Apologies for the delay in posting the final TUC Congress blog. I've been laid up all weekend with PMT. I get it very badly every month, but this month could have been made worse by a dose of Post Margaret Tension, after the quite dreadful speech by Foreign Secretary Beckett.
There is something really quite stomach-churning about Labour Foreign Secretaries playing the world statesperson. You're supposed to be representating the working class, for gawd's sake, you're supposed to have socialist principles, and all you're doing is going on about the wars you've waged and the appalling leaders you spend your time with. Yuk.
More enjoyable was the debate on Transport, with the TSSA setting out the case for public ownership, then Bob Law (that's East London Line train driver Bob Law, not Regional Organiser Bobby Law) giving a cracking speech about the privatisation of his line. Referring to Tuesday's Prime Minsterial performance, Bob opened up by saying "I get three minutes to defend my job, Tony Blair got an hour and a half". Needless to say, but nonetheless welcome, TUC Congress unanimously voted that it is in favour of public railways and against East London Line privatisation. It seems that no-one has swallowed Ken Livingstone's ludicrous line that it's not privatisation really.
I must also mention some fringe meetings I went to:
- I turned up to the RMT-sponsored fringe on transport investment, but the room was like an oven and the only drink provided was wine. I like a tipple as much as anyone, but this is ridiculous ... and it was 5.30pm for goodness sake. Hey - anyone for breaking down the stereotype of boozy trade unionists and involving the diversity of our membership? Easily done, for the price of a bottle of water or two.
- So I went into the next room and enjoyed an orange juice and a very interesting meeting on criminal justice, with speakers from the Prison Officers' Association (POA), National Association of Probation Officers (NAPO), and the ubiquitous and fabulous John McDonnell MP. Naturally, it concentrated on privatisation and the over-stretched workforce, especially through the National Offender Management Scheme (NOMS), but there was also a lot of good stuff said about wider issues of social policy and criminal justice. I never though I'd hear a POA representative say "90% of prisoners shouldn't be in our care, they should be in the care of the health service", but he's dead right.
- The Public Services Not Private Profit fringe meeting was massive, McDonnell on the platform once more, joined by an array of General Secretaries. Everyone is talking a good fight on this issue - which, along with the Trade Union Freedom Bill, attracted the biggest crowds on the fringe. But it will certainly take rank-and-file pressure to turn fighting talk into an actual fight. The Public Not Private campaign could be massive, making it even more of a shame that Congress did not even get to vote on whether to affiliate to it, thanks to PCS dropping it from their resolution during compositing.
- A fringe meeting on the Iraqi unions attracted only 30 people, despite being hosted by the TUC's official solidarity committee and having an Iraqi trade unionist speak. Top tip for making solidarity: send your used mobile phones to Owen Tudor at the TUC. A couple of people in the audience made some good points against the war and occupation, then ruined it all by talking crap in support of the "resistance".
Finally, a comment about the event in general. I've already sniped about the numerical domination of full-time officials over rank-and-file delegates. Some voting delegates (not from RMT, I should point out) were (appointed) members of union staff! But there's something else that bothers me too: the overbearing sense of self-satisfaction and the absence of fire in the belly. Speeches, debate, fringe events and receptions mostly all took the tone of how brilliant we all are and how much we've achieved. USDAW even submitted an amendment praising USDAW!
It's a tough one to call, because we should talk up trade unionism, but this was talking it up to the point of self-delusion. And the annual Congress is the one place where a bit of ruthless honesty is most needed. Instead of the "Aren't we all great", we needed some more "Look, the workers are getting crapped on, we need to raise our game."
The TUC feels like a big machine. Perfectly decent human beings get involved for all the right reasons (with a few exceptions), but simply slot into the machine rather than giving it the radical shake-up it needs.
Ah well, let's see if the members elect me to go again next year.