TUC Congress: Big Four batten down hatches

Submitted by Daniel_Randall on 22 September, 2004 - 12:00

By a delegate

OVERALL this year’s TUC congress (13-16 September, in Brighton) was reasonably militant – Blair was not given a warm reception, delegates voted in favour of repealing all anti-union laws. But is there really a willingness to fight?

The main debates were on employment rights, the situation in Iraq, public services, pensions, the economy and working time. On every issue there was near-unanimity. One possible area of disunity — over Europe – was avoided when the more “pro-Europe” amendments were withdrawn in favour of a bland General Council statement supported by everyone. The euro-sceptic RMT motion was soundly defeated.

The next test will come in the civil service. Civil service workers face massive job cuts. A fringe meeting was held to drum up support from other trade unions. But will they limit themselves to warm words, without action?

At a well-attended fringe meeting called by the United Campaign for the Repeal of the Anti-Union Laws, John Hendy was quite clear about the need to keep on fighting for repeal. This was in sharp contrast to the leaders of the “Big Four” trade unions — TGWU, GMB, UNISON and Amicus — who went from meeting to meeting talking up the concessions they had achieved in the “Warwick agreement” at the Labour Party National Policy Forum in July. In the areas such as union rights where there is nothing to shout about, they claimed that Warwick is the start, not the end.

Among the “Big Four” leaders at least, the belief is that in the run up to the General Election the trade union movement has to defer to political “realities” and pull together behind Blair to get Labour elected again. It could mean that the sound waves from the militant speeches at the TUC vanish into the seaside air without practical result.

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