The Trade Union Congress 2014

If you looked down from Mars and were asked the question what is the best organisation in Britain, you would have to say it is the trade union movement. No other organisation of workers in Britain is so rooted, so old, so dynamic, so democratic, so informed, so passionate, so organised, so compassionate. It’s the best thing we have got and the TUC Congress always gives a sample of our best values and concerns and our humour and fortitude.

Workers are workers and their unions reflect both our strengths and our weaknesses.

Some of the strengths were seen in those unions like USDAW, Community, GMB, ASLEF, and the NUM who have resolutely opposed separatism for Scotland.

Some of the weaknesses generally were reflected in the absence from the Movement now of a clear understanding of the role of the European Union in the country’s misfortunes. A brilliant pamphlet from the No2EU Trade Union Information Group alone showed how thinking on the EU must be urgently deepened.

There is clarity amongst some on the impending dangers of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership TTIP, but little recognition that it is an EU development like so many others.

Consistent calls for public ownership and manufacturing investment and an end to unemployment and so on reflected the aspirations of the working class, yet we keep getting stuck on our main weakness. The view is that a capitalist parliament with a Labour majority will change things. The prevalence of a dated social democracy holds the workers’ movement back from taking charge of production, distribution and exchange and above all control over the wealth of the country. Our wealth is firmly in the hands of finance capital which has found comprehensive ways of dominating the political economy. Britain started under the control of robber barons, but they were nowhere near as successful at smashing and grabbing as this lot.

One of the arch, but soft spoken and deathly boring, proponents of finance capital is the Governor of the Bank of England Mark Carney. This is one of the many things he did in Canada to boost the profits of the banks at the expense of the people. In order to buy up the bad debt in the housing market he got the government to borrow money from the banks at interest. It was win win for the banks. Whatever way you turned they made a profit as workers became homeless and mortgages became more unaffordable.

Because the dominant political position of trade unionists is that all they can do is elect a government to change things, they condemn themselves to a position of permanent opposition and protest against the owners of production and commanders of the main elements of the economy in utilities, services, land, production and distribution. Until this conundrum is solved the unions will be our best and our worst expression.

This explains too why the Scotland debate remains so vexed all round, with many reluctantly voting yes. Even those  with the firmest and most international and socialist values are voting yes to get rid of unfairness and inequality and neoliberalism. The tragedy is that a separate Scottish Parliament will not be able to deliver this. An integrated organised working class within an integrated British planned economy with the wealth controlled by the people rather than the banks is the only route out of the mess capitalism has created.

Many celebrated the 30th year since the miners strike in a photographic exhibition by two photographers who dedicated their services that year to the struggle. One speaker said that the miners strike could not be forgotten because every time you get a utility bill you are reminded that the miners were right in warning that without coal, private foreign owners using vulnerable overseas energy supplies would put prices up, worsen services, wreck the environment and ensure that more of our pensioners die in the winter and people would have to choose between heating and eating. Another speaker reminded us that the last three coal mines are about to close leaving Britain with no deep mine coal production.


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