The annual TUC Congress always gives an opportunity for socialists to take stock. Let’s have a go.
As the TUC opens so does the tax payer supported biennial arms fair in London. 30,000 purveyors of death will swap notes on the latest quick and slow deaths they can administer for the very best price. They will be opposed by the Stop the Fair coalition and Occupy London. Trade unionists should thank them, all workers and their families should too. This fair should be abandoned, it is not welcome here.
Another G20 gathering will have been and gone with a world divided over Syria. The social democratic warmongers Obama, Blair and Hollande will be baying for blood regardless of the huge majorities against military intervention in the States, Britain and France. The arms traders can’t wait for action, nor for the further development of private armies, navies and security forces now on the streets and waters in various international hot spots. This has been caused by national defence budget cuts and by the United Nations itself as it turns more and more to mercenaries while derecognising its own unions and their concerns for health and safety and ethical engagements of security personnel.
Countries throughout the world that stand for their own national independence, love them or hate them, – whether it is Zimbabwe, Cuba, Venezuela, Iran, Japan, North Korea, Syria, China, Russia, Vietnam, and many others – are the main problem for the neoliberals and particularly the EU and the United States. This is why Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Yugoslavia and others were attacked. It is why Egypt has been significantly destabilised, it is why the remaining US puppet states are in the Middle east, notably Israel which is intensifying its brutal war on the Palestinians through the constant land grabs.
Since 1988 the British TUC has not been able to speak with authority on international issues. The TUC has, under its previous two General Secretaries ,been the Trojan Horse for the European Union. It remains to be seen this year whether unions will free themselves of this role and support the RMT’s call for a referendum. If it does so it will begin to recover much of its lost leadership role. The RMT motion is the key to the liberation of the Unions and our country. It is the only one of any substance on the agenda as the rest, frankly, is hot air.
The TUC has been at the forefront of the struggle against the Lobbying or gagging bill which would introduce a political dictatorship in Britain. Some concessions have already been won. But as the TUC General Secretary has said, the opposition to the bill will not go away until all of its provisions have been removed. Opposition to the bill has probably involved the largest peace time coalition of civil society organisations we have seen. Its intent and potential consequences are indeed chilling.
Trade unions meet at Congress with some other noteworthy victories under their belts. PCS beat Pickles in his attempt to tear up check off agreements in his department. RMT are successfully taking on stupidities in the Boris bikes set up and stopping the collusion of another union in the process. The Bakers’ Food and Allied Workers Union are at the forefront of the heightening struggle everywhere against zero hours contracts. UCU have revealed that 65% of staff in Scottish universities are on zero hours contracts. Punishing and tenacious work by UCATT and Unite have seen blacklisting exposed in construction and some victimised members vindicated. The great campaign to save Lewisham hospital was won. Hundreds of thousands of young people have been brought into an anti-capitalist consciousness. Many other unions attend Congress with a sound year of quiet successes behind them and new organisation in some appallingly anti-union factories and workplaces. There is actually no dulling of spirits this year and the mood is determined and renewed.
Zero hours contracts are the consequence of the near collapse of collective bargaining and at the TUC the most important fringe meeting – Reconstruction after the Crisis – will launch a new drive to re-establish collective bargaining everywhere. The litmus test of any changes in the Labour Party’s preparation for defeating the Tories will be whether it embraces a positive new framework for trade union freedom and encourages new structures of collective bargaining and enables unions to achieve them. A state fixed living wage would be corporatism and a death to trade unionism. And the answer to the increasingly super rich pay day loan companies like Wonga and the rest of the sharks is not a cap on interest rates chargeable alone, but a nationally supported pay struggle.
Ironically the importance of the pay struggles have evaded the wit of UNISON, Unite and GMB who have spectacularly caved in on pay over the last few years and on pensions. At the heart of the malaise in the trade unions is its own inability to do the basics and to panic at the recruitment and fortitude of workers when they joined in droves and supported the strikes on pensions.
Some affiliated unions have started to flick the Vs to the Labour Party in a new way. GMB has cut the funding, Unite has been proved right in all it has done to assert working class and trade union savvy candidates in internal party election procedures. The majority of non-Labour Party affiliated unions now won’t touch the Labour Party with a barge pole and get on with their truly political work of winning for members and defending and improving skills and services of value to the whole class.
There is room for great confidence in the trade union movement. The plan by Thatcher and Blair was to destroy it. The destruction of heavy industry and energy supply launched by Thatcher and introduction of successive anti-union laws was the start of it. Then there was the privatisation of utilities and services. Then the abandonment of democratic institutions in Britain in favour of domination by the EU under Blair and Mandelson. Then the coalition and an all-out war on public services and the largest unions Unite, UNISON, GMB, PCS, CWU, NUT, NAS etc. There wasn’t much else they could do to legislate against unions so they attacked the whole Employment Tribunal and Legal Aid system to deny access to any legal justice. Then of course the recent gagging bill to stifle any opposition.
Meanwhile having terrorised people with disabilities, no homes, and no money for three years the attempted break-up of the welfare state is revealed for what it really is not a botched job, but a chaotic abandonment of society’s commitment to itself. Universal Credit is universal corruption and chaos caused by toffs who absolutely detest people. Socialist welfare will put people first.
Whole sections of education and the NHS have already been sold off and privatised. Congress delegates will say a lot about this, but not much about the EU and the preparations for its trade deal with the US that underpins it. Similarly workers will rally round the defence of the misnamed Royal Mail, but ignore the cause of the attempted sell off in EU directives. Just like the railways.
The contradictions are sharp, the problems are immense, the scale of recent losses much underestimated, but this is a Congress also that follows the defeat of the warmongers in the UK Parliament and that defeat should be pressed home – they are not fit to govern. A failure to press for their removal now could lead to a recovery of sorts by 2015. But we have already planned the huge demonstration against the Tories on September 29th. People’s Assembly initiatives are already engaging thousands and planned activities in early November will raise the temperature. We have to seize control from them and all their hangers on and daft ideas wherever we are. Build, create, energise a new socialist Britain.
But we are facing a new kind of enemy which is why the coalition was so fortunate for the blitzkrieg that finance capital needed to launch. They don’t care about the scale or nature of the opposition and anarchy they cause. In fact that is the purpose. It’s like the Bullingdon Club wrecking a restaurant. The trouble is the restaurant is our country and people are dying in the process. They don’t even really care yet about getting re-elected because they know a Labour Party distant from the unions and therefore the people, close to the banks and the neoliberals and wedded to restrictive anti-union legislation could quite easily carry through the next required phase of neoliberal assault.