Monday, September 12, 2016
Pessimism of the intellect at the TUC
Yesterday I shared exclusively with regular readers of this blog (Sid and Doris Blogger) the meanderings with which I detained the loyal diehards who stayed to the end of this evening’s Labour Representation Committee fringe meeting at the TUC.
I injected a little pessimism of the intellect (or perhaps pessimism of little intellect) with the trite observation that the surge of membership and enthusiasm which we have witnessed in the Labour Party over the past year had passed our major trade unions by.
I think this may put me at odds with the TUC General Secretary who today told Congress that our movement had been under attack by a hostile Government; “But Congress. We beat them. Not on everything. But in the big battles. We beat them back.”
As ever perhaps it is in the use of the first person plural. Because it is true that, in defending check-off in the public sector we defended the financial stability of our unions so if “we” are those whose first interest is in the institutions of our movement (ahead of the interests of our members) then there may be cause to celebrate.
But if mere lay rank and file members are part of that first person plural then what we have seen is the imposition of further restrictions on our right to strike (without incurring legal liability on the very unions we have just saved from penury) which mean that we shall not see national industrial action across any entire sector by any of the three largest unions which together have half the membership of the TUC.
Because we can say that “what remains of this silly, spiteful law won't stop us defending members' jobs. It won't stop us speaking out. And it won't stop us fighting for fair pay.” But it will.
For those of us whose pay is set nationally, whether by collective bargaining or a pay review body, we know that there is no substitute for national industrial action to fight for a fair national pay rise.
We also know that those who control the decision making levers of our trade unions will not countenance the risk of action which could put the union “in legal jeopardy” (indeed regular visitors to UNISON’s National Delegate Conference will know we cannot even discuss the possibility of doing so for fear that the sky will fall on our heads).
Therefore we have to ask ourselves how confident we are of the ability of our unions to mobilise and motivate to the point that we exceed a 50% turnout in a national strike ballot.
And the only honest answer is: “not at all”.
Which takes us back to the question of how to capture the spirit and enthusiasm which has been flowing into the Labour Party and direct some of it into our big trade unions.