As promised, here I am, blogging from TUC Congress – courtesy of a natty little internet access stand in the Brighton Centre. But you don’t want to hear about that. You want to hear about what the great and good of the trade union movement have been talking about.
The first big debate of the day was on union rights trade and the anti-union laws. To drive home the importance of this, delegates were greeted by a noisy protest from the sacked Gate Gourmet workers.
It was a good protest, which will have attracted support from many delegates and hopefully put pressure on trade unions and the TUC to deliver real solidarity.
It’s easy to give it the big’un from the rostrum at Congress and to slip a note from your hefty expenses into their bucket. But these workers need not just sympathy but solidarity. Check out the sacked Gate Gourmet workers’ website for news of pickets, demonstrations and other action.
Sadly, the ‘NewsLine’ group had surrounded the protest with their own placards, demanding that the TUC organise a General Strike. Surely this is a slogan designed to make them look left-wing and militant rather than a serious strategy for the Gate Gourmet workers to win.
I missed the actual debate on the anti-union laws – and most of the morning session – due to my crèche booking being screwed up. So I will blog later on about anti-union laws, probably after this evening’s fringe meeting organised by the United Campaign for the Repeal of the Anti-Union Laws.
I finally made it into the Congress hall midway through the debate on union organising. Not surprisingly, TUC Congress is in favour of that, and the motion was passed unanimously. I get the feeling that there is going to be quite a lot of that this week.
Next up was Baroness (formerly known as Margaret) Prosser, addressing Congress about the Women and Work Commission. Due to report in January 2006, it has concentrated on the gender pay gap aka. women getting paid loads less than men. Female full-time workers’ pay is 18% less than their male counterparts; women part-timers a full 40% less. It’s the widest gender pay gap in Europe, and it’s a disgrace.
The Baroness sang the praises of initiatives such as computer clubs for girls, returners’ projects etc. All very worthy no doubt, but given how fundamentally women’s low pay is built into the capitalist system, it looks like little more than tinkering.
“There is no silver bullet answer to what is a multi-layered problem”, said Baroness Prosser. It’s a woeful mixed metaphor, and it also sounded like cover for government slowness to act. The fact is that there are several steps that the government could take that could dramatically reduce the gender pay gap, for example:
- a big increase in the minimum wage
- a significant pay rise for nurses, teachers and other female-dominated, low-paid public sector jobs
- reversal of contracting-out and privatisation, which have intensified low pay amongst women in jobs such as cleaning
- free, good quality childcare
- a cut in working hours without loss of pay
- scrap performance-related pay and overtime working, which women generally earn less from because we are less available to put in the extra hours
- scrap the anti-union laws, so that women (and men) can effectively fight low pay.
I could go on.
Needless to say, we are all in favour of women workers being paid more. The composite was passed unanimously.
What we are less clear about is what we are going to do about it, other than await the report of the Women and Work Commission.
More later …