National Conference of Trades Councils. Eastbourne. May 29-31st 2009.Report by CTUC delegate Darrall Cozens
1. This was the first conference of the Trades Councils that I had ever attended although I had been to about a dozen national conferences of my own trade union NATFHE/UCU and once to the national conference of the Labour Party. As this was my first at this conference I did not know what to expect, how the business would be conducted and what would be allowed in relation to contributions and what would be ruled out of order.
2. My apprehension was also compounded by the fact that I did not have any delegate’s credentials or conference material as there had been some delay over me being registered as a delegate. Even up to 2 days before the conference I was still not sure of my status hence when all was confirmed, I had to make hasty arrangements to book a hotel ending up with me staying at the T&GWU/Unite hotel which is trade union organised and where other delegates from the West Midlands were staying. Luckily for me and unbeknownst to me the national conference was taking place at the same hotel.
Eve of Conference Rally
3. The conference began on the Friday evening under the theme “Fighting the Far Right”. I say began although this meeting was not officially part of the conference it had become a tradition to have a political rally on the evening prior to the start of the conference proper. The chair of the rally was Jeremy Dear, General Secretary of the NUJ, who also turned out to be the chair of the conference. The platform consisted of 5 speakers, three of whom were candidates on the No2EU electoral platform for the European elections: Alec McFadden (NW candidate), Clara – (French anti-fascist), Dave Chapple (CWU activist from West Country, Dave Hill (SW candidate) and Megan Dobly (SE candidate). The rally was in effect turning out to be a No2EU political rally.
4. All of the speakers stressed the potential danger from the BNP and D. Chapple paid tribute to his members up and down the country who had refused to distribute in the post BNP material under the CWU “Conscience Clause” agreement as well as under “Health and Safety”. Many speakers from the floor stressed the fertile soil for the growth of the BNP given the nature of the economic crisis and the effect on jobs. There was an absence of a lead from the labour and trade union movement and if such a lead is not provided, people might turn in desperation to the BNP. Some speakers advocated tactical voting to keep the BNP out whilst others called upon trade unions to field candidates under the claim that socialists would not vote Labour. Some, such as Dave Chapple, advocated voting for the No2EU although he had “doubts about the politics”. Some speakers saw the No2EU campaign as a stepping stone to the calling of a convention to establish a new workers’ party. From all of the contributions it was obvious that the conference would be a representation of the SWP, the SP, the CPB, the LP and other non-aligned people on the Left.
5. As you might expect I spoke on the question of the BNP. Firstly, the BNP hates trade unions not from a moral point of view but because trade unions try to defend and enhance their members’ wages and conditions. If the BNP represents fascist reaction and historically fascism has been the last bastion of capitalism to protect its interests, then capitalism will seek to protect its profits, its share of the surplus value extracted from the labour of the working class. If those profits are under threat, then AT A CERTAIN STAGE capitalism will use fascist reaction to protect its interests. Secondly, what was needed was a united front of workers’ organisations, of socialists and communists, with a socialist programme to put an end to the misery of capitalism which creates a lack of hope, despair, frustration thereby sowing illusions in some people that the BNP is an answer. Thirdly, what a golden opportunity in this crisis of capitalism for the labour movement to take the lead in the battle of ideas, to explain why capitalism enters into crises and why the BNP is not an answer. The task of the movement was to develop a realistic alternative, socialism, to the crisis of capitalism. Finally, I questioned the political viability of the labour movement entering into tactical voting alliances with defenders of the class interests of capitalism, Tories and Liberals, to oppose the BNP when the BNP represents the same class interests as the Tories and Liberals. The whole experience of the pre-conference rally was very interesting and educational as it provided a comradely environment where ideas could be discussed.
The Conference – Day One – May 30th Morning Session.
6. Jeremy Dear opened the conference. Megan Dobry gave the welcoming address from the SE of England and the first keynote speaker was Alan Ritchie, General Secretary of UCATT. He highlighted the scandal of building workers’ deaths, the blacklisting of union activists and the scandal that even PFI money was used to fund the blacklists. He was well received.
7. Conference moved to debate motions starting with Composite Motion 1 of the Response to Economic Crisis. I had given the chair warning that I wanted to challenge the decision of the compositing committee to exclude the CTUC clause demanding the nationalisation of the Banks. I duly moved reference back of the decision pointing out:
A. The CTUC delegate to the WMATCs had been told that if agreement to exclude the demand was not reached, then the whole CTUC motion would be ruled out of order, thereby raising the issue of the “democracy” involved in compositing.
B. Demand 1 in the composite to “campaign to promote and expand the public sector” was meaningless unless funding could be guaranteed from a nationalised banking sector.
C. Demand 2 for a “campaign for the re-nationalisation of the utility companies” again would only have meaning if sources of state finance could be guaranteed to develop and modernise these industries.
D. On November 27th 2008 the Irish Confederation of Trade Unions had called for the nationalisation of Irish banks as a solution to the crisis of capitalism.
E. On December 3rd 2008 even Tony Woodley had put forward this demand.
F. Tony Woodley’s demand was repeated at the Birmingham March for Jobs on May 16th.
G. Paul Kenny, GMB General Secretary, called for the same on May 19th 2009.
H. Even the Lib Dems called for bank nationalisation on 27th February 2009.
I. The TUC in 1931 also called for the same (I had read this but did not have time to confirm it in the TUC records held at Warwick University.
J. Most trade unions in the last century had demands in their constitutions for the nationalisation of their respective industries under democratic workers’ control.
K. In Motion 2 on the People’s Charter for Change the demand in (i) for “a fair economy for a fairer Britain” was fleshed out on the Charter website with the statement that “we must own and control the main banks”, in other words nationalisation.
L. Even the bourgeois economist Larry Elliott, writing in the Guardian on May 25th, “The government should then have nationalised the banks and announced plans to break them up into smaller and more manageable units”.
M. This conference was different to previous ones in that for the first time it had the opportunity to help shape TUC policy by being able to send a motion directly to TUC conference. Local TUCs were an integral, democratic, accountable, representative and responsible part of h labour movement and should play a full part in the decision-making process.
N. The capitalist crisis demands a bold policy against capitalism starting with the banks.
8. The reference back produced an excellent discussion on the issue of bank nationalisation but in the end the chair had to state that the issue could not be discussed as it was not TUC General Council policy and the only way to challenge the ruling was to challenge the chair. This was a difficult position to be in as such a challenge could have put the motion in jeopardy as well as conference decisions. The challenge was duly made and conference voted roughly two thirds to one third in favour of the chair.
9. Conference then moved to business. Motions 1 (Response to the Economic Crisis), 2 (Global Crisis and People’s Charter for Change), 3 (Defend Public Services) and 12 (On Organisation with the 3 amendments) were passed after a long debate. Motions 4 on Local Authority Funding, 5 on Local Authority Housing Crisis and 6 on Primary Education were also passed.
10. An Emergency Motion in support of Rob Williams, the sacked convenor from Linamar in Swansea, was also passed and a collection for his defence campaign raised £270.38. He has since been reinstated after magnificent support from the labour and trade union movement. He had even turned down a payoff of £100,000 to walk away.
11. Conference then split up into workshops on Trades Councils and the Organising Agenda, Responding to the Recession and Trades Councils and the possibilities of New Media. I went to the workshop on the Recession.
12. Conference reconvened in the afternoon. Motion 9 on Extending Collective Bargaining, Motion 11 on Trade Union Rights and Freedoms Bill, Motion 7 on Solidarity Against Wage Cuts and Motion 10 on The Recycling of Worn Out Commercial and Domestic Appliances were passed.
13. Before finishing for the day conference was addressed by Tony Coleiro, Head of Trade Union catering in Malta. He spoke on the Calypso National Project, a developing scheme to provide reduced price holidays for trade unionists and economical conference facilities for trade union organisations. The pre-conference rally had been sponsored by the project with sandwiches laid on afterwards. Links with trade union centres such as the TUC and the DGB in Germany had been established and the project looked promising. The conference too was sponsored by Corinthia Hotels and maltadirect.com
Conference – Day Two – May 31st.
14. Composite 15 on International Unity (Lindsey Oil Refinery), Motion 16 on Human Rights, Motion 8 on the National TUC Strategy for the Defence of the TUC Unemployed Workers Centres 2009 (of 250 original centres only 30 remained), Motion 14 on Calling for an End of Indefinite Detention and the Ensuring of Properly Trained Staff and Composite 13 on Privatisation of Royal Mail and Postal Services were all passed.
15. A vote of thanks was moved by Teresa Mckay and the following points were made.
A. The need next year for a better balance of delegates as regards age, gender and ethnicity.
B. Four years ago there were 125 delegates to conference, this year only 65. How do we get all trades councils to send delegates?
C. Echoing the comments made by the UCATT General Secretary she said that the deliberations of conference were important as was the role played by trade unions in the workplace, especially in defending workers because after all, “People do not go to work to die.”
16. Throughout conference delegates had to vote on which motion to send to the TUC. The results were announced. Joint 3rd were Motion 1 (Response to Economic Crisis) and 12 (Organisation), 2nd was Motion 2 (Global Crisis and People’s Charter for Change) and in 1st place Motion 8 (TUC Unemployed Workers’ Centres).
17. I enjoyed the conference especially meeting comrades from different parts of the country and being able to engage in comradely political discussions. Despite many political differences the overwhelming feeling was of the need to end the crisis by ending capitalism and fighting against the rise of the BNP.
18. If conference is to really play a part in developing policy in the TUC, then all trades councils should fight for the right to submit motions that will form policy not merely echo it.
Darrall Cozens June 10th 2009