Monday, August 29, 2011

Congress - Unity is Strength...

The final agenda for this year’s slimline TUC is available online and, as ever, it is a veritable cornucopia of worthy sentiment. Delegates should emerge from Congress House on Wednesday 14 September supportive of trade union rights, opposed to cuts in public services and unemployment and generally thinking much as they did when they ventured into the building on Monday 12 September (although I notice that the Professional Footballers’ Association want our movement to back a single “Great Britain” football team in the 2012 Olympics – better read commentators will be able to identify whether this puts them on the same side as Lenin or Luxemburg in relation to the national question…)

Of the half dozen motions submitted on the question of pensions, which dominated last year’s Congress, UNISON’s motion does at least call upon the General Council to “support and co-ordinate close collaboration between affiliates in defence of schemes.” It is however left to PCS to place before Congress an instruction to the General Council “to give full support to industrial action against pensions cuts, including action planned for this autumn, and maximise its co-ordination.”

The General Council are rightly proud of the massive demonstration held on 26 March, and therefore go on some length about it in their Annual Report. For those who hoped that 26 March would be the commencement rather than the culmination of the efforts of the TUC, the report makes less than encouraging reading. The General Council have issued a statement, on 27 July, which is an elegant description of the diversity of campaigning activity underway up and down the country, and a plea for funds from affiliates to do more to co-ordinate this.

However, the General Council statement of 27 July doesn’t mention coordinated industrial action as any part of our campaign of opposition to the Government, even though the Coalition’s determination to attack public service pensions provides an unprecedented opportunity for just such united action. The Report of the General Council does find room to mention that “on 30 June, four TUC unions – ATL, NUT, PCS and UCU – took industrial action in response to the Government’s proposed changes to public service pensions. The action gained widespread media coverage and reports suggested that up to 750,000 teachers and civil servants supported the action. The Government’s claims that changes were driven by the issue of ‘affordability’ were clearly exposed during the media coverage on the day.” Strangely the General Council claim no credit for having helped to co-ordinate this action, perhaps because they didn’t.

At any event, any reader of pages 83 to 85 of the General Council report will realise that the authors consider the negotiations which the General Council have been coordinating are worthy of far more attention, although whereas a single day of action by four smaller trade unions clearly achieved some progress it is difficult to see what progress has been made in these negotiations.

The General Council acknowledged in their statement on 27 July that our movement can take the leadership of the fight against the Government’s cuts, but it seems that when we have the opportunity to use our power as trade unionists to resist the Government on ground on which it might be defeated, our leaders are less than willing.

Unity is needed every bit as much on the picket line as on the Olympic football field...

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