On Monday evening, around 80 delegates attended a fringe meeting to demand the repeal of
Britain's anti-union laws.
Earlier in the day, Congress had unanimously passed a composite motion on 'fairness at work' calling for legal rights for trade unions. OK, so it usually does that every year, but the bonus was that this year's policy also had a campaigning focus. The idea is that next year, to mark the centenary of the Trade Disputes Act 1906 (which gave unions the legal right to strike), the labour movement should campaign for a Trade Union Freedom Bill. This should include a national march, rally and lobby of Parliament.
For the uninitiated, a composite is put together when more than one motion has been submitted on a particular subject. The process of compositing can be an ugly affair, often involving unions being leaned on to quietly drop parts which might upset the TUC hierarchy. To its credit, my own union (RMT) stood its ground and insisted that the proposal for action stayed in the final version.
Of course, it is still a long march from a decision of TUC Congress to an actual mass demonstration. To make sure it happens, it is essential that rank-and-file trade unionists bring big pressure to bear. Hopefully, the fringe meeting will turn out to have been the launchpad for this.
TGWU General Secretary Tony Woodley spoke to the fringe meeting. He described the contents of the proposed Trade Union Freedom Bill as a "bare minimum ... there is nothing in there that we couldn't expect from a decent, trade-union-supporting Labour government."
He also stated that "We do not want a new Labour leader with the same views as the one who's on the way out. We need one who will actually change things." Since he avoided actually naming any names, we will have to guess that the first reference was to Gordon Brown and the second to Tony Blair, but the third - the alternative - who knows?It is good to hear Woodley rejecting Brown, but I'd like to see something firmer about a left-wing alternative - especially as recently-rumoured names have included Peter Hain and Alan Johnson, neither of whom is iether left-wing or an alternative.
John McDonnell MP spoke very well, I thought. He is "absolutely pissed off" by coming back year after year with workers who are fighting back in the face of rip-off employers and anti-union laws - this year, Gate Gourmet (which is in McDonnell's constituency), before that Hillingdon hospital, nearly thirty years ago, Grunwick.
"They always seem to pick on the most vulnerable, Asian women, but ironically they are some of the strongest and most heroic trade unionists I have ever met."
I couldn't stay until the end of the meeting, but I'll leave you with some more of John McDonnell's words: "I spent my youth as a trade unionists trying to get a Labour government elected. I am now watching my middle age slip away trying to get it to do anything."