Trades Union Congress: Shift to left, and a livelier fringe

Submitted by Anon on 1 October, 2003 - 5:32

A delegate gives a blow-by-blow account of TUC conference

The first debate at the 2003 TUC was on employment rights. A composite highlighting the need for the right to take secondary action and the shortfalls in the current rights for union recognition was passed. Unfortunately the demand for the TUC to call a demonstration on the issue of employment rights was edited out of the composite, though it restated the repeal of the anti union laws. This demand for a demonstration was supported by the United Campaign for the Repeal of the Anti Union Laws who believe that the issue of workers rights should be made a higher political priority by the labour movement. The case for workers rights needs to be popularised so as to make inroads in workplaces where employees are unorganised, and the movement should go on the offensive on the issue.

Digby Jones, head of the CBI, was received politely but unenthusiastically by delegates when he spoke to Congress. The morning of his speech he was on the TV calling union demands of increased workers rights evidence of an "extreme" position. Maybe we should have responded to him in a more extreme way.

As always TUC is where decisions are made about what the union movement will fight on at Labour Party Conference later in the month. Both the T&GWU and the GPMU will be submitting motions on improving workers rights. All the affiliated Trade Unions must ensure the Party leadership cannot get off the hook on this one at Conference this year and within the Policy Forum process next year when the relevant policy document is due to be finalised. Past efforts have been thwarted by a divide and rule approach from the Party to different Unions. But unity on this issue is vital if we are to achieve any improvements from what is a very low base.

No to top-up fees

The introduction of market forces in Higher Education with the proposals on differential top up fees is fundamentally opposed by all the unions in the education sector and in the wider movement. This was confirmed in a composite led by AUT. It is clear that other changes in the universities as well as differential fees would lead to a two or three tier system.

At a packed fringe meeting the topic of debate became the key principle of whether the payment for higher education is out of general taxation or not. The majority view was that if students have to pay themselves for their education, either in fees or a graduate tax, the existing inequality in our class ridden education system will become institutionalised.

No to foundation hospitals

The public services debate got off to a good start, with Dave Prentis suggesting that if the Government is stuck for a name for the new Foundation Hospitals, they should call them what they are; Private Hospitals. It is clear the whole movement is up in arms about the reintroduction of an internal market to the NHS that will lead to inequality and wasteful financial bureaucracy.

The war

The war debate was centred on a composite that called for the withdrawal of US and UK forces from Iraq and condemned the unilateral decision to wage war. The Congress was united whilst last year it had been divided over whether any military action was justified against Iraq.


In the debates on equality Congress agreed to support the judicial challenge issued by the NUT, Unison and Amicus to the inadequate laws on sexual orientation discrimination due at the end of this year on the basis of the exemption for religious organisations and the exemption for pensions. There was also a debate on equal pay and the need to call on the Government to make audits on this compulsory. Equality issues are increasingly centre stage at the TUC. It was agreed that the different equality structures in the TUC (the Women's, Black Workers, LGBT and Disabled Members Committees) will choose their own representatives to move the motions agreed by the different annual Equality Conferences. The move towards a degree of self organisation within the TUC has been slow but constant.

Offshore working

On the last day of Congress the CWU squeezed in the debate on BT sending jobs to India and the general phenomena of offshore working. There has to be a properly global trade union response to capitalism's free market in jobs, with minimum labour standards worldwide. Nothing less will do.

Political debate

Both the Foundation Hospitals and top-up fees issues attracted packed fringe meetings at Congress. There were also ones on the War and the Anti Union Laws that were very well attended. In a departure from the norm the Socialist Campaign Group hosted a meeting at Congress. There was debate on "saving our Party" [report below]. Mick Rix called for further coordination with Party members and between trade unions on the platform of labour representation, the very idea on which the Labour Party was founded. It was a welcome new phenomenon that the fringe meetings at this year's TUC were bigger, livelier and more political than in previous years.

Bob Crow is back on the General Council. Many other left leaning leaders are elected. The combined political bias is to the centre-left.

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