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Public sector workers' anger gets a hearing
OUTSIDE THE TUC conference, a head of steam is building up amongst public-sector workers for action against this government. In a small way this found its way into the conference.
However, whilst conference applauded those preparing to take action - such as the NHS Logistics workers and PCS members - the resolutions sought to build broad alliances which avoid any specific commitment to effective action.
On the NHS, Dave Prentis, general secretary of UNISON, made a fiery speech condemning the government. However, nowhere did he say that the anger that is escalating daily would be pulled together immediately in the form of a national demonstration or action. Instead the TUC and UNISON are going to call a national demonstration in February, too late for many workers facing NHS cuts and closures now.
Mark Serwotka of civil service union PCS, announced that his union is prepared to call national action in the new year if the government does not conduct satisfactory negotiations on pay, job cuts and privatisation.
Speaking in the debate on public services, Mark pointed out the scandal of private consultants being paid £2.2 billion - consultants getting an average of £750 a day sitting opposite civil servants getting £120 a day for the same job.
Mark also catalogued how in the Department for Work and Pensions, 40,000 jobs had been lost and charities are being lined up to deliver employment programmes in a throw-back to the 1930s. On top of that, 150 employers a year are not being inspected for infringements of the national minimum wage because of job cuts.
Pressure was being put on the PCS by the TUC to drop the call for a national demonstration and day of action. The composite resolution calls for the unions to explore the possibility of a national demonstration and action. However Mark made it clear that the PCS was calling for a national demonstration and day of action and would be working towards it.
He said: "I believe a national demonstration and day of action would be fantastically popular and necessary if we mean what we say when we oppose privatisation."
He also said that if and when Tony Blair's farewell tour takes place, there should be demonstrators outside hospitals, schools, job centres, courts, ambulance stations - all saying 'no to privatisation' and 'yes to public services'.
He concluded: "Let's mobilise our members together across all sectors, in a united display of opposition to the theft of public services."
Speaking in the debate on pensions, Janice Godrich, PCS president, warned that the unions should not be scared into responses on the Turner Report that they might later regret. She said that the unions' response needed to raise aspirations, not lower them.
In the debate on organisation, Chris Baugh, assistant general secretary of PCS, talked about the need to build a new layer of activists from the ground up and to build a healthy new shop stewards' movement, particularly drawing on young workers involved in democratic youth structures in their union.
Outside the conference on the fringe, the debates were dominated by the Labour leadership crisis. Many union delegates felt that neither Blair nor Brown nor many of the other candidates would do anything to resolve the problems facing working people.
The union leaders called for a change in policy direction but after this TUC many workers will be saying that the TUC and the unions need a change of direction if they're going to be effective in making any government ministers sit up, regardless of who is prime minister.
In The Socialist 14 September 2006:
Socialist Party NHS campaign
Socialist Party campaigns
Socialist Party workplace news and analysis
International socialist news and analysis