meeting fury was rarely reflected in the conference debates.
In the long traditions of the TUC, resolutions which proposed action or were seen as contentious were composited out of existence (i.e. merged with other resolutions.)
The one exception was the amendment on pensions from the Public and Commercial Services union (PCS).
In the days leading up to conference the TUC leaders had attempted to persuade the PCS to drop their calls for a national demonstration on pensions to be followed by a national day of action, including industrial action.
In the end the PCS stood firm and the amendment, slightly altered, was included in the composite that was overwhelmingly carried.
The importance of this cannot be overstated. The public service unions in particular are committed now to a demonstration and probably a day of action.
Pensions are the deferred wages of working people. The great pensions robbery by the private sector bosses is well-documented.
Now the government are also making noises about reducing the pensions deficit by making public sector workers work longer before they can retire.
It was this issue that has led to the big demonstrations and strikes in Europe recently.
PCS president and Scottish CWI member, Janice Godrich, spoke on privatisation and the threat by the government to end national pay bargaining in the public sector.
She said that the new national public sector forum and the bosses in general must be told by the unions that public services should be run in the public interest and not the narrow self-interest of the profiteers.
She went on to describe the damage that had been wreaked on the civil service by privatisation already. She pointed out that the government plans the mass privatisation of support work in the Ministry of Defence, and the privatisation of the records kept by the Department of Work and Pensions.
The PCS demanded, in an amendment, for a conference of union executives to plan a real campaign against privatisation, but this was dropped in favour of the composite.
But it was the debate on the occupation of Iraq and the crisis in the Middle East which for a brief moment opened up the hidden differences in the TUC.
Rogers Lyons, joint general secretary of Amicus, moved support for the general council position and statement that called for UN troops to be sent to Iraq.
But as Bob Crow reminded the delegates it was Roger Lyons who last year accused those like Bob, who opposed the war preparations, as speaking for the "Baghdad TUC".
Crow riposted that the right-wing's position last year was more like the view of the 'Washington and Camp David trades council'.
The teachers union NASUWT moved a composite welcoming the recent agreement on "modernisation of the teacher workforce". No opposition was heard to this on the conference floor even though the NUT, the biggest teachers union, opposed the agreement.
The left in the NUT correctly describes the deal as "getting teachers on the cheap" whereby some of the teachers' workloads will be handed to classroom support staff (if it hasn't already) and the government has taken advantage of it by changing the law to allow unqualified staff to take classes.
Astoundingly the NUT delegation voted by 14 to 12 not to speak in the debate (the right being in the majority) and only gave out their leaflet against the motion after the debate was over and the vote had been taken.
Socialist party members on the PCS delegation asked the NUT to make a formal approach to them so they could reconvene and change their position and vote against the motion. ( The PCS NEC had agreed to support the motion the week before "on the nod" because they had heard no arguments against it).
Over 30 attended the Socialist Party fringe meeting and £650 was collected for the Fighting fund.
In The Socialist 20 September 2003: