Tuesday, August 28, 2012

The blog that reads the report of the TUC General Council (so you don't have to) Chapter One

The General Council's report to next month's Trades Union Congress should shortly be available online at http://www.tuc.org.uk/the_tuc/index.cfm?mins=62&minors=2&majorsubjectID=19. I got my copy over the weekend.

Whereas the Annual Report of UNISON's National Executive Council (NEC) to our Conference has come more and more to resemble a company (or college) prospectus, the General Council report, although just as prone to accentuating the positive, remains a heavier document, perhaps because the TUC is increasingly mindful that it needs to justify its existence (a need not felt by the authors of some other Annual Reports).

Since this is a niche blog, and you're not reading it for fun, and in the forlorn hope that this week won't be too busy at work, I'll read the report chapter by chapter and blog comments as I go.

The first chapter of the report deals with the "A Future That Works Campaign" (a title, we are told, which was adopted in the spring as part of a "rebranding" of "the most vital campaign for our movement in a generation" mandated by last year's Congress).

This chapter provides an overview and therefore doesn't deal with "day to day campaigning" - not even 30 November 2011 (which is remembered on planet TUC as "Pensions Justice Day") of which, the report's authors observe that it "represented a mass mobilisation in many ways as challenging as the 26 March demonstration last year" (a comment which provides a fascinating insight into the difference of perspective when looking at a mass strike from Congress House, as opposed to a picket line, since a strike is much much harder to organise than a march).

As well as looking forward to the forthcoming 20 October demonstration ("which the General Council have, after consulting unions, decided should be the next major event of the campaign") the report looks back to a special General Council meeting which took place in early October last year which concluded that our "most vital campaign" should have four elements.

The first of these elements is "the battle of ideas" which, it appears, we are waging through research, seminars and Conferences intended to give us economic messages which are comprehensive and credible, with arguments backed up by authoritative evidence. All of these aspirations can be judged against the criterion of the absurd alternative (in that no one would suggest we set out to advance messages which are partial and/or incredible, having no evidential basis).

However, for a trade union centre looking for a role in a twenty first century in which just three affiliates have a majority of the membership, and in which the Party of the (centre) Left is generally too timid even to own up to social democracy, this modest objective that the TUC should develop economic policy for the labour movement seems reasonable.

The second element of the campaign, clearly building to some extent on the first, is "the battle for narrative" - which seems to mean that we'll try to shift public opinion, basing our approach in part upon finding out what people are thinking now in order to tailor our message to maximum effect in changing their minds.

Whilst this also seems to be a sensible element of a present day role for the TUC, it's odd that the demarcation that kept "day to day campaigning" out of this first chapter of the report precludes mention of the dramatic (if temporary) victory in the "battle for narrative" on 30 November, when opinion poll data showed large majority support for a strike condemned by the Government and opposed by much of the media.

The third element of the campaign is "day to day" campaigning, concerning which this chapter gives limited information about pilot projects based around clusters of marginal Parliamentary constituencies. Since it is individual unions (rather than the TUC) who have the capacity to mobilise "bodies on the ground" for campaiging activity, this is probably a more challenging element of the campaign for the TUC to develop.

The third element of the campaign appears to relate to the fourth, which is "building better campaign capacity" and this must also be challenging, given that the only funding for the campaign has been a one-off single-year 10p per member levy on affiliates which may (or may not) be repeated.

The first chapter of the report concludes by previewing the 20 October demonstration (now less than 8 weeks away) (www.afuturethatworks.org). The ability of a trade union centre formally to organise such events on behalf of the movement as a whole is a compelling justification for the continued existence of the TUC (as a body to which even the largest and most prickly trade unions will defer as they would not to each other).

I very much hope to emerge from Congress, in a little over a fortnight's time, convinced that we will - on 20 October - show, as the report almost puts it "that the scale of opposition to the austerity based policies being adopted by the Government" has not diminished since 26 March 2011.

The campaign against the Government is at the front of the report of the TUC General Council. It needs to be at the front of the work of thousands of paid officials and tens of thousands of shop stewards and activists over the coming weeks.

Sent using BlackBerry® from Orange

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