T&G: Winds of change

Submitted by AWL on 23 July, 2003 - 10:43

By Sue Denham

The Branch Delegate Conference of the T&G was on the surface a boring affair. No dramatic conference arguments; composites were passed in almost every case with GEC endorsement. Excellent positions on asylum seekers and the organisation of migrant workers, no hint of a right-wing agenda.

Affiliation to the United Campaign for the Repeal of the Anti-Trade Union Laws (UCRATUL) went through with GEC recommendation and was passed as part of a comprehensive composite on anti-trades union legislation.

On the Labour Party the BDC unanimously voted to hold NEC and conference delegates to account, to encourage active participation at all levels of the party, and to hold T&G representatives to account throughout the LP structure to parallel committees in the union. A strategy for the union to approach its political activity as it should approach its industrial activity.

The new General Secretary Tony Woodley got an enthusiastic response to his inaugural address in which he pledged himself to change the culture of the union: "We will not be looking for more and more inventive ways to get you to say yes when you mean no." As a phrase to the outsider not the most politically explosive of the year but to industrial militants the most important sentence of the week.

The most significant part of the week was not what went on in the conference hall but the tangible change in the atmosphere compared to recent years. There were fringe meetings openly advertised. There was an open broad left meeting at which supporters of the right-wing clique that at present controls the GEC turned up and claimed that they were the real broad left, before walking out to leave seats for some of the 150 who stayed to sit down.

This fighting for the right to claim a banner, that would drop you straight into a disciplinary hearing prior to the GS election result, was an amazing sight.

The T&G has not been cured of its ills by the election of a new GS. BDC policies, as with the conference decisions of any other organisation, can only produce results if the rank and file members are educated and organised to carry them through.

But in a world in which Murdoch and the like control the press and a Labour government runs in panic to carry out the xenophobic agenda of the far right, it was really good to spend a week in the sun by the sea with a thousand or so car workers, lorry drivers, farm labourers, cleaners, brewery workers and the rest, working-class people from every trade and industry who considered it basic common sense that an asylum seeker was a worker you should organise and Saddam being a bastard is no excuse for killing Iraqis.

A final word for Bill Morris, a man who has too much time for 'partnership' in the New Labour sense of the word.

He has got a lot of things wrong in his time and the left has always said so, but he is the black man who rose through the West Midlands engineering industry to be elected and re-elected to lead the country's biggest manual union when the right-on, educated progressives of the Labour Party were manipulating their selection processes up and down the country to get rid of black candidates because they claimed white workers would not vote for them. For those of us who have rightly criticised things Bill has done as GS over the years I recommend you find a copy of the 2 July conference video and watch Bill's reply to the debate to remind yourselves why we supported him so long ago, and why we were right.