By a conference delegate
Members of the TGWU gathered in Brighton at the beginning of July for the last ever T&G Biennial Delegates’ Conference.
The first day of the conference started with an opening address from newly elected chair Brenda Sanders. This is the first time in the history of the T&G that there has been a woman chair.
Debates were held on manufacturing, food and agriculture, public services and an emergency motion on Land Rover/Jaguar.
The afternoon saw General Secretary Tony Woodley give his keynote speech. He started by laying out his vision for the new union Unite which he argued would be a “fighting back” union. His speech was actually a decent left wing speech where he argued that there is a class war going on across the world with wealth and power being sucked up towards the already wealthy and powerful,
“A world in which the share of labour in the wealth that working people themselves produce is falling, and the share of capital is rising. Where we are told we can’t tax private equity vultures properly in case they leave the country.”
Tuesday morning saw debates on transport and anti-trade union laws. Derek Simpson, joint General Secretary of Unite, addressed delegates laying out his vision of Unite being an international union that could fight back against global capital.
Delegates heard from agency workers including those involved in a current dispute in Salford. Striking Salford Council refuse workers fighting to close a £2 an hour gap between agency and permanent staff took centre stage in the debate on equal rights. Tony Woodley criticised the government for blocking the Private Member’s Bill on temporary and agency workers.
One of the only controversial debates of conference was around the tactics of fighting the anti-trade union laws. The GEC argued against a motion that called for a rank and file shop stewards conference and that argued that the T&G should “support any T&G member or fellow trade union threatened with legal action for resisting the legislation, for example by refusing to issue repudiation letters if their members take so called unofficial industrial action”. The GEC argued against this claiming that illegal action could result in the sequestration of funds and bankrupt the union. Some members of the Broad Left spoke against it, with patronising sound-bites that delegates should think with “their heads not their hearts”. The mover of the motion replied by explaining that the union's key assets were its members and they should be mobilised to fight off the attacks if the law was used against the union. Despite the obvious mobilisation by the GEC the vote was only carried by two-to-one showing that there are many members that want to show the government that the unions are serious about fighting to repeal the anti-union laws.
Another controversial debate was on the calls for a boycott of Israeli goods (see below). Conference also called for an immediate withdrawal from Iraq and the ruling out of military engagement in Iran and Syria. Further debates were held on pensions and social justice.
The final day saw debates on equality including debates on ending women's poverty, union equality representatives as well as on changing the face of the union.
The final controversial debate was on the Labour Party. The GEC wanted to remove the motions around the Labour Party to replace it with a GEC executive statement. The GEC statement was weaker than the motions and failed to deal with the issue of the T&G failing to nominate John McDonnell for the leadership of the Labour Party. It even congratulated Gordon Brown on his appointment! Delegates criticised the GEC for stalling on the issue and failing to lead the trade union movement by nominating a socialist candidate.
The first conference of Unite will be in 2009. Let’s hope that by then the trade union movement has organised a strong and successful fightback against the anti-union laws.