Wednesday, August 29, 2012

General Council IV Part One

Reading the Report of the General Council to the Trades Union Congress (a link to which went up yesterday at is in some ways similar to archaeology.

Different Chapters exist in the report like different layers of rock and sediment. So this year's Chapter One (dealing with the "A Future that Works" campaign - is a recent addition, whereas Chapter Two (on Organising) reflects the trends and fashions of the past decade or so, and Chapter Three (Equal Rights) dates back several decades.

By the time you reach Chapter Four, by some way the longest in the report, you reach a part of the report (on Economic and Industrial Affairs) which feels like it must have been in General Council reports for the best part of a century. As it's a long chapter, and I don't want to over-excite readers, I'll blog about it in parts.

This chapter begins with an overview of the economy which is quite as dispiriting as anything earlier chapters have had to offer. The economy is 4% smaller than it was before the 2008 downturn and real wages have been falling for two years (at an annual rate of 3%). Private corporations are failing to invest and are instead hoarding cash.

The report advances a persuasive "underconsumptionist" argument that falling real pay is a major cause of subdued demand and backs this up with the observation that the share of Gross Domestic Product going to wages has fallen, since the 1970s from around 65% to around 52%. The living standards of the poorest are falling fastest as they face a higher effective rate of price inflation than either median or wealthy households.

Even economic "good news" turns out to be not what it seems, as falling unemployment reflects increases in self-employment and involuntary temporary and part-time working (developments which aren't only bad for workers who cannot get the secure and well paid employment they seek but also for our movement which finds it harder to organise those in precarious employment - although the TUC did get some money from the last of the Union Modernisation Fund to work on organising vulnerable workers).

The chapter includes sections on manufacturing (which we broadly like) and banking (which we don't - particularly bonuses) as well as corporate governance (which we want to see improved). In keeping with the weight of history and tradition which accompanies any General Council report, these sections all seem to yearn for a 70s social democracy of corporatism, regulation and high hopes for putting workers on the board.

But then - putting aside the dress sense and much of the music - what's not to like about the 1970s? In those days wages were squeezing profits rather than the other way round, and there were more than twice as many members of TUC affiliated trade unions.

In the past year, after a generation of decline capped by the longest period of declining real wages for decades, we staged our biggest strike since 1926. How have we done? Are we turning things round? In the next post I'll cover the rest of Chapter Four, starting with what the General Council has to say to Congress about pensions.

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