“With already the most repressive anti-trades union legislation in Europe, our unions have managed to organise and take strike action and win.”
At the Campaign for Trade Union Freedom (CTUF) Conference on December 3rd. Christine Blower set out the challenges ahead for the Trade Union movement after an inspiring year of fighting back.
We know how central the trade union movement can be but we know too that over the years we have suffered reverses – particularly of course under Tory Governments but, alas, not always helped by the Labour Party in power either.
My takeaway from today will be the message we have all heard from Mick Lynch – “we’re back!”
Some of may think we never went away – but it’s certainly true that the impact we as the trade union movement are having at this moment is much bigger than it has been for a long while.
As my good comrade, Ian Lavery, often says, “They don’t call it the struggle for nothing.” – and he’s right. But what today reminds us is that it isn’t a struggle of individuals but of movements.
Unions have global reach and presence and can offer and receive global support and solidarity.
We know that our movement is internationalist by nature and by political conviction so when we say an injury to one is an injury to all, we don’t just mean in our workplace or our region or our sector – we mean all.
With already the most repressive anti-trades union legislation in Europe, our unions have managed to organise and take strike action and win. Today we celebrate the victory of the CWU in British Telecom but there is much still to win for CWU members.
Being internationalist, we can look at comrades in other places and sometimes learn lessons – or at least remind ourselves that other ways of organising are possible. Sectoral Collective Bargaining across all sectors would make a huge difference to all our people.
Chatting with Icelandics reveals that they don’t have a minimum wage and declare proudly that’s because they have Sectoral Collective Bargaining everywhere.
In France, in the education sector which of course I know best, the actual level of membership density gives no clue to the level of leverage given the legislative framework for industrial action.
On one occasion some years ago the then NUT executive hosted a senior officer from one of the French education unions to talk about industrial action in France. The executive sat open mouthed as she described preparation for strike action – check if your members are up for it, choose the date and then work on making sure all teachers take action. Pretty straight forward compared to what we have! The French comrade couldn’t quite believe what we have to do here!
But comrades we have to think big – our trade unions are social movements and need, as we have seen this year, to work together. We have seen great examples of this in the formation of Enough is Enough and other organisations that bring people together from across the trade unions.
But enough is enough not just in the cost of living crisis, we all know that enough is enough in the climate crisis, enough is enough in racism, sexism, misogyny, enough is enough in the vilification of refugees and asylum seekers and enough is enough of this most right wing of the Tory government.
I will just say a few words about the Public Order Bill making its way through Parliament at the moment.
It is a terrible piece of legislation and will criminalise protest. Shami Chakrabarti has said it is more akin to anti-terror legislation than any regular Public Order legislation – perhaps the phrase “the enemy within” comes to some of our minds.
We in this hall need to come together with activists across the board to fight this legislation. We needs to stand firm for the right to protest and we need the Labour Party to stand with us.
Comrades here today can look back of course to some defeats and some compromises but our determination to win for our people is undiminished.
They don’t call it the struggle for nothing!
In closing let me just encourage you all to engage with a new social justice campaign, Times up for the Test – it’s about getting rid of the eleven plus.
Some of you may have been grammar school kids but more of you may well have failed. And I can tell you that many who did fail feel that sense of failure for many years.
On Thursday in very hall the campaign was launched. It was a huge success and the reason I mention it is because one of the speakers, Andy Burnham, said and repeated it in the Daily Telegraph that it keeps opportunity in the hands of people who already have the most opportunity and it stacks the odds against those who in many ways have the least, many of whom live very hard lives.
I’m pleased that my union, the NEU is a supporter. If yours isn’t yet, please do your best to get them signed up.
These are our people comrades. Let’s fight for and with them.
- Christine Blower is a Labour Representative in the House of Lords and the former President the National Union of Teachers (now the National Education Union).
- This article is an adapted version of the speech given by Christine Blower at the Campaign for Trade Union Freedom (CTUF) Conference on December 3rd, 2022. You can follow the CTUF on Facebook and twitter.