LARGE numbers of delegates stopped at the WRP and Young Socialists lobby of the opening day of the TUC Congress in Manchester on Sunday. Many supported its demands that included that the TUC call a general strike to bring down the Tories, and that a workers government must break completely with the EU, expropriate the bosses and bankers to bring in socialism and return the people of the Chagos Islands to their homes.
They were evicted by the Wilson-led Labour government to make way for a US-UK nuclear base on Diego Garcia. Delegates also condemned TUC leaders and the TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady who have called for a second referendum on EU membership. Delegates demanded that the TUC fight for a Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital and organise a boycott of Israeli goods.
Labour Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell spoke to the Chagossian delegation, telling them: ‘I’ll pass on your message to Jeremy (Corbyn),’ adding: ‘The Chagossians have a just case. We’ll be campaigning for them and it’s an issue that we will address when we go into government.’
The lobby kept up constant chants of ‘No Cuts, No Closures – Kick the Tories Out! No more Grenfells – Restore the Fire Service! Restore Grants – End Fees! Support the Palestinians – Boycott Israeli Goods! Support the Chagossian People – Support their Right to Return! TUC Get off Your Knees – Call a General Strike!’
As the Chagossian delegation was chanting: ‘Chagossians are still alive!’ Joe Simpson, Deputy General Secretary of the Prison Officers Association stopped and pledged his union’s support, saying: ‘Of course the Chagos people should have the right to return and the TUC should fight for them.’
He added: ‘I don’t think it’s right to have another referendum. We’ve already had one vote, now let’s get on with it. I personally voted remain, but the result was leave, so that’s that. If you had a second referendum and it reversed the decision, what then? Do you then make it best of three? It’s ridiculous. As far as this attack on Corbyn for supporting Palestine is concerned, it’s disgusting. It’s not anti-Semitism to condemn a state that is treating a people appallingly, we have to get after them to right these wrongs. We back Corbyn and we back Palestine 100%.’
Neil Collinson, GMB Northern, told News Line: ‘We said all along the NHS pay deal was a poor deal and our members rejected it. It was a rotten deal and now the RCN is against it. A lot of unions are looking at it again, the members are up in arms. This three year deal is a terrible deal, who knows what inflation is going to be in three years?’
Kathryn Booth, NEU teachers union, said: ‘I’d like Congress to back our campaign for SEND (special educational needs and disability) funding which is suffering terribly under the Tories. And make sure that the government funds the pay increase to all education workers in full.’
Mary Wozencroft, PCS Isle of Wight, said: ‘Our agenda is to get the Tories out, not reverse the referendum. We want a general election and a Corbyn-led Labour government now. The Tories have no interest in the working class, the anti-union legislation and zero hours contracts are attacking the working class all the time. The Chagossian people should definitely have a platform to tell their story.’
Andy Boylan, PCS MoD, said: ‘PCS policy is not to call for a second referendum, we want a general election and a Corbyn Labour government. I’m very, very strongly in favour of a Palestinian state and an Israeli withdrawal from the occupied territories. And opposition to Israel is not anti-Semitism.’
Bob Potts, RMT North East, said: ‘There should not be another referendum. That’s our union policy. We made that policy in 1979 and we’ve been fighting to get out of the EU since then. There should be a general election, but the Tories are frightened to call one, so they must be brought down.’
Marie Martin, from the Chagos Islands Movement, told News Line: ‘We want the TUC to help our struggle. We want to go back to our islands, but the British government and the Mauritius government ignore the views of the Chagossians. They only do things for themselves, not us. Our families are divided. We want the TUC and the Labour Party to do something, not just say they support us, but take action.’
Jade Kally, Unite member and north London health worker, said: ‘The Tories are deliberately bringing the NHS to its knees in order to justify privatisation. But workers and patients are suffering and people are dying. The TUC must call a general strike to defend the NHS and kick the Tories out, take down the government. The workers have the power because without us all public services would come to a halt. Talk to people, galvanise them, advance, let’s focus all our energy on fighting for a tangible change and put an end to the capitalist system.’
Student teacher Fruzsi Debreczeny, from north London, said: ‘I started working as a teaching assistant in a school. Nowadays they only hire through agencies and I found I was losing one third of my pay to the agency. No holiday pay, no sick pay, no notice if they fire you and we had to work more than the hours for which we were paid.
‘It’s not just TAs, teachers are treated this way as well. It’s like slavery and it makes me really angry. The trade unions should stop the government from cutting education.
‘The TUC should call a general strike to bring down the government now. The TUC doesn’t want to listen to us so we have to make them and if they won’t we’ve got to kick them out and replace them. The privatisation of teaching and education must stop.’
At the end of the lobby, Isabelle Charlot, Chagos Islands Movement, said: ‘We are very pleased. Many delegates approached us and said they really care. ‘They knew about our campaign when we camped out in June for six days in Trafalgar Square.
‘Also they knew about us not getting access to the ICJ (International Court of Justice) last week. A leading PCS member gave us her contact details and told us to get in touch. Also, the teachers union, the prison officers and the shadow chancellor John McDonnell. We want them to invite us to the Labour Party Conference. It was the Wilson Labour government that deported us. Now hopefully, Corbyn can change things.’
Ahead of the lobby on Sunday, a packed meeting of over 50 trade unionists, Chagossians and youth, heard Dave Wiltshire, National Secretary of the All Trades Unions Alliance, say: ‘The vote to leave the bosses and bankers EU in 2016 was a blow against the capitalists system. We are living in really explosive times. The working class is rising up. We are going into this lobby to demand that these trade union leaders either fight or get out.’
Isabelle Charlot, Chagos Islands Movement, said: ‘It’s been a long battle which the British and US governments tried to hide from the world. If there’s ever a BBC broadcast about us, it’s always very late. We want to go home. Home is where my dad was born. ‘I’m second generation. The British are trying to kill our history. As second generation there’s no mention of who we are. On our passports we are either British or Mauritian. It’s like other people can live on the island but not us. Last week we went to the ICJ at The Hague, but we were kept out as if they were frightened we were going to do something. There were elderly ones, one was 81 and they thought we were going to disrupt the court. But we just want our independence.
‘At the moment it’s Britain in possession of the islands. Mauritius sold us between 1965 and 1970. It’s like slavery, they sold us. The people were only told when the boat came to get them. There were suicides. People gave birth on board the boat. They were treated like cattle. ‘In 2002 we had to fight and we got a British passport, but that’s all. Families are being split up. If you don’t earn £24,000 your family can’t come. But English is a second language and we can only get low paid jobs like cleaning jobs. Home is home and that’s where we want to go.
‘We are a very peaceful culture and that’s what we want to prove. At the moment the British and Mauritius governments don’t know what they are going to do with us. We are sick of being used and we won’t let it continue.’
Said Attia, Grenfell speaker, journalist and North Kensington resident, said: ‘I live facing the tower. At 2am we had a very hard knock on the door from the police.
‘We went outside and were kept there standing until 10am. It was Ramadan. Many Muslims lived in the tower and the men were just returning from prayers. They stood there unable to save their families. We heard the women and children screaming. We can never forget it. A Chinese woman threw her baby from the window on the ninth floor.
‘In the end they are smiling. They’ve covered the tower with a white sheet saying “We Love Grenfell”. They are insulting us. I’ve lived there for 20 years and it was a good solid tower. Then they decorated it with cladding with no fire safety system.
‘After the fire they sent us to live in hotels. Some are still living in hotels. The academy school nearby is covered with the same cladding. It is unbelievable, they are just letting the children go into this unsafe building.
‘I’m Egyptian and I’ve been here for 43 years. I chose this country from all over the world, but now you see it’s not Great Britain anymore, it is collapsing. Look at the NHS, they are destroying that too. We have to change things. Talking is not enough, we have to change society.’
Jonty Leff, News Line Editor, said: ‘Industry has been smashed, the NHS is being privatised, the UK is being driven backwards, this capitalist system has to go. It’s an extraordinary situation. Labour is split, the Tories are split and the working class is kicking out its union leaders.
All the NHS unions except the GMB told their members to vote yes to the rotten Tory pay deal, but when people opened their pay slip they found that they didn’t get a great pay deal at all, not even 3%, some only got 50p. One big action would bring down the Tories but sections of the Labour Party would prefer to have the Tories in than a Corbyn-led government.
‘And they are out to reverse Brexit. The EU has absolutely ravaged Greece, privatised absolutely everything and it’s the same across the EU, it’s breaking up and everyone’s against May’s Chequers plan. But now it’s the great betrayal. Frances O’Grady is now demanding a second referendum, in defiance of the TUC’s own members.
‘We are saying to these union leaders that they must strike for Palestine and their response is that you can’t have a political strike. But Unite is now saying that they will have a political strike to stay in the EU. And at the same time they say that anyone who stands up against Israel is to be kicked out of the Labour Party. There have been 176 Palestinians killed in Gaza so far this year and 18,000 wounded. There must be a trade union boycott of Israel.
‘It’s outrageous that the Chagossians travelled all the way to The Hague where they were discussing their case last week, but they were barred from going in. The TUC has to take action over Chagos. ‘The TUC must also act over Grenfell. There are more than 300 buildings with the same cladding. Now the Kensington and Chelsea finance chief has been caught stealing £62,000 of money meant to go towards the Grenfell fire victims. You can’t steal that amount without others knowing and turning a blind eye.
‘The union leaders are trying to keep a lid on things. We want everyone out together. Yes, we call for a Corbyn-led government. The working class wants to win everything. Revolution is coming to Britain and our party has to rise to the challenge.’