The TUC Congress next month is meeting at an historic juncture of worldwide economic and political crisis.
Millions of workers are having their wages frozen or cut, jobs are being destroyed on a vast scale, and all public services are being cut and privatised, with the government hell bent on destroying the Welfare State and slashing benefits, at the same time as it is spending billions on its Afghan and Libyan wars.
However, the Congress 2011 Preliminary Agenda contains calls for coordinated strike action against the cuts, and in defence of pensions, but no call for a general strike.
Motion P29 from the Public and Commercial Services Union ‘Public sector pensions and coordinated industrial action’ states:
‘Congress congratulates unions for the successful industrial action on 30 June which exposed the government’s pensions plans to closer scrutiny, raised a public debate, and mobilised hundreds of thousands of people on pickets, rallies and marches.
‘Congress condemns misleading statements by government ministers on the affordability of public sector pensions and notes that the Hutton report showed costs falling, and that the NAO report showed the reforms agreed in 2007/08 “reduces costs to taxpayers by 14 per cent”. Congress notes that the total cost of providing tax relief to higher rate taxpayers is more than five times the cost of public sector pensions.
‘Congress believes that the so-called “reform” of public sector pensions is about making them “affordable” for privatisation. Congress notes the Chancellor’s statement in the 2010 CSR that “from the perspective of filling the hole in the public finances, we will seek changes that deliver an additional £1.8bn of savings per year in the cost of public service pensions by 2014–15”.
‘Congress expresses its concern at the pathetic response of the Labour leadership and instructs the TUC General Council to press for support for future action in defence of the agreement signed with the last Labour government.
‘Congress instructs the General Council to:
i. give full support to industrial action against pensions cuts, including action planned for this autumn, and maximise its co-ordination
ii. use the media to dispel the myths and falsifications around pensions
iii. campaign for Fair Pensions for All.’
The resolution dodges the call for what is necessary that is a general strike.
The wrong thinking behind it is that big industrial actions for one day will be enough to change the mind of the coalition.
Motion P30 ‘Pensions’ from the NUT states: ‘Congress reaffirms its support for the existing public sector pension schemes, and its opposition to the government’s attempts to impose unnecessary cuts on those schemes and present those cuts as an economic necessity rather than a political choice on its part.
‘Congress welcomes the TUC’s support for public sector workers in coordinating and leading talks with the government on public sector pensions.
‘Congress congratulates those unions that took strike action on 30 June in defence of pensions and thereby helped expose the government’s misrepresentations on affordability. Congress condemns the government’s continuing attempts to impose contributions increases for 2012–2015, which are simply a tax on public sector pensions.
‘Congress restates its commitment to fair pensions for all private and public sector workers and existing pensioners and to continuing to campaign, including with pensioner and other organisations. Congress reaffirms existing TUC pensions policy, including for increases in the state basic pension and for a requirement on all employers to contribute adequately to occupational pension schemes for their employees.
‘Congress recognises that the TUC and public sector unions must continue to work together in order to secure satisfactory outcomes for every scheme. Congress agrees that the government must not now be allowed to “divide and rule” through individual scheme negotiations.
‘Congress therefore calls on the General Council to ensure that the TUC continues to coordinate opposition to the government’s proposals, including support for further coordinated negotiations and for further industrial action as necessary, coordinated as far as possible among the public sector unions.’
Again the resolution remains at the level of large one day protest actions, to change the mind of Cameron, Osborne and Clegg.
Under the section Global Solidarity is a motion from Unite: ‘P71 Peace in the Middle East/South Asia’
This states: ‘Congress notes that the “war on terror” is still continuing and has failed, after ten years, to bring the promised peace and stability to either the Middle East or the wider world.
‘Congress believes it is time Britain disengaged from this conflict and in particular urges the rapid withdrawal of British forces from Afghanistan.
‘The occupation there has brought devastation to the country, cost the lives of thousands of civilians and hundreds of British soldiers and destabilised nuclear-armed Pakistan. The future of Afghanistan can only be determined through talks between the parties in the country itself.
‘Congress believes the attack against Libya has been misjudged and, while holding no brief for the Gadaffi regime, believes military action should be halted immediately and that international efforts should be focused on securing a peaceful political settlement to the conflict.
‘Since there can be no peace in the region without justice for the Palestinians, Congress endorses the call for the recognition of the State of Palestine and urges the British government to take all actions appropriate to help achieve this objective.
‘Congress calls for immediate, unconditional negotiations between the Israeli government and the representatives of the Palestinian people to secure peace.
‘Congress reaffirms policy adopted in 2010, particularly the instruction to the General Council “to work closely with the Palestine Solidarity Campaign to actively encourage affiliates, employers and pension funds to disinvest from, and boycott the goods of, companies who profit from illegal settlements, the Occupation and the construction of the Wall”.’
The PCS has also submitted P45 ‘The economic alternative to cuts in public services and the welfare state’.
This states: ‘Congress believes that cuts in jobs, public services, pay and pensions are not necessary to pay for the national deficit.
‘Congress condemns the continuing attempts by government to deepen inequality, and make workers and the poorest and most vulnerable in society bear the brunt of reducing the deficit.
‘Congress condemns the government’s onslaught against the welfare state, including measures to force more people off disability living allowance, and its attempts to hand swathes of the public sector over to its friends in business.
‘Underneath the rhetoric of “fairness” employed by right-wing ministers seeking scapegoats, government policy is worsening the economic situation of millions of ordinary people in an attempt to protect the rich from the effects of recession.
‘Congress re-affirms its belief that there is an alternative – collection of the taxes avoided, evaded and uncollected from wealthy individuals and companies, which account for £120bn, as well as more, not less, investment in public services, in green industries and one million climate jobs, alongside bringing the banks into public ownership.
‘Given the fact that an alternative is available, Congress agrees to oppose all cuts as unnecessary, unjust and economically damaging.
‘Congress believes that opposition to the cuts must be stepped up now and that action cannot wait until the next general election.
‘Congress instructs the General Council to:
i. support and co-ordinate campaigning and joint union industrial action against attacks on jobs, pensions, pay or public services
ii. step up its promotion of the economic alternative to this government’s destructive policy.’
Unison proposes P48 ‘All Together for the NHS’ but does not call for occupations and strike action to keep hospitals open and defend jobs, and does not point out that to defend the NHS the coalition will have to be brought down.
Motion P48 states: ‘Congress deplores the government’s Health and Social Care Bill that will break up the NHS and put profit ahead of patients.
‘Congress notes that despite being forced into a “listening exercise”, the key elements of government plans remain: Monitor will have the power to enforce competition law; consortia can outsource commissioning; the private patient income cap will be abolished; the Any Qualified Provider policy remains; the NHS will operate increasingly at arm’s length from the Health Secretary.
‘Congress also notes the impact on staff, with the government intent on undermining national workforce structures for pay, bargaining, terms and conditions.
‘Furthermore, Congress notes that these changes are planned at a time when the NHS across the UK is suffering massive strain as it struggles to cope with huge “efficiency” targets – £20bn in England alone. Congress is hugely concerned that healthcare rationing is already taking place for vital procedures.
‘Congress welcomes the work of the TUC-coordinated All Together for the NHS alliance to fight the Bill in England and cuts across the UK.
‘Congress believes it is essential that unions strive to work with patients and charities to strengthen our case.
‘Congress calls on the General Council to:
‘i. maintain the unity of the All Together for the NHS alliance
‘ii. continue campaigning inside and outside Parliament to stop the Bill and other damaging policies such as Any Qualified Provider
iii. build campaigning outside the union movement
iv. work to highlight and fight cuts to jobs and services across the NHS.’
The agenda opens with a section on trade union rights with unions taking a passive, fatalistic position about new anti-union laws which the Tories are threatening.
Motion P01: ‘Trade union rights’ from Unite states: ‘Congress believes that workers and their trade unions in the UK should have rights at work at least as good as the best of those enjoyed by fellow workers in other countries of the European Union.
‘In this vein, Congress welcomes the 50th anniversary of the signing of European Social Charter, Article 6§4 of which recognises that workers have a right to collective bargaining and a right to strike.
‘However, Congress is concerned that for 2010 the European Committee of Social Rights concluded that the situation in the UK was not in conformity with Article 6§4 – particularly noting the complexity of the law when taking industrial action; the excessive procedure of giving notice to the employer; and the limited protection offered to those workers taking industrial action.
‘Congress rejects the government’s proposals to limit workers’ rights at employment tribunal and in cases of collective redundancy and transfer of undertakings. Congress rejects calls from the political right for a further limitation on trade union immunities.
‘Congress believes that workers’ individual rights are best protected by a strong and free trade union movement.
‘Congress also believes that workers should have a right to join the union of their choice and that all principled trade unions would adhere to that position.
‘Congress therefore resolves to work for a new framework of trade union law that will be compliant with international labour codes, which will promote:
‘i. the right to organise
‘ii. the right to bargain collectively
‘iii. the right to strike.’
Motion P02 from the GMB, ‘The right to take lawful industrial action’ states: ‘Congress is aware of the threats made to trade unions and the organisation of working people by this Conservative-led government.
‘Britain has a raft of anti-union legislation, which makes it one of the most repressive countries in the EU for working people to organise and defend themselves.
‘Congress further notes that a number of affiliates have taken lawful industrial action in order to defend pensions, employment and public services. Despite such actions being lawful, this government has sought to use them as a justification to further erode employment rights and civil liberty.
‘The trade union movement will not be deterred by threats to make the laws on ballots even more restrictive if our members take lawful industrial action.
‘Congress notes that the UK’s anti-strike legislation is in breach of international law and binding international treaties ratified by the United Kingdom and binding upon it, confirmed by judgments of the ILO, the Committees of the European Social Charter, and the International Covenant on Economic Social and Cultural Rights.
‘Congress calls upon the General Council to consider bringing a legal challenge to the current UK breaches of international labour law.
‘Congress further agrees that:
‘i. The right to strike is a core human right.
‘ii. The TUC should respond to any further attempts to shackle working people’s rights with a co-ordinated campaign of civil disobedience and supporting action using appropriate non-violent opposition.’
Civil disobediance will not stop new anti-union laws, only an indefinite general strike to bring down the coalition will do that.
Motion P04 ‘Trade union rights and the right to protest’ from the UCU, calls on the General Council to:
‘1. oppose vigorously any government attempts to attack current trade union rights and freedoms using both industrial legal and political strategies
‘2. campaign to repeal all current anti-union legislation
3. campaign to keep and safeguard employment tribunals as a forum of justice
‘4. campaign with unions internationally for the right to strike to be protected
‘5. reaffirm the right to peaceful protest as a basic democratic freedom, campaign to maintain that right and seek help in monitoring future demonstrations from organisations such as Liberty and the Haldane Society
‘6. call for full independent investigation into any allegations of police aggression or instances of “kettling” being used during future demonstrations and protests.’
Clearly the above motions are a pale reflection of workers anger.
The unwilling trade union bureaucrats are being forced into conflict with the government, but dread a general strike. Such leaders who are opposed to decisive action will never be able to defend the gains of the working class.
The issue of the hour is building the revolutionary leadership of the Workers Revolutionary Party and Young Socialists inside the trade unions to lead a victorious struggle to bring down the coalition, and bring in a workers government and socialism.