“Do not be so confident these Tories will be gone very soon. It is my prediction, our working assumption that they are going to be there for the full two years, and the only thing that will be left out of that budget apart from the bankers’ caps are anti-trade union laws they will bring in against us.”Mick Lynch, RMT General Secretary
By Ben Folley, Labour Assembly Against Austerity
The TUC Congress meeting in Brighton today discussed the cost-of-living crisis and the need to fight the new Conservative government and its resurrected austerity agenda.
Coordination of strike action across sectors and mobilisation of public opinion were the priorities set out by a number of General Secretaries and senior officers from a number of unions.
A TUC General Council statement stated that, workers are facing a real pay emergency and set out how “a trade union agenda for change would be transformative for a country broken by twelve years of austerity and twelve years of standstill wages,” before making a pledge to “coordinate industrial action by our member unions” to achieve that goal.
A debate on two composite motions, one moved by UNISON with the support of the POA, and another proposed by the EIS teachers’ union in Scotland and backed by the NAHT school heads union saw further discussion of the wave of strike action and the need for intensified campaigning.
Joe Weir, speaking for the Fire Brigades Union, gave an impassioned speech highlighting the continued reduction in firefighters real pay, over a number of years, and said:
“We need to show our collective strength and a collective anger of members on pay and the cost-of-living. We need a joined-up campaign on pay, and joint action where we can achieve it. We need to fight for all workers and recruit the disorganised into the movement. The TUC and affiliated unions should take the necessary steps involving all political, industrial and legal means to secure a decent pay rise for all members and for the rest of our class that. Is our goal. We will have to fight for every penny and fight we must.”
Kevin Courtney of the teachers’ union, NEU, said, “Poverty is not caused by unemployment in this country, it’s caused by low wages,” and that, “this whole holding down of wages is the cause of the cost-of-living crisis.” He confirmed that the NEU, NASUWT and NAHT headteachers unions would all operate the same ballot timetable starting on October 28th for strike action over the government’s pay offer.
Courtney was followed by Christine McAnea, General Secretary of UNISON, who said the union would be “balloting 400,000 NHS workers before the end of this year” and that she was pleased to hear the TUC would be coordinating action, saying, “we need to be working across every sector in our country…we know our path binds us, coordinated action unites us. We have a single goal: End this pay crisis in this country.”
Ruth Hayes, of Unite the Union, told the Congress, “this rampant profiteering is responsible for nearly 60% of the inflation that is destroying lives in our communities. It is their profits, not our wages, which are fuelling the cost-of-living crisis.” Furthermore, she said, “It is only our ability to organise, to collectively bargain, and to strike, that wins the pay that we deserve. Hundreds of thousands are already showing the way.”
Steve Gillan, General Secretary of the POA prison officers’ union said “we should never be ashamed of wanting inflation proofed pay rises for our members. We should not and are not ashamed because all of the Unions in this hall are now taking the necessary action in protecting working class people.” He went on to say, “we are going to call for synchronised action. Coordinated action. Generalised action” and that “We are achieving that.”
Mark Serwotka, on behalf of PCS, said “every single worker in the public and private sector deserves an inflation busting pay rise” and not wanting to rely on a General Election to end the cost-of-living crisis, he said”we want the Government out as soon as possible. But we don’t know when a General Election will be. That, therefore, means that the single most important organisations in Britain, at the moment, that can defeat the cost-of-living crisis are us. They are the trade union movement.”
He also urged delegates to “heed what has happened today in France where there is coordinated industrial action by the French trade unions who are fighting together across sectors in order to win a decent pay wise.”
He set out his unions ballot timetable for civil service workers opposing a 2% pay and confirmed, “we stand prepared today to take action on the same day as any other union to show the Government that we stand together because we don’t just want to go on strike, we want to strike to win.”
The motions were backed by the CWU and RMT, both of whom have led this Summer of Solidarity strike wave, with the CWU’s Andy Kerr saying “Britain can afford a proper pay rise for working people. We need to see the wealth generated and channelled in to cost of living pay awards.”
The RMT’s Mick Lynch made clear his support for support for a Labour Government under Keir Starmer, but warned “we remember the last Labour Government, under Blair and Brown they did not lift the anti-trade union laws and they did not unshackle our Unions they did not deliver a proworker agenda in the way we would have wanted it.”
He also warned against hopes the Conservatives would rapidly leave office, saying “do not be so confident these Tories will be gone very soon. It is my prediction, our working assumption that they are going to be there for the full two years, and the only thing that will be left out of that budget apart from the bankers’ caps are anti-trade union laws they will bring in against us.”
He concluded therefore that there was a need for an intensification of industrial action to lift pay and living standards in the face of Conservative anti-protest and anti-union legislation, warning against any reliance on purely legal channels to defend trade union campaigns:
“We demand that we will strike and we will strike no matter what the hurdles they put in front of us, no matter what the obstacles they put in law – Frances [O’Grady] and the General Council and this whole movement I will tell you – don’t trust the courts. The courts will not do anything for us. We need to be on the streets protesting. We need a wave of industrial action, and we need a wave of community action right across this country. We demand to strike, we will strike, we have got to get out there in every town, every county, every village demanding our rights demanding our freedom. Let us win for our people and change this country for the better.’
- The rescheduled Trades Union Congress (TUC) conference takes place from October 18th to 20th.
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