DELEGATES at the Trade Union Congress in Brighton yesterday unanimously voted for motion 18 to defend the right to strike and political protest, and voted overwhelmingly for motion 64 on Anti-Trade Union Laws.
It soon became clear that the TUC is not proposing a general strike to stop the Bill becoming law but is planning a popular front campaign with employers – Tories such as Dave Davis (who voted for the Bill in its second reading) – and newspapers such as the Financial Times who are all said to have grave misgivings about the Bill.
The TUC General Council gave its support to the second motion with reservations. TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady explained to conference: ‘The reservation we have is the phrase “generalised strike action,” which is open to interpretation.’
The horror of a general strike continues to haunt the TUC General Council! Composite Motion 18 was her favourite. It states: ‘Conference resolves to oppose the Bill every inch of the way, building alliances across Parliament, with non-government organisations and with all the employers who have been expressing their unease about this unneeded Bill.’
It calls for ‘A coordinated national day of action across the UK and a further programme of ongoing action’ plus ‘action to defend any union attacked under anti-union laws’. The TUC is going to allow the Bill to become law and then turn the issue of freeing jailed trade unionists into a civil rights-civil disobedience issue that excludes general strike action to smash the new law, in an attempt to avoid state prosecution.
The clause that agitated O’Grady in the RMT motion 64 calls on the TUC General Council to ‘consider the possibility of assisting in organising generalised strike action should legal action be taken against any affiliate in connection with these new laws’. Despite the fact that this resolution also concedes that the Bill will become law, its wording is far too close to a general strike for the TUC’s comfort, and is a source of fear for them.
Moving Composite 18, Unite General Secretary Len McCluskey let every cat out of the bag. He said: ‘We need to respond clearly and intelligently because this threat is also an opportunity.’ It turns out that the opportunity it provides is to get much closer to Tory Dave Davis! According to McCluskey: ‘David Davis, a Tory who takes freedom seriously, has described parts of this Bill as more appropriate to a General Franco dictatorship.’
As well: ‘Amnesty and Liberty have denounced it as a violation of human rights’, and ‘Even the Financial Times editorial this morning has come out against it. The possibility therefore of a broad and united democratic campaign against this legislation is greater than before.’
He intends to let the Bill become law then fight a campaign, hopefully alongside Dave Davis, to free those who are being treated in General Franco fashion. This of course means that he is prepared to accept a modified anti-union legislation as favoured by friend Davis!
McCluskey went on to say that the Trade Union Bill ‘raises the thorny question: Must we always obey the law?’ He added: ‘Reluctance to question the law is based on the premise that the law is sacrosanct.’ He went on to give examples of the Suffragettes and those who gave their lives in the US Civil Rights movement.
TUC delegates must call a halt to the farce of the TUC General Council refusing to call a general strike to stop the Bill becoming law and planning civil rights actions to free jailed trade unionists instead. In taking this stand the General Council is betraying the working class and the generations who fought all kinds of reactionary legislation to create the conditions where there could be free trade unions.
Congress must call the general strike and elect a new leadership prepared to lead it to victory!