Photo: Scott Jones
Photo: Scott Jones

Socialist Party members and conference delegates

“We have a real fight on our hands,” said a delegate to the Trades Councils conference in London on 1-2 June. She wasn’t referring to getting rid of the Tories in the general election, but to the actions of Labour-led Barnet council in taking on agency workers to break the strike of the Unison mental health workers. This comment was made as a warning to delegates as to how a future Labour government might act.

Trades councils are the local organisations of the Trades Union Congress (TUC) and have the power to bring together unions and campaign with them on all issues. However, this year’s conference was attended by only 35 trades councils. This isn’t a reflection of the increased activity many trades councils have been conducting since the recent strike wave broke out, but rather the costs to them of sending a delegate to stay in London for a weekend. Delegates voted overwhelmingly for conference to be rotated around the England and Wales. We also heard that some delegates were excluded due to bureacratic confusion.

Paul Nowak, general secretary of the TUC, addressed the conference. He outlined the stark class inequalities in Britain today and promised to defend any worker attacked by the minimum service levels legislation. But he wanted to ensure that the likely Labour government would deliver its ‘New Deal for Workers’, a proposal seemingly being watered down daily, in its first 100 days. A delegate from Berkshire, expelled from Labour, said all he expected was “small change”.

Katrine Williams from Cardiff Trades Council, and a member of the Trades Union Councils Joint Consultative Committee (TUCJCC), asked Nowak whether the TUC would challenge Labour’s first pledge: “Sticking to tough spending rules in order to deliver economic stability”. Workers cannot wait 100 days to sort out pay, jobs and staffing levels in our public services, and what is the TUC going to do to fight for our services from day one of a Labour government?

Motions were passed demanding more funding for health services and local authorities. Conference demanded all anti-trade union laws be scrapped. A motion from Waltham Forest was carried calling on the TUCJCC to build a campaign to fight all cuts in local councils and to demand needs budgets. Councils should use reserves and fight for funding.

Overall, delegates were pleased the Tories seem to be on their way out, but are sceptical that Labour will make much difference. The TUC and TUCJCC must prime trades councils for struggles if Labour doesn’t deliver, based around the policies agreed at the conference.