DELEGATES to the TUC Conference in Manchester on Monday voted almost unanimously – with just one dissenting voice from BALPA pilots’ union leader Jim McAuslan – for Composite Motion 10, Defending public services and for Paragraphs 3.1 and 3.13 of the General Council’s report.
Leaders of all the major TUC unions spoke in favour of the motion, with many warning that the existence of the Welfare State was at stake.
The Congress was told that the TUC will organise a national demonstration against spending cuts in March next year.
TUC General Secretary Brendan Barber opened the Congress debate saying the coalition government is going to carry out ‘unprecedented spending cuts’, whilst raising VAT and added: ‘Every public service in every community is under threat.’
He said that May’s general election ‘did not give anybody a clear mandate to start slashing public spending’ and called the government a ‘demolition government’ intent on permanently rolling back the Welfare State and making Britain a ‘brutish’ and ‘darker’ place.
But, he added: ‘They say we’re set on confrontation and just pursuing narrow self-interest. It’s just not like that.’
Where union members ‘take a democratic decision for industrial action, they’ll have the support of unions, and the TUC stands ready to coordinate that.’
He also said that if services – including those procured from the private sector – were cut by 25 per cent or more, the government’s budget deficit ‘will get worse, not better.
‘The best we can hope for,’ he said, ‘is an economy that scrapes along the bottom’.
Barber also made it plain in his remarks that he was not calling for the TUC to bring the government down, but pleading with the Tories and Liberal Democrats to slow down their savage spending cuts.
‘We have to win the intellectual battle,’ he said. ‘There is a better way of reducing the the deficit, and the General Council statement outlines that alternative. We need a realistic timetable. Secondly, we need more flexibility, third, we need to make growth the priority, fourth, we need a bigger role for tax – a Robin Hood tax to make the banks pay their way.
‘Rather than cutting Inland Revenue staff, let’s crack down on super-rich tax dodgers and the loopholes they exploit. Our plan avoids the pain and unfairness of the government’s approach and it’s more likely to work.’
He continued: ‘Ireland’s made huge cuts and yet the slow-down there has been so great that their credit rating has been cut time and again. This is an alternative to austerity that encourages growth and jobs. We have to start and win this great debate about our country’s economic future.’
He said winning the cuts ‘debate’ would ‘decide the next general election’, but ruling out a struggle to bring the government down to stop the cuts now.
Instead, he said, the TUC would ‘build a coalition against the cuts and embrace the power of new technology’ to get the TUC’s case across.
He announced a rally on October 19 to be followed up by ‘pressure on every coalition MP, and our national demonstration next March’.
He concluded: ‘The winter months ahead will test us as never before and we must speak up for everyone in Britain today. Not just the poor and vulnerable, not just those in the middle, but everyone. Let us win this battle for hearts and minds.’
He only received polite applause.
Moving Composite Motion 10 on Defending public services, Unison General Secretary Dave Prentis, echoed Barber, saying that the trade unions faced their ‘greatest test for a generation’.
The economy was ‘still on life-support’, he said, with the prospect of 600,000 jobs to go in the public sector and 600,000 more in the private sector.
And the government had ‘no democratic mandate’ for launching an assault on everything the trade union movement stood for and everything it had gained over generations.
He said the income of the ‘top one per cent’ in society is now greater than the entire pay-bill for the public services put together.
He added that the government is intent on creating a society in which some of the backers of the Tory Party pay ‘less in tax than a cleaner in a hospital’.
And, like many speakers who followed, he said that the cuts were ideologically-driven, political cuts to destroy the Welfare State, based on an outlook that hates public services and loves privatisation, not because of a spending deficit.
He said the government should have the guts to ‘go back to the bankers and tell them on our behalf: you created this mess, you pay for it.’
It was with ‘breathtaking hypocrisy’ that they were taking away the benefits of unemployed and disabled people.
To cheers, he said: ‘Never mind a pay freeze on our members, how about a pay freeze on the bankers. It’s them, not our members, who should be doing more for less.’
He said that ‘someone’ needs to ‘speak up for the Cinderella services’ and ‘stand up for what is right, not popular’.
And he told conference: ‘We will build alliances with NGOs, charities, social movements, our brothers and sisters across Europe and, when the call is there, we will move to coordinate industrial action to defend all we hold dear. Together, united, fierce defenders of the services they deliver.’
He concluded to loud applause that ‘the members of my delegation and every public service worker across the land’ is worried about whether they will have ‘a job to go to – because of the bankers.’
Gail Cartmail, from Unite, seconded the motion.
She warned: ‘Over one million jobs are to be sacrificed’ and the government’s Emergency Budget, the Comprehensive Spending Review this autumn and the Budget next spring all represent ‘an ideological attack’ on public services.
She said government plans to ‘liberate’ the NHS, would reduce the NHS to ‘a logo’.
‘The fight ahead of us is the fight of our lives,’ she said, welcoming the commitment to ‘stand ready’ for ‘coordinated industrial action in this fight’.
She also said that two thirds of public sector workers are women and: ‘Women need unions and unions need women more than ever before.’
She continued: ‘We need to build wider popular support. Investment to create jobs to reduce the deficit is the correct position, not slash and burn cuts that will kill communities. It’s the fight of our lives and the fight we must win.’
Brian Strutton, from the GMB, said: ‘It’s about defending everyone across our communities.’
He said that there are ‘alternatives’ and gave the example of the United States and Japan where the governments ‘have announced new stimulus packages worth tens of billions of pounds’.
‘The government says deficit reduction is the be-all and end-all. It is this government that has adopted the extreme alternative.’
He condemned the ‘obscene’ bonuses of the bankers whilst charging their customers high interest rates, and said he was looking forward to hearing Bank of England Governor Mervyn King address the TUC to see what his ‘response’ will be.
Strutton continued: ‘the mood will change’ when the cuts begin to bite, adding: ‘GMB begins its preparations for national industrial action next month.’
PCS General Secretary Mark Serwotka said: ‘We’ve already heard that the attacks we’re about to face will be the biggest we’ve ever experienced.
‘We will see whole parts of communities where our members live devastated and laid to waste. For every 600,000 jobs lost in the public sector, 700,000 jobs will be lost in the private sector.
‘The divide here is between the haves and have-nots. The real scroungers are the rich who avoid paying their taxes in this country – £120 billion. We have got to be bold: not a single job has to be lost, not a single penny cut.
‘The alternative is to collect the taxes due and grow our way out of recession.’
He reminded the Congress of the creation of the Welfare State at the end of World War Two when ‘the deficit was twice as bad as now, yet we built an NHS, comprehensive education and council housing.
‘We shouldn’t accept any cuts whatsoever,’ he reiterated.
‘Industrial action is inevitable unless the government is prepared to change direction.’
Bob Crow, RMT general secretary, said: ‘Unity is strength. An injury to one is an injury to all. Those are the lessons we’ve learned over 150 years. If we don’t fight, and become divided, we lose.
‘When those attacks start to affect all those groups of workers you’ve seen today’ he continued, referring to the opening video on Manchester’s history of working-class struggle, then ‘the position’s going to be either lie down, or fight.’
He also reminded the Congress that in 2008 the bankers went to Gordon Brown and said: ‘Either you put an injection of cash into the economy or the money will run out.’
He said: ‘If the top bankers don’t get out of bed in the morning, the economy will still run, but if workers don’t get out of bed in the morning, the economy will shut down and we’ve got to recognise the strength we’ve got as a movement.’
Crow said he was proud that the RMT was taking coordinated industrial action with the TSSA in defence of 800 jobs on London Underground.
He said: ‘Rail workers, seafarers, public sector workers, you name them, we’d be fools not to coordinate our action.’
FBU General Secretary Matt Wrack said: ‘Only a few years ago, the mood of the public was extremely angry about the crisis in the economy, a crisis that has thrown millions across the globe into poverty.
‘The bankers are hate figures.’
But Wrack said a ‘sustained campaign by the government and media’ was seeking to shift the blame for the economic crisis ‘onto public sector workers.
‘That is a clear lie, a distortion and completely unacceptable,’ he said.
‘This is a cabinet of millionaires who do not care one hoot about public services.
‘This is a war on the majority of the population on behalf of a tiny minority. These cuts can be defeated. We need to build a movement on a huge scale.’
He said ‘this lot are out to finish off’ the assault on the Welfare State and the working class launched by the Thatcher government some 30 years ago.
‘We have to say: We will defeat your agenda and stop you in your tracks.’
NASUWT General Secretary Chris Keates told the Congress: ‘This isn’t an economic crisis. This is a bankers crisis. And the government has plans in place to rip the heart out of our Welfare State and public services and turn our public services into a free market free-for-all.’
She added: ‘Labour lost the election, but the Tories didn’t win it.’ She reiterated that the government has ‘no mandate’ and ‘is propped up by 57 Liberal Democrat MPs who sold out the British people for four seats around the cabinet table.’
She concluded: ‘We don’t want this coalition.’
CWU Deputy-General Secretary Dave Ward told the conference: ‘This is the most serious fight the trade union movement has been involved in for decades on what appears to be a crusade to rip out the fabric of our society.’
Ward said the government’s approach of wholesale cuts was ‘obssessive, blinkered and panic-driven’.
He said: ‘This country needs a trade union movement mobilising communities and a successful campaign must defend jobs and services. Strike action, yes, but also we must set out a credible alternative that must still deal with the deficit. Build and invest in council homes and in our infrastructure, schools and hospitals.
‘There will be times when individual unions will have to defend their members and when coordinated action may be necessary.’
But Ward added: ‘It’s not just about putting your head down and running at them.’
Ward concluded: ‘If we want to see a Labour government emerge, let’s make sure they follow our lead and not the other way round.’
Andy Bain, TSSA, said that where he lived in Islington, north London, there was a ‘successful coalition’ which he maintained had already stopped the closure of Whittington Hospital and said such community-based movements should be ‘replicated’ across the country ‘to win the struggle ahead.
‘Once the cuts bite and people lose their jobs, welfare, education and benefits, we can move forwards from “we’re all in this together” and say that we will decide what happens and not the banks and their political representatives. New Labour can’t do that.’
Sean Vernell, UCU, said one million unemployed young people under 25 was ‘a national scandal’.
Recalling the Thatcher governments, he said: ‘Never again can we allow a generation of young people to be put on the dole and left there to rot.’
He said he wanted to ask Mervyn King, the Bank of England governor, when he addresses the TUC: ‘When are his members going to pay the money back they’ve stolen off our members.’
He said the UCU and the National Union of Students would be staging a joint national demonstration on November 10 in London, and ‘on October 3rd we’ll be demonstrating outside the Tory Party conference.’
Vernell welcomed the TUC call for a national demonstration next March and said that it ‘needs to be a massive demonstration on the scale we’ve seen in France and Greece’.
NUT delegate Kevin Courtney said: ‘These cuts are political cuts which are not necesssary. They are taking money from public services and putting it into private businesses.
‘We have the alternatives and we have to fight for them.’
Conference chairman, TUC President Dougie Rooney, thought there were no speakers against the motion, and there was some consternation when Jim McAuslen, of the pilots’ union BALPA came to the platform, to oppose the motion, saying: ‘We don’t have to persuade people in this room. It’s people beyond it.
‘This is our first gathering since the general election and the tone we set will set the set the tone of debate for the months and years ahead.’
He said: ‘I don’t believe we’ll do it by simply ridiculing the rich and saying we don’t have to cut one penny – the tone is wrong. The tone isn’t the one to adopt in the years and months ahead.’
He was the only speaker against the motion and it was carried virtually unanimously on a show of hands.
The motion said: ‘Congress believes the Government is using the deficit as a thinly-veiled guise to engage in an ideological dismantling of the state and an attack on workers and the most vulnerable in our society, which goes far further than even the dark days of Thatcher.’
It said: ‘Congress calls on: a) the Government to consult the General Council regarding the comprehensive spending review b) the General Council to lead a co-ordinated campaign across the labour movement with other working class organisations and local communities for progressive means of ensuring the recovery and improving the public finances.’
It concluded by saying: ‘Congress resolves that all TUC affiliates will urgently work together to build a broad solidarity alliance of unions and communities under threat, and organise a national demonstration, lobby of Parliament and national days of protest against the government austerity measures.’
This was followed by a 12-point programme including a ‘Robin Hood Tax’ on the banks, support for the European TUC action on September 29 and for the General Council to ‘support and co-ordinate campaigning and joint union industrial action, nationally and locally, in opposition to attacks on jobs, pensions, pay and services’.