By Janine Booth, RMT delegate to TUC Conference
It took several days of headbanging to get the CWU emergency motion on women’s rights in Iraq on the agenda of the TUC Congress (11-15 September). Some TUC bigwigs thought that it wasn’t an emergency because we should have been able to guess that women’s rights would be under attack in the Iraqi constitution!
The CWU motion called for opposition to Sharia law and for women’s civil rights. Despite the opposition of the top bureaucrats this motion struck a chord and the plight of women journalists in Iraq was raised by an NUJ delegate. The motion which called on the TUC to publicise and campaign on the issues for women in Iraq was carried overwhelmingly. It mandates the TUC to work with the Organisation of Women’s Freedom in Iraq and all the main Iraqi trade-union groups, including the Federation of Workers’ Councils and Unions.
On most days of TUC conference delegates were met by groups of workers standing outside, pressing their cause, from Gate Gourmet, DARA, Sefton Council, CCU/Remploy and Rolls Royce. It would have been much better to see them inside, on the rostrum. But that is a stark illustration of what is wrong with the TUC — loads of suits walking past rank-and-file workers with a cursory handshake and off for the trade union movement’s annual get-together.
The cameras clicked and the TUC leaders smiled as Gordon Brown addressed Congress. This was Gordon Brown with his labour movement face on. He kept referring to “this labour movement”, talked about redundant coal miners and steel workers, praised the TUC’s award-winning reps and honoured the movement’s dead. He pushed all the buttons.
The handful of crumbs he offered were that he would keep his side of the Warwick agreement But the actual promises are: outlaw corporate manslaughter; extend the “eight-week rule” to 12 weeks ie. bosses will be legally allowed to sack strikers after 12 weeks in dispute, the minimum wage will rise this year and next.
Then came Brown’s real desire — “stability in industrial relations” (in other words, we will keep most forms of effective trade unionism illegal). Brown was a politician trumpeting his roots in the labour movement, boasting about how well he runs capitalism. But he was not well-received.
At the TUC General Council dinner Blair went further and insisted that there would be no solidarity action under his, or any future, Labour Government (so he is God then). He was recieved in stony silence with one or two muted heckles.
But the TUC decided to campaign for union rights! Next year, to mark the centenary of the Trade Disputes Act 1906 (which gave unions the legal right to strike), the labour movement should campaign for a Trade Union Freedom Bill. This should include a national march, rally and lobby of Parliament.
At a later fringe meeting TGWU General Secretary Tony Woodley described the contents of the Trade Union Freedom Bill as a "bare minimum ... there is nothing in there that we couldn't expect from a decent, trade-union-supporting Labour government."
Early on in the week we had a parade of workers who had played their part on 7 and 21 July — including firefighters, paramedics, the two bus drivers, and Underground station supervisors.
I was then forced to make a speech pointing out that despite the bombings, the near-certainty of further attacks, the essential role of staff in saving lives and the reassurance and protection that passengers get from visible staff on stations, London Underground management is planning to cut staffing levels on our stations.
If the government were serious about protecting people it would reverse the Public-Private Partnership, fund the Underground, and stop these staffing cuts.
The RMT's emergency motion on rail safety was about making individual bosses responsible for coporate crimes such as the Hatfield rail crash. The motion also asked the TUC to reaffirm its policy to bring back the railways into public ownership, and to support RMT’s fight against the re-privatisation of South East Trains, which the union is balloting its members over. And it was that point which the notoriously ‘moderate’ ie. ineffective TSSA had a problem with.
TSSA tried to get RMT to change the word “dispute” to “issue”, and whined that they didn’t want to be excluded from talks just because they had every intention of scabbing on the strike. But the motion was passed unanimously.
Congress also discussed international issues such as Venezuela and the Western Sahara. And debated Iraq. Doug Nichols from Community and Youth Workers’ Union gave a pretty standard anti-war speech, effective in outlining what is wrong with the war and occupation, denouncing suicide bombings, but otherwise avoiding the more difficult issues about Iraq. His resolution did much the same, condemning terrorism against civilians (implying, but not naming, the “resistance”).
NATFHE spoke for their amendment, which added an essential emphasis on solidarity with Iraqi unions.
FBU called for a campaign to cancel Iraq’s debts run up by Saddam Hussein, supporting workers’ rights, equality and “religious tolerance” (not quite as good as secularism, but getting there), and rejecting privatisation.
• More from Janine’s blog from TUC Conference: www.workersliberty.org/blog