THE first session of the TUC Congress, on Sunday afternoon in Brighton saw a division over the General Council statement on Brexit and Composite 7 on free movement.
Dave Ward of the CWU said ‘reluctantly we are going to oppose Composite 7.’ He said: ‘We’d like to see us starting to talk more about reforming Europe.’ He added that the CWU is opposed to ‘one line which commits us to support free movement come what may.’ Ward said that ‘freedom of movement without protections can lead to exploitation and undercutting wages’.
RMT first time speaker Edward Dempsey opposed the General Council’s statement over its acceptance of the single market. He said: ‘As far as we are concerned, the single market is the EU. The single market was drawn up by Thatcher. Also the statement talks of defending the European social model.
‘We stand for class interests not individual rights which are cosmetic but class rights. The real problem is with the bosses. The way we deal with that is by taking industries out of their control and taking them under workers ownership. We should be fighting for socialism not working with the bosses.’
Composite motions 5 and 7 and the General Council Statement was carried overwhelmingly. Earlier delegates voted unanimously for motion 3 which called for building council and affordable social housing and ending the insecurity of the private rented sector.
Moving motion 3 Building a new housing consensus, Unison delegate Courtney Lawrence said: ‘I work at Lewisham Hospital. Workers face choices on the cost of housing and where to live. Life choices are too often affected by the cost of housing. There are one and a half million fewer homes to rent and workers are paid less. The scandal that was at the centre of the Grenfell tragedy was not just that the government wouldn’t listen but also the lack of regulation.’
He added: ‘The right to buy was a right to discount.’ He went on to accuse the Tories of social cleansing, adding that ‘£100 million will be spent on Housing Benefit going to private landlords, it won’t produce a single new home. A Unison survey found 63% said they were looking to move because of housing costs, two thirds found them too expensive. The TUC must play its role in ending the housing crisis and get more council homes built.’
Seconder Jayne Taylor, Unite, said: ‘The time for action is long past. The Labour Manifesto is committed to council house building. Councils need to be able to suspend the right to buy.’
Calling for good jobs and homes for all, she added: ‘We must end the marketisation of the most basic of human needs.’ Condemning the casualisation of the construction industry, she concluded: ‘We must be sure action is taken to end the housing crisis.’
Speaking in support, Louise Atkinson, NEU, said: ‘Teachers and nurses are seeking advice over housing. Teachers are unable to live near to schools and are having to travel hours before they stand in front of a class. I suffered homelessness as a child. I”m upset to see children facing the same insecurity.’
Brian Cookson, NASUWT, said: ‘The failure of Conservative-led government since 2010 to address the housing crisis is having a terrible effect on children. The situation daily gets worse. It’s left young teachers priced out of the housing market.’
In her address to Congress, TUC President Mary Bousted said: ‘As a teacher I was aware of child poverty. One quarter of the UK’s children live in severe poverty. How is it that child poverty on an industrial scale can be tolerated today. Thousands of children go to school hungry and fear the holidays because they can’t get anything to eat.’
Earlier on Sunday mid-day there was a National Shop Stewards Network rally attended by over 250 trade unionists including a delegation of Birmingham bin men who have been striking against the city’s Labour council. The Public sector pay cap must be challenged with industrial action if necessary,’ said PCS president Janice Godrich chairing the rally.
RMT president Sean Hoyle said: ‘Our members on Southern rail have been on strike for 18 months purely for the safety of the public. The government are trying to get every safety critical guard off the train. The RMT will have a quasi national rail strike just like 1911 all over again.
‘Our message to (transport secretary) Chris Grayling is we are not going away. We’ll have co-ordinated action. Transport should not be run for profit but for the people. We ask the TUC which side are you on? We come here year after year to call for action. If the TUC won’t do it, we’ll do it ourselves.’
He concluded: ‘Every trade union with any sense should want to bring down this working class hating Tory government. We call on every union to stand by the RMT strikes.’
Prison Officers Association general secretary Steve Gillan said there is a crisis in the prison service with ‘suicides and assaults’ and staff and prisoners suffering. He said: ‘The government took us into court under an injunction because they fear the truth coming out.’
Gillan slammed ‘draconian’ legislation that ‘forbids us to induce’. He went on to say: ‘For seven years we’ve been suffering either a pay freeze or a pay cap. It’s not enough to have rallies, we need to build a co-ordinated campaign which includes industrial action.’ He concluded: ‘No one single union will be able to take on this government and win. We need to be strong – only together will we win this battle.’
Unite general secretary Len McCluskey told the rally: ‘Confidence counts, that’s why in Unite we set up a massive strike fund, £35m. If employers think they are going to starve our members back they’d better think again. Our members in Birmingham will achieve justice.’
He criticised Labour councillors for being ‘cowardly’ and giving in to council officers. He pledged: ‘The Bank of England, BA, Serco workers will be successful. We need to try to encourage the TUC to be a little less timid in what they do.’
McCluskey praised the Bakers union for organising McDonald’s workers who took strike action recently. He said: ‘Any help, money or anything else, I pledge that now. I’m inspired by those young workers.’
He concluded: ‘Unite is proud to be a fighting union that will stand with any workers who are in struggle. Anti-union laws won’t stop us standing in solidarity.’
Labour’s Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell began his remarks by addressing Birmingham bin men strikers present: ‘I do not see your strike as a strike against Labour but a strike against austerity.’ He said that ‘Labour councillors should negotiate’.
He said he supported the Bank of England strikers and praised the young McDonald’s strikers. He continued: ‘When we get back into power we will restore the legal rights of the POA. I was on the Bart’s picket line. We will scrap the cap by having a fair taxation system where the rich and corporations pay their way.’
He pledged that Labour will bring in ‘a real living wage of £10 an hour. In the first 100 days of a Labour government we will scrap the Trade Union Act. We will restore trade union rights.” He pledged ‘Labour will scrap the pay cap for everyone. ‘These disputes are saying we’ve had enough. You have the right to industrial action.We cannot tolerate a food bank society.’
PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka attacked racist comments about immigrant workers and asylum seekers, saying: ‘I’m proud to say migrants and refugees should always be welcome here.’ He called for ‘co-ordinated strike action’ to smash the pay cap.
Serwotka said: ‘We are balloting out members asking them do they want to scrap the cap and will they support industrial action. Anti-union laws should not stop active trade unionism. We have had composites at the TUC calling for co-ordinated industrial action but nothing has happened. We have to have action.’ He concluded: ‘Scrap the cap and go on to end all the other attacks.’