Tuesday, August 29, 2017
Will the TUC respond effectively to the crisis of our trade unions?
Those of us with an interest in our trade union movement may sometimes peruse the Final Agenda for the Annual Trades Union Congress when it is published. Having attended Congress on UNISON’s behalf on eight occasions I know that the annual Parliament of our trade unions could (just possibly) be a useful opportunity to build unity across the organisations of our class.
The agenda includes a wide range of motions addressing all manner of subjects and I don’t intend to summarise them all here. I am particularly interested, in view of the last few union-related posts on this blog, to see the motions which come under the sub-heading of “Stronger Unions” since this is certainly what workers need.
A couple are of particular interest.
Motion 72 from the Communications Workers Union (A new model of trade unionism) is, at least, pointing in the right direction;
“Congress recognises the growing challenges facing the trade union movement and is extremely concerned that 2016 saw a reported fall of 275,000 TU members with density reported at 23.3 per cent.
Congress agrees that to revolutionise the world of work, deliver a new deal for workers, ensure wider society benefits from the gig economy and to re-assert trade union values and organisation – the TUC and its affiliated unions must now lead a major transformative project to create a new model of UK trade unionism.
Congress agrees the TUC General Secretary will bring forward for agreement documentation to the Executive Committee and General Council on the overall shape, aims and objectives of the project by March 2018, including consideration of the following:
i. how we significantly increase levels of engagement with members and representatives
ii. how we strengthen local workplace activism
iii. improving co-operation, methods and effectiveness of organising
iv. a stronger focus for the TUC in co-ordinating solidarity and supporting workers in dispute
v. the best model of trade unionism to influence the gig economy
vi. bringing forward a younger generation of representatives and members
vii. ensuring the whole movement better reflects the gender, ethnicity and diversity of the workforce
viii. improving the scope and reach of collective and sectoral bargaining.
The project will build on and pull together existing relevant TUC work strands and review all TUC structures to strengthen the voice of smaller unions. The project will ensure the widest consultation with unions and seek the widest possible direct engagement with workers.”
On the other hand, Motion 71 from the National Association of Schoolmasters/Union of Women Teachers, though bearing the worthy title of “Valued Workers” and starting with a recognition of the challenges faces the movement as a whole is not, perhaps, all it seems;
“Congress deplores the attacks on the rights of working people, including the rights of workers who belong to a trade union.
Congress is deeply concerned that anti trade union legislation introduced by successive Conservative governments has created the conditions where:
i. employers routinely deny the rights of workers with relative impunity
ii. workers are increasingly exposed to poor quality, low-paid and precarious employment
iii. workers’ fears of victimisation are a major barrier to trade union membership and participation in trade union activities
iv. hostile employment practices are flourishing within non-unionised workplaces.
Congress commends the partnership between GMB, NASUWT, UNISON and Unite in campaigning to incentivise school and college employers to value teachers and support staff and their respective unions.
Congress reasserts its commitment to extending the reach of trade unions within workplaces and to support affiliates to prioritise:
a. recruiting into membership those workers who are not members of any union
b. dissuading unions from seeking to recruit workers who already are members of trade unions
c. encouraging unions to work co-operatively in the interests of building the future of the trade union movement and countering government attacks on workers’ rights.”
I have added the emphasis that shows that the real purpose of this motion is to signal a “circling of the wagons” by all the other unions with members in schools, who fear that the nascent New National Education Union (NEU) will prove a competitor for members in the most highly unionised sector of the economy.
There is, of course, nothing wrong with asserting that unions should not be seeking to “poach” each others’ members (although to see both UNISON and GMB mentioned in this regard in a motion which addresses the position of school support staff is, at the very least, ironic).
However, the contrast between the forward looking and realistic approach of Motion 72 from the CWU, which honestly faces up to the decline of our movement generally and how we should respond to it, and the defensiveness of Motion 71, which suggests that what we need is “more of the same”, is very clear.
There is no evidence in Motion 71 of thought having been given a creative response from other trade unions to the move towards professional unity between teaching trade unions.
Our trade unions – outside the education sector – are not, generally, growing (although fair play to the Society of Radiographers for pointing out – in an amendment to Motion 72 – that they are) and the status quo in terms of leadership and organisation plainly offers no realistic hope that they will.
I won’t be at the TUC next month any more than the great majority of trade unionists will be, but we all need the positive and constructive approach suggested by the CWU to triumph over the conservatism implied by the motion from the NAS/UWT.